- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 20, 2002

The Pentagon will train thousands of opponents of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein to help in a possible invasion, under an order signed by President Bush, U.S. officials said yesterday.
Former Iraqi military officials are among more than 1,000 men the Defense Department already has vetted for training in combat and other skills, said the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The Pentagon also is looking at the names of more possible recruits, all recommended by the Iraqi National Congress (INC), a London-based group of exiled opponents to Saddam's government, which Mr. Bush wants to overthrow.
The first phase of training could begin next month under a presidential directive Mr. Bush signed this month allowing the Pentagon to use $92 million for the program, the officials said.
Iraqi opposition sources said last month that the United States had extended such an offer at a meeting that included the INC.
White House and Pentagon spokesmen declined to comment.
Mr. Bush says he has not definitely decided to use military force to achieve his goal of "regime change" in Iraq. But the approval of money for opposition military training intensifies preparation for a possible invasion.
Money for the training was appropriated in the 1998 Iraq Liberation Act, which authorized $97 million to arm and equip an Iraqi opposition force. Only about $5 million has been spent, reflecting administration wariness about the effectiveness of the INC, an umbrella opposition organization.
The White House and the Pentagon have recently shown far more interest in dealing with the group amid preparations for military action to oust Saddam, who is believed to be developing weapons of mass destruction and, it is feared, could share them with terrorists.
The Defense Department has been culling recruit lists from the INC and planning how much training they would get, who would do it, where, and other details.
Defense and State department officials are to brief Congress this week on plans to instruct the Iraqis in basic combat as well as specialized skills to serve as scouts and interpreters with U.S. ground troops as well as battlefield advisers. Some also may be trained as guards for a prisoner-of-war camp, officials said.
During the Clinton administration, 140 Iraqis received limited training at military schools in Texas, Rhode Island and elsewhere.
Meanwhile top Iraqi Kurdish military commander Hamid Efendi said his forces would try to capture nearby oil-rich areas if the United States strikes at Saddam's regime.
The Kurdish goal of extending their authority to the prized oil fields around the northern cities of Kirkuk and Mosul now outside the Western-protected Kurdish enclave carries military and political risks that could trouble Pentagon planners.
Iraqi Kurdish fighters could face direct combat with the more-powerful Iraqi forces and open a new front that might divert attention from the goal of toppling Saddam. It would also enrage neighboring Turkey, which controls crucial trade routes for the landlocked Iraqi Kurds.
The Pentagon has been protecting the Kurdish minority for a decade with the no-fly zone in the north that restricts Iraqi forces from overflights. Another zone in the south protects Shi'ite Muslims. Revolts by both groups after the 1991 Persian Gulf war were brutally put down by Saddam.

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