US plans for post-Saddam Iraqi government

By ELI J. LAKE, UPI State Department Correspondent  |  June 5, 2002 at 5:47 PM
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WASHINGTON, June 5 (UPI) -- The United States is drawing up extensive and detailed plans for a post-Saddam Hussein government in Iraq, intending to fund Iraqi exile organizations to draft legislation for a transitional regime and establish formal relationships with Arab governments.

Documents obtained exclusively by United Press International reveal the State Department plans to allocate $410,000 over the next year to the Iraqi Jurists Association. One aim of the group according to a State Department summary of their activities is to "focus on the drafting of key legislation and legal decrees, to be readily available to a post-Saddam administration."

The chairman of the organization Dr. Tariq Ali Saleh, a former civilian and military judge in Iraq, told UPI Wednesday, "Our organization has done a lot of work regarding many investigations into the many crimes of the Iraqi regime, for the next phase we will do transitional justice."

A State Department budget justification for an organization called the "Iraqi National Movement" -- formed this year -- says the group of primarily Sunni exiles intends to "liaison with governments in the region." Indeed, that document reveals that U.S. funding "will specifically support an INM representative in Syria, travel to the Middle East for meetings with the Iraqi expatriates and regional governments, and media outreach, focusing on Arabic language TV, radio and printed media outlets."

Thair al-Nakib, a Washington representative of the organization, told UPI Wednesday, "In the last few years Arab governments in the region not have not had good relations with the Iraqi opposition, our plan is to show these countries that working to remove Saddam from power will lead to stability in the region."

Since the end of the Gulf War in 1991 the U.S. government has made covert and, more recently, overt attempts to topple Saddam Hussein. Recently, a number of reports have suggested the U.S. military is skeptical about the prospects of an immediate frontal assault on the Iraqi dictator. However, State Department documents show the Bush administration is actively engaged in plotting a successor regime.

While the $315,000 the State Department has asked Congress to approve this year for the INM pales in comparison to the $8 million Foggy Bottom intends to provide to the Iraqi National Congress for the next eight months, Nakib's organization appears to pose a direct challenge to the INC -- the umbrella opposition group publicly funded by the United States since 1999.

But these budget figures may be deceptive, and the INC says it may never get much of the money it is supposed to. As a condition for the receipt of this aid, INC officials tell UPI that they have been told they must abandon information collection programs inside Iraq and end political contacts with Arab governments.

"The $8 million is a 45 percent slash on our current budget," an INC official told UPI. "The State Department is attempting to make the INC into an armchair organization that sits in London running a newspaper and TV station. That is not acceptable."

However, a State Department official familiar with the negotiations over the funding told UPI Wednesday this characterization is wrong. "We have not told them to end political contacts, in fact we encourage the INC to make political contacts with European and Arab governments."

Whitley Bruner, a former CIA operations officer in the Middle East and informal adviser to the Iraqi National Movement, told UPI: "We know the State Department has been looking at ways to expand the scope of the opposition with which the U.S. government is dealing. This is a case where they are providing a modest amount of money for one of those groups to allow it to continue organizing itself."

The principal vehicle for organizing the planning for a new Iraqi government will be a series of meetings in the coming months and a conference this summer in Europe comprised of about 50 to 60 Iraqis and 10 to 20 international experts on Iraq. According to a State Department summary of the plans for this conference titled, "Future of Iraq Project," the U.S. government will sponsor smaller meetings in either London or Washington for five working groups on the following issues: public health and humanitarian needs; water, agriculture and the environment; public finance and accounts; transitional justice; and public outreach.

"Each working group will initially have 10-20 members, to be determined by the Department," the summary says. The summary goes on to say, "Groups would hold an ongoing dialogue among members and with the U.S. government and other supportive governments and institutions."

The initial momentum for these working groups stemmed from a conference at the Middle East Institute last fall that brought together several former Iraqi military officers to discuss the future of Iraq's military. Initially the State Department had wanted MEI to organize the conference, but the contract was cancelled after members of the Bush administration took offense to remarks from the institute's executive director, Edward Walker, critical of the President's Middle East policy.

The Future of Iraq project will also likely spawn more committees to deal with issues central to a post-Saddam government in Baghdad. Under the heading of "potential working groups," the summary of the project includes such issues as "oil and energy," "education," "foreign and national security policy," and "defense institutions and policy."

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