- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 10, 2002

The United States approved military funding yesterday for six Iraqi opposition groups, including an Iran-based organization that maintains close ties to Tehran's hard-line leadership.

The group, known as the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, or SCIRI, maintains an office funded by the Iranian government and has coordinated activities with Iran's intelligence services.

"The Iranians have allowed SCIRI to take some positions different than the government. That said the group is never going to go against Iranian policy, and is dependent on Iranian financial and logistical support," said Patrick Clawson, deputy director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Under an order signed by President Bush yesterday, SCIRI and five other Iraqi opposition groups would be eligible for $92 millions worth of military training and defense articles from the Pentagon as specified under the 1998 Iraq Liberation Act.

Mr. Clawson called the step "significant because the Iranians are willing to see someone on their soil accept money from the United States government."

U.S. funding for Iraqi opposition groups on Iranian soil earlier had been limited to the Iraqi National Congress, an umbrella of such organizations founded in 1992 that has received overt support from the U.S. government since 1999.

In 2001, the State Department approved funding to the INC to establish an office in Tehran, and the Iranians also agreed last year to allow the organization to set up a radio transmitter on their soil.

But the INC does not receive funding directly from the Iranian government, and its composition and leadership are largely based in London. This is not true for SCIRI, whose spiritual and political leader, Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim, lives in Tehran.

Last month, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz wrote the SCIRI leader, inviting him to a conference of the Iraqi opposition scheduled to begin on Saturday in London.

Ahmad Chalabi, an INC co-founder and an associate of many in the civilian leadership at the Pentagon, is in Tehran for talks with Mr. Al-Hakim about the conference.

U.S. officials told UPI yesterday that the funding for opposition activities would go largely for military training for such activities as liaison work between Iraqis and the U.S. military.

Under the arrangement, the six opposition groups have submitted names of people selected to undergo the training, and these names are to be vetted by Pentagon officials.

One State Department official said: "We are saying, 'Here you go. We are ready to give you the whole 92 million, now give us the full list of names.'"

The decision to authorize the training also represents a significant break in a long-standing policy fight within the Bush administration on whether to authorize the training.

For the first year and a half of the term, the $92 million promised in the Iraq Liberation Act for the Iraqi opposition was not disbursed.

Apart from the SCIRI and the INC, the groups to be funded are the Iraqi National Accord, the Kurdistan Democratic Party, the Movement for Constitutional Monarchy, and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan.

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