Iraq opposition hoped for attack

AN IRAQI opposition leader said yesterday he hoped President Saddam Hussein would give the allies an excuse to attack because such a strike would help usher in the Iraqi leader's overthrow.

Although such a development failed to materialise after the Gulf war, there was now far more 'widespread antagonism' against President Saddam in Iraq. This feeling was shared by officers in the army, Saad al-Jabr, leader of the London-based Free Iraq Council, told the Independent.

The army had been convinced that the allies, in particular the US, supported President Saddam's continued rule because they had allowed him to stay for so long, and that they needed him as a counterweight to Iran; an allied attack would convince the army it was worth breaking ranks. 'It will encourage many of the officers who know the country is going to the dogs,' said Mr Jabr. He said he believed that whether or not President Saddam withdrew his offending missiles from the southern no-fly zone, 'the allies will find an excuse to zap him'.

Mr Jabr, whose pro-Western movement is not part of the Iraqi National Congress which groups Kurds and Shias, said there were at least six reasons why President Saddam was provoking the West:

to test the allies during the US presidential handover period

to humiliate President Bush before he leaves office

to provide a show of strength for Iraqi Army Day, which fell on 6 January

to bolster sagging morale over the economy

to take on President-elect Clinton at an early stage

to get Iraq back on the front pages of the world

Nadir Abbas, a left-wing opposition spokesman within the National Congress, said President Saddam's actions in the south were influenced by the fact that his army was not engaged in the north, where the Kurds have lived under de facto autonomy since the safe haven plan was introduced by the allies in April 1991 to protect them from Iraqi attack. If the Kurds were to become more active in challenging Baghdad, the Iraqi President would not be able to cope with trouble on both fronts at the same time.

He pointed out that the international community had failed to follow up the no-fly zone in the south with any active measures on the application of United Nations resolutions to protect human rights and minorities. Whereas the mood of the population had been a 'bit optimistic' when the no-fly zone was imposed, there had been an increasing feeling of frustration on which President Saddam was capitalising. 'They lost their hope of an allied intervention to get rid of him,' he added.