TCS Daily

Ousting Saddam

By Duane D. Freese - January 31, 2002 12:00 AM

President George W. Bush's most forceful statements yet against North Korea, Iran and, particularly, Iraq in his state of the union address suggest a showdown sooner rather than later in the battle against terrorism.

If so, at least in Iraq, U.S. forces will have allies on the ground ready and even eager to help in the overthrow of the existing regime of Saddam Hussein.

At a forum Tuesday at the American Enterprise Institute prior to Bush's address to the nation, six members of the Iraqi National Congress - representing the major opposition to Hussein's dictatorship - outlined a plan for a new government in Baghdad based on democratic federalism, pluralism, nonaggression and protection of human rights.

The positions mesh with Bush's own statement of values that America would support - "human dignity, the rule of law, limits on the power of the state, respect for women, private property, free speech, equal justice and religious tolerance."

And in pursuing them, the INC hopes, as Bush vowed Tuesday night, that "America will take the side of brave men and women who advocate these values around the world - including the Islamic world - because we have a greater objective than eliminating threats and containing resentment. We seek a just and peaceful world beyond the war on terror."

In coming to Washington from their headquarters in London, the six INC leaders - headed by Ahmad Chalabi and including Dr. Latif Rashid, Hoshyar Zebari, Sharif Ali bin al Hussein, Riyad al-Yawer and the Shi'ite cleric Mohammed Mohammed Ali - emphasized that only by ridding Iraq of Saddam Hussein is that achievement possible in the Middle East.

"Saddam rules through tyranny and terror," said Sharif Ali, and he exports that in his foreign policy."

He said that the legacy of the Clinton administration policy toward Iraq - containment and sanctions - "needs to be supplemented."

The INC wants the Bush administration and Congress to lift restrictions on U.S. funds provided the organization so it can spend them on intelligence and training opposition forces within Iraq.

"What we want to do is close the chapter of Saddam Hussein, and end this nightmare," he said. "It is doable."

Chalabi said that Hussein has decimated his military. He outlined the current division of Saddam's forces as an army "that is in a state of latent insurrection," a Republican Guard that "also is not as loyal as pictured" and a special Republican Guard closest to Saddam that cannot control the whole organization. Furthermore, Chalabi said that Iraq's armored forces aren't what they were in 1990, with huge maintenance and parts problems interfering with their deployment.

Chalabi, along with moderator Richard Perle, dismissed reports in early January about suspension of U.S. funds for the organization after an Inspector General's report that the organization lacked proper financial controls. The IG report found no misappropriation of funds.

"We've responded to the audit," Chalabi said, noting the INC website provides a 173 page accounting given auditors in the middle of January. He said the leaders are meeting this week with State Department officials to resolve any problems.

"The important issue isn't the accounting issue," Chalabi said. "It is the political issue to be allowed to use funding by the United States for activities inside Iraq."

Perle, an undersecretary of Defense in the Reagan administration and chairman of the department's Defense Policy Board, said that the accounting problems are minor. And he said the leak of "tendentious" material about the audit to the media was "not by the most senior officers" at the State Department.

The leak, though, may reflect a continuing division within the government on how to deal with Saddam Hussein. The Bush administration initially held out high hopes that the INC after its formation by opposition groups in 1992 could lead to a popular insurrection against Saddam. But the Clinton administration took an opposing tack, slapping restrictions on money to the INC while counting upon external pressure of sanctions leading to a coup by the military leadership to oust Saddam. That left the INC dangling for most of the 1990s.

The question now is whether the new Bush doctrine - in support of advocates for freedom and justice and against regimes that export terrorism - will give them a wider role? And will Democratic lawmakers, particularly in the Senate, support it?

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle in late December spoke out against any unilateral U.S. action in Iraq. He claimed, "It would would complicate Middle Eastern diplomacy. ... I think we have to keep the pressure on Iraq in a collective way, with our Arab allies. Unilateralism is a very dangerous concept. I don't think we should ever act unilaterally."

According to Chalabi and the other opposition leaders of the INC, the United States wouldn't act alone if it went after Saddam. It would have the support of millions of Iraqis ready to throw off his regime.

President Bush Tuesday promised that he "would not wait on events, while dangers gather." If action is taken, Chalabi's promise of internal Iraqi support may soon be put to the test. And if Chalabi is right, as Perle remarked in closing, the INC members attending Tuesday's AEI could end up as the leaders of Iraq's new government by next year.


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