Clinton administration preparing Iraq plan aimed at ousting Hussein Iraqi effort to kill Bush is reported

April 30, 1993|By Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -- Against the background of a thwarted Iraqi assassination attempt against former President George Bush, the Clinton administration is preparing a new political and diplomatic offensive to support a broad-based Iraqi opposition group in its efforts to overthrow Saddam Hussein.

President Clinton pledged U.S. support for the Iraqi National Congress this week, officially giving up on Mr. Bush's hope that leaders of the Iraqi army and the Baath Party would topple Mr. Hussein to end Western economic sanctions.

The new administration policy emerged as reports reached Washington of an Iraqi attempt to kill Mr. Bush last weekend during his triumphant visit to Kuwait. According to Kuwaiti reports, confirmed by U.S. officials and Iraqi opposition leaders, Kuwaiti security forces arrested an Iraqi who had intended to detonate a car bomb near Mr. Bush during a celebration of the victory in the Persian Gulf war.

Kuwaiti officials said the suspect has confessed to plotting the attack, which was to have been carried out in an auto with Kuwaiti license plates that was stolen and taken to Iraq during the 1900-1991 Iraqi occupation of Kuwait. The would-be assassin was caught before he could get anywhere near Mr. Bush.

Although the plot was widely reported in the Kuwaiti press, it has received little attention in the United States. State Department officials confirmed the substance of the Kuwaiti reports, although no effort was made by the administration to call attention to them.

Vice President Al Gore, Secretary of State Warren M. Christopher and National Security Adviser Anthony Lake underlined the revised U.S. strategy with a series of meetings with the top leadership of the Iraqi National Congress, an umbrella organization of Kurds, Sunni and Shiite Muslims and secular Arabs that already controls much of the northern part of the country.

"There is no doubt that this administration is more positive in its attitude," said Sabah Kadhim, a spokesman for the Congress, to which the Bush White House had given a cold shoulder. "The reaction in Washington far exceeded our expectation."

Mr. Clinton briefly hinted at plans to "depersonalize" the U.S.-Iraq controversy, suggesting just before his inauguration that Washington could work with Mr. Hussein if the Iraqi dictator changed his behavior. But U.S. officials said the latest policy is intended to dramatize Mr. Clinton's determination to remove Mr. Hussein from power, no matter how long it takes.

In addition to throwing its support behind the Congress, the Clinton administration called on the United Nations to bring Mr. Hussein and his top aides to trial for war crimes and human rights abuses. Mr. Bush avoided both steps, apparently because he feared they would interfere with the hoped-for coup against Mr. Hussein.

"We do not wish the United States to actually topple the regime on our behalf," Gen. Hassan Nakib, one of the Congress' three top leaders, said in an interview. "This problem belongs to us exclusively. But the free world should assist us in every possible way to save the Iraqi people from the genocide that is being carried out by Saddam and his gang."

General Nakib, vice chief of staff of the Iraqi army in the days

before Mr. Hussein seized power, declined to say how long he thinks it will take to oust Mr. Hussein. But he said the regime was "speeding toward self-destruction."

Mr. Kadhim conceded that the Congress is too weak at present to threaten the entrenched dictatorship. But he said that with U.S. backing, the group hopes to gain the support of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Turkey, neighboring countries that would play a crucial role in any attempt to depose Mr. Hussein.

At the same time, Mr. Kadhim said, the only way to preserve Iraq's territorial integrity -- a goal supported by the United States and most other countries -- is to replace Mr. Hussein's dictatorship with a democratically oriented government.

Massoud Barzani and Jalal Talabani, the elected leaders of the Kurdish regime that controls northern Iraq, are top officials of the Congress.

They have promised to keep their region in a united Iraq if the Congress takes power, but they have vowed to resist any attempt to reassert Baghdad's authority over the area as long as the Iraqi government is a dictatorship.

"Kurdistan is an important part of Iraq, but it will never again be subjected to a dictatorial regime in Baghdad," Mr. Kadhim said. "Our objective is to establish a regime that will allow the Kurdish people to decide on their future within a united Iraq."

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