- The Washington Times - Friday, August 30, 2002

Iraqi exile groups opposing Saddam Hussein are divided by religion, ethnicity and clan, with crisscrossing agendas, rival outside patrons and clashing visions for the future of their country.
In other words, they reflect the country they soon hope to govern.
Questions about the political unity and effectiveness of these groups have moved to the forefront as the Bush administration debates its avowed strategy to oust Saddam from power.
A U.S.-led military strike would almost certainly make use of both internal and external Iraqi opposition groups, both in the fighting on the ground in Iraq and in the effort to create a postwar government.
"If firm leadership is not in place in Baghdad the day after Saddam is removed, retribution, score-settling and bloodletting, especially in urban areas, could take place," Phebe Marr, an Iraqi specialist and former instructor at the National Defense University, told a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing earlier this month.
Over the longer term, she said, the failure to create a new government acceptable to Iraq's religious and ethnic blocs could produce a "failed state," exacerbating Middle East tensions and drawing regional players such as Turkey and Iran into the conflict.
"The first few months will be critical, and right now the opposition groups still seem to be focused on their own narrow agendas," said Laith Kubba, a native Iraqi and senior analyst on the Middle East and North Africa for the National Endowment for Democracy.
As in many exile and dissident communities, loyalties can be fluid, and new splinter organizations can emerge virtually overnight. The brief seizure Aug. 20 of Iraq's embassy in Berlin, for example, was carried out by a previously unknown group billing itself as the Democratic Iraqi Opposition of Germany.
Even harder to gauge is the extent of organized opposition to Saddam within the regime itself.
Many exiled Iraqi leaders predict that a serious U.S. effort to topple Saddam will be widely supported in Baghdad itself, with disaffected army officers and civil servants rushing to support the action.
"There is nobody left in Iraq who believes in Saddam Hussein," said Sharif Ali bin Hussein, head of the Iraqi Constitutional Monarchy Movement and a member of the old Iraqi royal family who would like to return as king. "They only fear his apparatus of terror."
But Anas Shallal, an Iraqi-American Sunni Muslim and Washington restaurateur, said his relatives still in Iraq offer little support for the exile groups and their leaders.
"These people have been out of the country too long, and they are too tied to the CIA or some other foreign power," Mr. Shallal said. "The U.S. pressure, whether through sanctions or support of these groups, is only making people rally around Saddam's regime, even if they don't like him personally."
The best-known opposition groups, many based in London, have long been plagued by internal divisions and the difficulty of establishing a presence inside Iraq. They have also been dogged by charges of financial mismanagement "Rolex revolutionaries," in the words of one critic.
But meetings in Washington earlier this month between six senior Iraqi opposition figures, including Mr. Ali Sharif, and senior State and Defense department officials have raised the profiles of these groups. The Pentagon, long seen as more sympathetic to the opposition leaders than the State Department, has assumed funding oversight for many of the U.S. programs supporting the opposition.
The leading personalities and organizations in the Iraqi opposition community include:
The Iraqi National Congress (INC)
An umbrella group of opposition organizations, the 10-year-old INC says it is the broadest representative of Iraq's diverse ethnic and religious groups.
Founded by London-based banker Ahmed Chalabi, a Shi'ite Muslim from a wealthy Iraqi family, the INC has tried to coordinate groups representing the predominantly Sunni Kurdish minority in Iraq's north and the Shi'ite Arabs concentrated in Iraq's southern regions who make up 60 percent of Iraq's 22 million people.
After a failed CIA-backed effort to overthrow Saddam in 1995, the INC and Mr. Chalabi lost their territorial foothold in northern Iraq when government forces routed them a year later.
In 1998, Congress designated the INC as the principal vehicle for U.S. efforts to drive Saddam from power, but the organization has been hampered by a long-running dispute with the State Department over funding and by what many see as Mr. Chalabi's personal ambitions for power. Mr. Shallal said many in Iraq have strong doubts about Mr. Chalabi because of his relationship with a failed Jordanian bank in the 1980s.
Despite the doubts, Mr. Kubba said, the meeting Aug. 8-9 with top U.S. officials has bolstered the INC's status, particularly because of hints that new military and operational aid may be coming for the group.
"It sent a pretty strong signal from the Bush administration about who it sees as partners in the run-up to any military action," he said. "It's a new sign of the seriousness with which the U.S. government takes the INC."
The State Department announced yesterday that it will be sponsoring another in its own series of conferences on the future of Iraq, to be held Sept. 4-5 in London. Among those invited are academics, intellectuals and Iraqi exile organizations.
But Mrs. Marr, the Iraqi specialist, said the biggest problem for civilian leaders such as Mr. Chalabi and Mr. Sharif Ali, the would-be constitutional monarch, remains the uncertainty over the depth of their support back home.
"Their main constituency is, in fact, in Washington," she said.
The Iraqi National Accord (INA)
Also earmarked for funding in the 1998 U.S. law, the INA includes leading defectors from Iraq's armed forces and intelligence services. The INA has long had testy relations with Mr. Chalabi's INC and has pushed a plan for the U.S. government to support a coup from within the Iraqi military.
Based in Jordan and headed by Ayad Alawi, an Iraqi Shi'ite Muslim, the INA suffered a major blow in 1996 when Saddam's intelligence service successfully infiltrated the group. The INA is said to have the support of some 1,000 Iraqi military exiles in Europe and the United States, as well as contacts with officers still serving in Baghdad and members of the ruling Ba'ath Party.
A rival Iraqi military exile group with ties to the INC has emerged in recent months after a July meeting in London.
Maj. Gen. Tawfiq Yassiri, who led a failed rebellion against Saddam in southern Iraq just after the end of the 1991 Persian Gulf war, said the new military council is seeking to recruit some 200,000 former Iraqi soldiers to take up arms again. "Iraqi troops will defect more easily if they are approached by their former comrades," Gen. Yassiri told the Reuters news agency in an interview in London last week.
The Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK)
The two rival Kurdish parties, both of which are affiliated with the INC, present the biggest threat on the ground to Saddam and the biggest geopolitical problem for Mr. Bush in the region.
Iraq's Kurdish minority, about a fifth of the country's population, is concentrated in the country's north and forms part of the world's largest ethnic group without a state of its own. The PUK broke from the KDP in 1975, and rivalry between the two groups led to a shooting war in 1996 in which Saddam's troops fought alongside the KDP.
Between them, the two Kurdish groups can field about 40,000 troops and have carved out considerable autonomy from Baghdad under the protection of U.S. and British planes enforcing a "no-fly zone" in the north.
The leaders of the two groups, the KDP's Masood Barzani and the PUK's Jalal Talabani, have cooperated with the INC Mr. Talabani attended the meetings this month in Washington but Iraq's Kurds are leery of risking the broad economic and political powers they enjoy now for the uncertainty of a U.S.-led military strike.
"In many ways, the last 10 years have been a golden age for the Iraqi Kurds," Mr. Kubba said.
The Kurds also pose a major diplomatic headache for Washington. Turkey, a critical U.S. ally that recently suppressed a long and bloody independence movement by its own Kurdish community, has warned repeatedly that it will not tolerate any move toward an independent Kurdish state on its border if Saddam's regime falls.
In yet one more example of Iraq's complicated ethnic mosaic, Turkey's defense minister this month vowed that Turkey would move to secure oil-rich regions of northern Iraq, home to a sizable ethnic Turkish community, should central control in Baghdad collapse.
Brayeti, the leading KDP newspaper, warned in an editorial in response: "Let [the Turks] try their luck in today's Kurdistan. This nation will turn Kurdistan into a graveyard for those who attack it."
Despite the history of enmity between the two rival Kurdish parties in Iraq, relations between the KDP and PUK have been warming in recent months, with the two sides discussing possible joint elections for the divided Kurdish lands in Iraq within the year.
The Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI)
Iran-based SCIRI, the leading dissident organization of Iraq's majority Shi'ite Muslim community, is another on-the-ground threat to Saddam and another political headache for Mr. Bush.
SCIRI boasts an estimated 7,000 to 15,000 fighters, many already operating inside Iraq, and attempted one failed strike against Saddam in 1991. SCIRI spiritual leader Mohammed Baqir Hakim attended the INC meeting with Bush administration officials but retains a close if uneasy relationship with the Iranian government.
One fear throughout the region is the effect a military invasion of Iraq might have on the country's Shi'ite majority, which has long chafed under the domination of the minority Sunnis and of the clans allied to Saddam.
Many fear that Iran, one of the few countries where Shi'ite Muslims dominate, could try to exploit renewed religious tensions and the chaos after a collapse of the Saddam regime.
Iraqi National Forces
A new alliance of mainly leftist and smaller ethnic opposition groups formed in London in July. Members say they want to overthrow Saddam without foreign intervention.
Leading members of the INF include the Iraqi Communist Party and Kurdistan Communist Party, the Islamic Action Party, the Turkomen Democratic Party and the Assyrian Ethnic Organization. Although it has not received support from Washington, many of its members, including the Communists, are said to have strong local organizations operating within Iraq or in certain ethnic enclaves.
The profusion of competitors for power has only increased worries about the viability of Iraq as a state after Saddam.
But some say Saddam has exaggerated the tensions and that most Iraqis, inside and outside the state, do not support the partitioning of their country.
Saddam himself "has been the biggest perpetrator of this falsehood," Rend Rahim Francke, executive director of the Washington-based Iraq Foundation, told the Senate hearing this month.
"Iraq will not split apart," she said. "All Iraqi groups have publicly committed themselves to the territorial unity and integrity of a future democratic Iraq."

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