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Monday, 15 January, 2001, 13:21 GMT
Clinton approves anti-Saddam funds
Saddam Hussein
Saddam Hussein does not seem worried by the INC
Despite long-standing reservations, the Clinton administration has approved new assistance to help opposition groups reestablish themselves in Iraq.

Under the $12m programme, the United States is to help these groups distribute humanitarian aid and propaganda in areas of Iraq controlled by Saddam Hussein.

Bill Clinton
Mr Clinton's team has been less than impressed by the INC
The Clinton administration has been less than whole-hearted in its support for the Iraqi opposition - and in particular the main umbrella group, the Iraqi National Congress (INC).

Mr Clinton's increasing support for the INC - under pressure from Congress - may please the incoming administration of George W Bush, who has vowed to be tough on Saddam Hussein.

But a Bush spokeswoman said the president-elect would not comment on the policy until after his Saturday inauguration.

Reluctant support

In 1998 President Clinton reluctantly approved a plan to spend almost $100m on arming and training opposition groups - principally the INC - to topple the Saddam Hussein regime.

But very little of the money has been spent, with the Clinton Administration unconvinced of the INC's competence or accountability.

Saddam statue over faces of Bush snr, Thatcher, King of Saudi Arabia, Emir of Kuwait
A statue of Saddam towers of the faces of his Gulf War opponents
On Sunday, outgoing National Security Advisor Sandy Berger told the Washington Post: "I don't know any countries around Iraq who believe [the opposition] could constitute a serious threat to Saddam Hussein."

Saddam Hussein expelled the INC from parts of Iraq allegedly under United Nations protection in 1996.

Now Mr Clinton has approved a plan to help the INC set up offices in northern Iraq and southern Iran - from which it would launch secret operations to distribute food, medicine and propaganda in government-controlled areas of Iraq.

Risky plan

Saddam Hussein is likely to see this new programme - despite its humanitarian guise - as a political provocation.

The decision to release funds to the INC comes when Western policy towards Iraq is at a crisis point.

International support for sanctions has been seriously eroded, and the Baghdad government still refuses to allow any new weapons inspection team into the country.

George W Bush
Mr Bush's advisors are said to be divided
President-elect Bush's top people sounded tough on Iraq when they were in opposition, but there are signs of a possible split over what Washington's new policy should be.

Mr Bush himself and his defence secretary nominee Donald Rumsfeld are supporters of the Iraq Liberation Act. Mr Rumsfeld has urged Mr Clinton recognise a provisional government of Iraq rather than Saddam Hussein's.

But other leading members of the Bush team, such as Vice-President-elect Dick Cheney and designated Secretary of State Colin Powell are said to be much more sceptical about the Iraqi opposition.

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See also:

17 Dec 00 | Middle East
Iraq dismisses Powell's threats
01 Dec 00 | Middle East
Analysis: Saddam steps up defiance
02 Dec 00 | Middle East
Iraq greets European flight
02 Nov 99 | Middle East
Iraqi exiles plan to oust Saddam
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