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Problems with Current U.S. Policy.

A decade of failed operations, internal squabbling, backstabbing, wasted opportunities, piecemeal plans, and disastrous results has evidently not convinced Washington policymakers to chart a new course to achieve a regime change in Iraq. The fractious INC is costing U.S. taxpayers millions of dollars. Poor planning and internal fighting cost hundreds of lives in the 1996 debacle alone, when Iraqi troops allied with the KDP, reclaimed the Kurdish "safe haven" in northern Iraq, executed dozens of INC members and CIA operatives, and won a major propaganda war against Washington. Five years after this fiasco, Washington is again handing out money to renegade spies and untrustworthy allies in hopes of fomenting a coup.

The most basic flaw in the structure of the Iraq Liberation Act is its attempt to bring together a coalition marred by mistrust and discord. Only three of the seven organizations--the PUK, the KDP, and the Islamic Movement of Kurdistan--are actually based inside Iraq. Some opposition groups, especially the Kurds, who view Washington as a disingenuous broker, parlay their connections in both Washington and Baghdad to further their own agendas. In May 1994, the two Kurdish parties began fighting over territory, revenues from duties levied at the Turkish border, and control over the Kurdish regional government in Arbil. In 1996, Barzani's KDP joined forces with Baghdad in order to suppress the PUK, thus facilitating Iraq's victory that year over the PUK and the CIA in Arbil. Two years later, Talabanis' PUK resorted to ties with Baghdad in order to defeat the KDP.

After the U.S. announced its intention to fund SCIRI, this opposition group, with its base of support in southern Iraq, announced that it wanted no U.S. support. SCIRI's dream of an Iranian-backed southern opposition began to fade after Iran and Iraq established closer ties. During 2000, several Shiite clerics and political leaders in Iraq's southern cities were executed by the government, and Baghdad drained the southern marshes, displacing thousands of marsh Arabs, with no response from Washington. The U.S. State Department would hardly look favorably on a future Shiite-dominated Iraq taking its cues from Iran. Indeed this was one reason why the U.S. did not bolster the southern insurgencies in March 1991.

The Iraq Liberation Act has virtually no international support, isolating the U.S. and U.K. as the only nations willing to back the Iraqi opposition. Iraq's neighbors fear civil strife spilling across their borders and do not want to set a dangerous precedent of acquiescing to U.S. coups in their region. Some regional diplomats worry that a post-Saddam Hussein Iraq would fragment, threatening Turkey with a Kurdish dilemma and Saudi Arabia with a Shiite problem. Prince Talal, brother of Saudi King Fahd, openly questioned whether America really wanted Saddam Hussein's ouster at all: "I believe the existence of the [Saddam Hussein] regime serves the American interests."

Within Iraq, the open U.S. support for the INC gives the regime another excuse to refuse cooperation with UN policies. The Iraq Liberation Act has only made the Iraq government more openly hostile and belligerent, unnecessarily militarizing what should be a diplomatic dispute. Even those U.S. policymakers who fervently believe that sanctions should be sustained until the Iraqi president is ousted (rather than lifted when Iraq complies with UN resolutions, as international law provides) also concede that the INC will probably not succeed.

Within the Clinton administration, numerous U.S. officials have echoed these doubts. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said before leaving office that it was "wrong to create false or unsustainable expectations" from such a "fragmented opposition." Then-National Security Advisor Sandy Berger noted that supporting the Iraqi opposition could force a future U.S. administration either to be drawn into a civil war or to abandon its allies. And Marine General Anthony Zinni said in February 2000: "I don't see an opposition group that has the viability to overthrow Saddam ... Even if we had Saddam gone, we could end up with 15, 20, 90 groups competing for power ... Bay of Pigs could turn into Bay of Goats."

Before voting for the Iraq Liberation Act, Senator Jesse Helms (R-NC) explained that the measure "harkens back to the successes of the Reagan doctrine, enlisting the very people who are suffering most under Saddam's yoke to fight the battle against him." And the INC continues to have strong support among Republicans in Congress. Marc Thiessen, spokesman for Helms, says: "Our strategy in Iraq must be the same as in Nicaragua, which was to provide the means and training necessary for the contras to take back their country.... [W]ith the contras, we eventually overthrew a dictatorship together." Not mentioned is that Reagan's "successes"--the Nicaraguan contras and the Afghan mujahideen--have bequeathed to the world a bitterly divided and poverty-stricken Nicaragua and the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Likewise, the INC is unlikely to build democratic institutions should it ever come into power, since its component groups all have authoritarian internal structures, scant popular support, and undemocratic tendencies. The only way that Iraqi opposition groups could succeed militarily against Saddam's regime is if the U.S. armed forces assisted the invasion, which would clearly be both illegal and unwise, and would elicit angry responses from countries around the world. However, by linking economic sanctions to a regime change while realizing that, given the disarray of the opposition, a regime change will not occur anytime soon, the U.S. has relegated Iraq to abject poverty and soaring infant mortality rates--the price of Washington's inability to develop a coherent policy.

Key Problems

* The Bush administration is once again stepping up support for opposition groups, despite a decade of failed operations and a lack of either internal or regional support.

* The 1998 Iraq Liberation Act is flawed in its attempt to bring together a coalition marred by fractious infighting.

* Even U.S. officials have expressed doubts that the opposition can overthrow Saddam Hussein.
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Author:Arons, Nicholas
Publication:Foreign Policy in Focus
Date:Apr 15, 2001
Previous Article:U.S.-Supported Iraqi Opposition.
Next Article:Toward a New Foreign Policy.

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