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Iraq: U.S. Implements Funding Agreement For Opposition Groups

Washington, 5 February 2001 (RFE/RL) -- The State Department says the U.S. has implemented an October agreement that will allow Iraqi opposition groups to make use of $4 million in government aid for a strictly defined set of opposition activities. Spokesman Richard Boucher told reporters on 2 February the step was taken in Washington earlier this week with the approval of a license by the U.S. Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Asset Control.

The funds are to be used for public information programs, to help prepare humanitarian relief projects, to fund missions that seek to hold the Iraqi leadership accountable for alleged crimes against humanity, and to help the Iraqi National Congress (INC) -- a coalition of opposition groups -- to open branch offices. The group is headquartered in London.

The U.S. Congress established an Economic Support Fund for use by Iraqis opposed to the regime of President Saddam Hussein. The State Department concluded an agreement with the INC last October to enable them to draw on $4 million from the support fund.

"Since the passage of the Iraqi Liberation Act in 1998 we have worked hard to improve the capabilities of the Iraqi opposition and this is just one of the steps in that process."

Boucher also stressed that the license approval does not represent a new element of U.S. policy toward Iraq.

"This money is appropriated, allocated, for programs that have a specific purpose. This is part of the public information programs we described last fall. They now are getting the money to go do that."

According to the agreement, the funds are to be used for public information programs -- consisting of radio and television broadcasting, a weekly newspaper and expanded Internet activities. The funds may also be used, to help prepare humanitarian relief projects. In addition, the money may be used to fund missions that seek to hold the Iraqi leadership accountable for alleged crimes against humanity, and to help the INC open branch offices. The INC describes itself as a broad coalition of opposition organizations.

Boucher said collection of materials to support the crimes against humanity allegations is an important part of the INC's mission.

"One of the things that we had been doing -- and that the Iraqi opposition is better able to do by this license to use U.S. money in doing it -- is to collect information that would substantiate a case against the Iraqi leadership for crimes against humanity. That's been an ongoing project and this allows it to continue with U.S. funds."

While the agreement with the INC was approved by former President Bill Clinton, the White House noted that President George W. Bush, who took office 20 January, supports the Iraqi opposition.

National Security Council spokeswoman May Ellen Countryman told RFE/RL that the license approval announced Friday is consistent with the new president's support for opponents of Saddam Hussein.

Ahmad Chalabi, a member of the INC's six-man leadership, was in Washington last week speaking to policy research organizations and congressional staff members. In a speech to the American Enterprise Institute on Thursday, he promised the INC would seek an active relationship with President Bush. Bush said several times during his election campaign that the U.S. needed to pursue a harder line with Saddam Hussein.