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Meeting set for Iraqi opposition

Bush administration eyes ouster of Saddam Hussein

Iraqi President Saddam Hussein
Iraqi President Saddam Hussein  

From Elise Labott

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- With the Bush administration seeking a regime change in Iraq, the State Department and Pentagon will host a meeting Friday in Washington with six Iraqi opposition groups.

The purpose of the meeting, Deputy State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said Monday, is to "coordinate" the Bush administration's work with the Iraqi opposition.

The meeting will be co-hosted by Undersecretary of State Marc Grossman and Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith.

Although Reeker said he was unsure who would actually be attending the meeting, those invited represent what the administration considers the six most prominent Iraqi opposition groups. They are: Sharif Ali bin Hussein, of the Constitutional Monarchy Movement, Iyad Allawi, of the Iraqi National Accord, Mohammed Bakr al-Hakim, of the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, Masoud Barzani, of the Kurdish Democratic Party, Ahmad Chalabi, of the Iraqi National Congress, and Jalal Talabani, of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan.

The United States has expanded its outreach of Iraqi opposition groups it cooperates with, in addition to the Iraqi National Congress, an umbrella organization of Iraqi opposition groups which until now has received the lion's share of U.S. funding allocated for the Iraqi opposition.

The INC has some powerful supporters within the Bush administration who favor arming opposition factions so that they might assist in toppling President Saddam Hussein from power.

Skeptics within the administration, while viewing the INC as a valuable means of spreading anti-Hussein propaganda among the exile community, believe the INC is not capable of launching a successful military campaign against the Iraqi leader.

Last month in London, exile Iraqi military officers elected a 15-member "military council" opposed to Saddam Hussein, pledging a "military covenant of honor" against the Iraqi leader.

Seventy former officers elected the council, which consists of officers from all ethnic and religious groups inside Iraq, including Arabs, Kurds and Assyrians.

Iraq has been under military rule since 1958, but the exiles signed a covenant calling for a civil society and a democracy with a federal system, based on the rule of law.

Some of the officers in the council are inside Iraq, and some were involved in the 1991 uprising against Hussein.

Washington has so far stayed at arms' length from the officers and the political opposition with which they are allied. Only a low-level U.S. observer attended the gathering.




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