- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 14, 2002

Iraqi opposition leaders in Washington this week offered their territory for an attack on Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and said they did not believe Iran would interfere in the event of such an attack.
Jalal Talabani, leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, said in an interview there were 100,000 troops in the Kurdish-controlled north of Iraq willing to fight Saddam with U.S. assistance. This figure also includes forces from the Kurdistan Democratic Party which controls the portion of the north bordering Turkey.
"If America wants to send a mission or representatives to our territory, they are welcome," he said. This message is far cry from concerns expressed by Kurdish leaders in recent months that a U.S. attack may bring retribution from Iraqi forces.
Mr. Talibani, in Washington for consultations with the Bush administration, also predicted that Iran "will not interfere" with any military operation aimed at Baghdad.
"Iran has many friends inside the Iraqi opposition and it wants to maintain influence inside any new regime," he said.
Ahmad Chalabi, co-founder of the U.S.-supported umbrella group of Iraqi rebels known as the Iraqi National Congress, was equally confident.
"The Iranian government will not stand in the way of the United States' efforts to help the Iraqi opposition," said Mr. Chalabi, who has visited Iran twice in the last two months.
Iran supports two of the six Iraqi rebel groups meeting in Washington this week.
Not only does Iran export gasoline and in the past small arms to Mr. Talabani's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, but it provides funding, safe harbor and material support for the largest Shi'ite Iraqi opposition group, known as the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI).
Mr. Talabani met in March with top Iranian officials, including the influential former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. In those meetings, Mr. Talabani said, Iran assured him that the 375-mile border between his territory and Iran would remain open.
These assurances came after President Bush's State of the Union address in which he referred to Iran as a member of the "axis of evil."
Since that speech, U.S. support for dissidents inside Iran has become more pronounced, culminating on July 11 in a short statement from the president expressing American solidarity with anti-government protesters demonstrating in Tabriz and Isfahan earlier that week.
In the last two months Mr. Chalabi met with SCIRI political leader Ayatollah Mohamed Baqr al Hakim. While Mr. Hakim did not travel to Washington, he sent his brother, Said Abdelaziz al Hakim, and his political adviser, Ibrahaim Hamoudi.
SCIRI's participation in meetings Friday, Saturday and Monday with senior Bush administration officials represented the first time since 1993 that the SCIRI leadership from Tehran met with an American administration.
Ambassador Martin Indyk, the former assistant secretary of state for Near East affairs under President Clinton, said last week that SCIRI "is based in Iran and has been in the past very reluctant to do anything their Iranian hosts objected to."
Mr. Hamoudi, in an interview Monday, said Iran's national security establishment was divided on U.S. plans to do battle with Saddam Hussein.
"One opinion says that the removal of Saddam would only be good for the United States because the next step will be Iran. But the general position for Iran is not to stand against any help the United States will give to the opposition."


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