US to supply $97m arms to Iraqi rebels

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The Independent Online
AN IRAQI opposition group, which fled from northern Iraq two years ago, says it intends to return there when it receives American arms and equipment worth $97m (pounds 60m) under legislation to be signed by President Bill Clinton in the next few days.

Ahmed Chelabi, the leader of the Iraqi National Congress, told The Independent yesterday that his organisation would return to Iraqi Kurdistan where over 100 of its members were killed when President Saddam Hussein seized the Kurdish capital, Arbil, in 1996.

Mr Chelabi said he expects to co-operate with the Kurdish leaders because last month "the Kurds signed an agreement with the US and now have American protection". This is a reference to the agreement signed by two Kurds, Massoud Barzani, the leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, and Jalal al-Talabani, another Kurdish leader, in Washington on 17 September when the US reaffirmed its intention to defend the Kurdish enclave in northern Iraq.

The bill allocating military equipment worth $97m to the Iraqi opposition was forced on the administration by Congress, despite opposition from the White House, State Department, National Security Council and the CIA. Because of the Monica Lewinsky affair, President Clinton does not have the political strength to avoid signing it into law.

Mr Chelabi, whose organisation stands to get most of the $97m package, said he planned to use northern Iraq once again as a safe haven for resistance to the regime in Baghdad. He said the guarantee of military protection by the US changed the political situation from two years ago when Mr Barzani allied himself with Baghdad.

Other Iraqi opponents of President Saddam are dubious. Dr Ghassan al- Attiyah, an Iraqi historian and author living in London, said: "This is another blunder by the administration. Every opponent of Saddam knows that it will not topple him." He said American funding for military action would discredit the Iraqi opposition in the eyes of the Arab world.

The leader of the Iraqi Communist Party, Hamid Majeed Moussa, agreed that the funds would discredit opposition groups and not help their efforts to topple the Iraqi leader.

"Our past experience shows that this is a new farce which will only prolong the life of the dictatorship and will not help the Iraqi people," he said.

His party, which was the main dissident group still operating inside the country, would not take part in any US effort to topple President Saddam "because such plans will not help to build a democratic alternative". Their aim was "to impose American hegemony," he said.

Laith Kubba, an Iraqi intellectual, said: "The only result of this will be to turn Iraq into another Lebanon, with the development of militias armed by foreign powers in the name of democracy."