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Seeking a Future for Iraq

The Bush administration is funding an Iraqi opposition gathering which may take place in Germany.

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Iraqi opposition is looking to the future

The Bush administration has set aside $ 5 million to bring Iraqi emigres together for a conference on the future of Iraq.

The conference is expected to take place in May, following a gathering of former Iraqi military officers which the main opposition group, the Iraqi National Congress, INC, plans to hold in Washington in April.

The US State Department has notified Congress of its intention to give $ 5 million to the Middle East Institute, a Washington-based nongovernmental organisation which is responsible for the conference’s planning.

"This conference will enable Iraqi opposition figures to discuss practical steps to make a better future for the Iraqi people when a new government takes over in Iraq", a State Department official said.

Discussions will cover justice, public health and education, revitalizing economy, eradicating corruption, the role of Iraqi military under a new civilian government and the returning of Iraqis forced from their home country.

However, the conference will not cover the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.

Committed to regime change

The Bush administration has said it is committed to regime change in Iraq but has found little support yet for any military action against the Iraqi dictator.

A congressional study released on Tuesday said the Bush administration seems far from any decision on using military force to topple Iraqi president Saddam Hussein and may favour an internal coup rather than an overthrow by dissident exiles.

The study also suggests funding other anti-saddam Iraqi groups, including ex-military officers and tribes close to the regime, in addition to the Iraqi National Congress, which is made up of various dissident groups.

The report, entitled "Iraq: US Efforts to Change the Regime", is by Middle East expert Kenneth Katzman of the Library of Congress’ Congressional Research Service.

In the study, Katzman states that after studying US policy toward Iraq after the September 11 attacks, "Some analysis suggested that the United States might be far from any decision to use military force to change Iraqi’s regime or reduce its WMD (weapons of mass destruction) capabilities".

"Increasing (US) outreach to Iraqi former military oficers suggests that the administration may want to return to the strategy of promoting a coup d’etat rather than an opposition insurgency or perhaps considering the pursuit of both plans simultaneously", Katman says.

President George W. Bush spread expectations that his administration would pursue a "regime change" in Iraq during his January State of Union address, when he described Iraq as part of an "axis of evil" with Iran and North Korea.

Despite tough rhetoric, top US officials have said they still have no specific plans for the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.

Distributing support

News that the Bush administration is intending to give $ 5 million to the Middle East Institute for a European Conference coincides with Katzman’s report, which states "it is also apparent that the administration does not want to rely soley on promoting an INC-led insurgency".

The report says observers have found the INC to be making little progress in developing into a force that could change the Saddam Hussein regime.

The Iraqi National Congress (INC) is a broad coalition of political organisations that oppose the regime of Saddam Hussein. Established in 1992, it represents a wide range of Iraqi political parties.

According to Katzman, there are continued signs of strain between the INC and the Bush administration.

"Some observers say the administration is considering designating groups, notably ex-military officers and tribes close to the regime, as eligible to receive assistance under the Iraq Liberation Act", a 1998 law that authorized spending 497 million for Iraqi dissident groups, he said.

Seperate talks

The State Department has invited four Iraqi groups to Washington for seperate talks on the future of Iraq.

Only two – large Kurdish - groups are members of the INC, which has trouble asserting its claim to be the most representative opposition group.

According to Nadschib el Salhi, a former Iraqi officer, the conference organised by the Middle East Institute, may take place in Germany.

Germany has the largest Iraqi community in the EU, amounting to around 45,000.

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