FO hosts summit for Iraqi rebels

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The Independent Online
THE FOREIGN Office is hosting a meeting of more than a dozen exiled Iraqi opposition groups next Monday as part of attempts to undermine President Saddam Hussein.

British officials say the initiative is aimed at forging unity in a movement that is better known for its internal feuding and rivalries than for any influence it wields in Baghdad. "There is no question of supplying large quantities of money or any weapons," the Foreign Office insisted. The United States, by contrast, has allocated $97m (pounds 60m) to finance military aid and training for opponents of President Saddam.

Even so, as United Nations inspectors resume their search for secret Iraqi biological and chemical weapons development, the new move is further proof of the change in Anglo-American strategy since last weekend's crisis, which saw the allies come within minutes of launching massive military strikes against President Saddam's regime.

In a newspaper interview yesterday, Tony Blair said there was evidence of mounting opposition and disillusion inside Iraq, adding that there was now a better chance than before of securing President Saddam's overthrow by subversion from within. But despite a quickening flow of high-level Iraqi defectors, Britain is not deluding itself that the task will be easy.

Monday's meeting with the Foreign Office minister Derek Fatchett is seen as the first of a series to "encourage" the opposition to elaborate a common vision of a post-Saddam Iraq.Those invited include the two main anti-Saddam groups, the Iraqi National Congress and the Iraqi National Accord, as well as a clutch of smaller organisations.