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Iraq Special Report

  Iraqi Dissidents Plan Provisional Government

By John Burgess
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, February 16, 1998; Page A21

LONDON, Feb. 15—Iraqi dissidents are trying to form a provisional government that would be ready to take over if President Saddam Hussein is forced from power or killed, dissidents and Western officials say.

If big names in the often fractious opposition community did come together this way, they would approach foreign governments for official recognition pending Saddam Hussein's demise.

They also would seek access to the $5.5 billion in Iraqi funds that have been frozen in foreign countries under a United Nations resolution. This money, dissidents say, could finance such operations as broadcasts or armed attacks against Saddam Hussein.

The United States long has looked on this approach with skepticism, following a policy of recognizing countries rather than governments. Opening official ties with a provisional Iraqi government would "pose legal issues that may not be insurmountable but would require very careful consideration," a U.S. official said.

Ahmed Chalabi, the head of the Iraqi National Congress, a dissident group that the United States has supported in the past, will press the idea in Washington this week, said a spokesman for the group. Chalabi will meet with administration officials to promote a plan for ousting Saddam Hussein that includes creation of a provisional government.

The Sunday Times newspaper reported today that the Iraqi dissident community is putting together a provisional government whose head of state would be an unnamed general still in Iraq.

The Iraqi National Congress spokesman dismissed the report, but he agreed that "the idea of a provisional government is taking on currency that it never had before."

The moves come as the United States and Britain prepare possible military strikes against Iraq. Opposition groups and some U.S. Congress members have criticized the announced aim of the operation -- reducing Iraq's ability to make nuclear, chemical or biological weapons -- as too limited. Saddam Hussein's removal is the only real solution to the Iraq crisis, they contend.

Iraqi dissidents have tried to form a provisional government before, without result. One reason is the historic tension among various religious and ethnic groups, which are all represented in the opposition community. And dissidents who formerly worked for Saddam Hussein -- one of the big names in the London community is his former intelligence chief, Gen. Wafiq Samarrai -- often are not trusted.

The cool response from the major powers opposing Saddam Hussein, the United States and Britain, also has worked against it.

The U.S. government, which after the 1991 Persian Gulf War spent nearly $100 million on covert aid to Iraqi opposition groups, questions whether the groups have influence in the country and how they would spend the money. The groups deny these criticisms, saying a lack of foreign support keeps them on the sidelines.


© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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