America is stepping up its campaign to oust Iraqi President Saddam Hussein by hosting a number of Iraqi opposition groups in Washington this week. According to a BBC report on Tuesday, the move marks the biggest commitment yet to Iraqi opposition forces.
Representatives from a variety of groups arrived in Washington Monday and are being encouraged to form a unified front against Hussein in preparation for a general meeting of opposition groups in early July. While Washington has so far pledged financial assistance, training, equipment and the establishment of a number of offices, full disbursal of the $97 million in military aid allocated by the U.S. Congress to the Iraqi opposition is expected to follow the July meeting, according to State Department spokesman James Rubin.
The United States decided last year to step up its campaign to destabilize Saddam Hussein when Congress passed the Law for the Liberation of Iraq. According to the BBC, U.S. policy has worked to forge unity among rival groups before, providing what Rubin has termed "lethal assistance." In a May 10 Reuters report, it was noted that Kurdish opposition leader Jalal Talabani told Al-Hayat that the United States had notified Iraqi opposition forces that "1999 would be the year of change in Iraq," meaning Hussein would not last the year.
The latest move by the U.S. government is part of an all out campaign to remove Hussein from power. That has included alleged spying through a team of U.N. weapons inspectors, continued airstrikes and, of course, the continued imposition of strangling economic sanctions on the Iraqi people.
The U.S. government, which in January appointed deputy Ambassador to Turkey, Frank Ricciardone, as a special advisor to encourage groups to overthrow the Baghdad government, has justified its overt interference in Iraq in the name of the Iraqi people. U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has said of the situation, "We will persist in helping the Iraqi people reintegrate themselves into the world community by freeing themselves of a leader they do not want, do not deserve and never chose."
Although there are some 70 Iraqi opposition groups that include communists, monarchists, Islamists, Kurdish nationalists and militarists, Washington's latest meeting includes only representatives of the Iraqi National Congress (INC), the Iraqi National Accord (INA) and some Kurdish minority groups. Additional attendants include former Iraqi oil minister Adnan Pachachi and Sharif Ali bin al-Hussein of the ousted Iraqi monarchy.
Other than the Kurdish resistance in the North of the country, no group has any base of operations in Iraq itself. The INC, which sees itself as an umbrella opposition group, seems to be the primary target of U.S. aid and has worked extensively with the CIA, according to the BBC. But the INC, as well as the INA, a group of ousted military officials, is based in London. While Albright has applauded the diverse ethnic and ideological makeup of the opposition spectrum, it seems that no group can claim much popular support.
Although U.S. policymakers claim to act in the interests of the Iraqi people, it is likely the Iraqi people themselves do not see it that way. The regime of Saddam Hussein, as repressive as it may be, has actually increased in domestic popularity following the beginning of American antagonism. Hussein has become a symbol of defiance against an intruder that has killed 1.5 million people through sanctions and that continues to bomb civilian areas.
Any American backed opposition movement, even if it does achieve success and become the new government of Iraq, is likely to heighten domestic unrest in Iraq and intensify the anti-American sentiment already present among the Iraqi population. In November of 1998, BBC analyst Roger Hardy predicted that if the Iraqi opposition groups "co-operate with Iraq's neighbours or with Western governments, they risk losing credibility with ordinary Iraqis - long accustomed to hearing their government denounce opposition figures as traitors in the pay of foreigners."
So the Iraqi people may not perceive an opposition force/government as the liberating entity of which the United States is attempting to conjure up an image. If this is the case, then serious questions concerning the intent of U.S. backed activity need to be answered.