Iraqis Against Saddam Irked At US Attacks
Opposition fears strategy only strengthens his grip, complicates its own efforts
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"Saddam is not strengthened by the bombing," says Ahmad Chalabi, chairman of the executive council of the opposition umbrella group, the Iraqi National Congress (INC). "He started this crisis, and he's getting weaker. He thought he could test the waters and get away with it, but he didn't."Skip to next paragraph
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Mr. Chalabi hopes that the crisis will evolve in a way that encourages the Western allies to take a "permanent step" that would make further inroads on Saddam's control, such as turning the southern no-fly zone into a safe haven like that enjoyed by the Kurds in the north of Iraq.
Another move might be to expand the northern haven to include roads which would allow aid convoys from Turkey to reach the big Kurdish cities without passing through Iraqi Army lines. Suspicious of Iran
The issue of a southern safe haven is complicated by continuing Western suspicions of nearby Iran. But one Western diplomat closely involved with the Iraqi question believes that Saddam's behavior may have brought the day closer.
"Saddam is acting in a way that would encourage the West to take more steps rather than give ground on those it has already taken," he says. "His actions show you can't expect him to become a nice moderate; he will always push and try to destabilize and erode."
Most of the opposition factions agree that change must come from within Iraq and that all that the outside powers - and the exiled opposition itself - can do is try to encourage it.
Since its big conference in "liberated" Iraqi Kurdistan last October, much of the INC's energy has been taken up with internal problems. Iraq's neighbors - notably Syria, Iran, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia - have remained less than fully helpful. North as a base?
The main Iranian-backed Islamic factions have currently suspended their activities in the INC, demanding changes in the leadership and a shift from what they see as pro-US policies.
But the INC's Chalabi remains optimistic that unity can be reasserted, and that activities can be launched from the Kurdish north that could seriously undermine Saddam.
Although the Kurds criticized the opposition for being slow to take up their offer of an operational base, an opposition headquarters has now been established in the Kurdish town of Salahuddin, and the next meeting of the INC's executive is to be held there next month. There are plans for a daily newspaper and for a TV and radio station to beam anti-Saddam propaganda into government-held areas.
Some Western diplomats believe that if the opposition can get organized and use Kurdistan as an active base, it could win credibility and act as a magnet for defectors. But they agree with the opposition that change must come from within.
Some opposition figures say that when it comes, it will owe little to the Western powers, who, they say, have acted in their own interest.
"When [Saddam] does go, the West will have little credit, and our job arguing for good relations with the West will be a difficult one," says Mr. Tamimi. "The West has lost the goodwill of the Arab people now, because ... of its callousness about the feelings of Arabs and Muslims."