Saddam opponents to get a hearing

Click to follow
THE DECISION by the US Secretary of State, James Baker, to grant an audience to six carefully selected members of the Iraqi opposition is a considerable upgrading of contacts with groups until now regarded as hopelessly divided and ineffectual.

Mr Baker's half dozen include two Kurds, two Shia Arabs and two Sunni Arabs. Those invited are: Jalal Talabani, of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan; Masoud Barzani, of the Kurdish Democratic Party; Laith Qubba, a secular Shia intellectual; Muhammad Bakr Al-Lom, an independent Shia Muslim in exile; Dr Salah al-Shaikhly, a Sunni secularist; and Aref Abderrazzak, a former prime minister, implicated in the 1968 failed coup.

The symmetry of the group disguises the fact that only the Kurds have the organisation, the manpower and the territory from which to launch any credible putsch against Saddam Hussein. However, Mr Baker has been reluctant to meet the Kurds as Kurds, and has wanted all along to deal with them as potential Iraqi dissidents. The four non-Kurdish delegates thus provide the umbrella for the more substantial talks with the Kurds.

Iraqi dissident sources say their leaders plan to seek US recognition of the Iraqi opposition, and the support of the coalition allies to supply them with weapons and the use of frozen Iraqi assets to try to topple President Saddam. This, they feel, would be more effective than efforts mounted from outside.

The change of policy by the US administration, nearly 18 months after the war launched to topple President Saddam, demonstrates how limited is its influence inside Iraq, and its desperation to find any group that might be able to rise up against him.

The opposition is already talking of the kind of collective leadership, drawn from the main communities within Iraq, that will replace President Saddam. However, they have rather fewer ideas about how to remove him.