Iraqi exiles say bombing raids won't provide lasting solutions Leaders say campaign will fail because Hussein will remain in power

December 19, 1998|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

LONDON -- Veterans of the Iraqi opposition bidding to oust Saddam Hussein are beginning to condemn the U.S.-led bombing of Baghdad.

Many say the aerial campaign is doomed to fail because it won't trigger Hussein's downfall. Moreover, they fear for the safety of Iraqi citizens who are living under the attacks that went into a third day early this morning.

"The bottom line is Saddam is the problem," said Zab Sethna, spokesman for the main exile group, the London-based Iraqi National Congress. "There will be no solution if Saddam remains. Tell me, how do you get rid of him by bombing buildings?"

With protests against the attacks spreading throughout the Arab world, there's little surprise that the Iraqi opposition is backing away from the bombings. The exiles also find it difficult to condone an aerial campaign from the safety of their offices.

"We haven't supported bombing and we don't try to associate ourselves with bombing," Sethna said.

Divided by religion, politics and the thirst for power, the normally fractious Iraqi opposition movement is often its own worst enemy. But in the past few months, it has gained new respectability, as the U.S. and British began to court the exile groups.

In October, Congress passed the so-called Iraq Liberation Act, which authorizes $97 million in aid to the opposition in unspecified military equipment, education and training.

Last month some of the 70 organizations that make up this loose group met in London with U.S. and British officials.

Yet uniting the opposition is difficult, with factions representing the Sunni Muslims of central Iraq, the Shiite Muslims of the south, and the Kurds of the north.

The Iraqi National Congress, which claims to represent nearly two dozen groups, has courted favor in Washington and London. To topple Hussein, the group champions a military plan that includes a U.S.-enforced "no fly zone" and an insurgent anti-Hussein force in southern Iraq. Some military analysts have called the plan a recipe for another Bay of Pigs disaster.

"We've been saying all along that military action is not acceptable as long as there is not a comprehensive strategy to get rid of Saddam," Sethna said.

"The policy of sanctions and bombing is a dead-end," Sethna added. 'You can't bomb Iraq any more than you did in the gulf war."

Haider Abbas of the A Daawa Party, a predominantly Shiite group, claimed the U.S. policy on Iraq has lacked consistency.

"They have said they would like to see the back of Saddam Hussein," he said. "But to the contrary, he has been given a green light over the years to do whatever he wishes in Iraq."

"The aim of the current operation is limited to crippling Iraq, to destroy the infrastructure," he added. "They would like to leave a weak Saddam on top of a destroyed country."

Dr. Hamid al-Bayati of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, said that Hussein will use the bombing campaign to gain sympathy in the Arab world. And he added that the West would be unwise to continue bombing during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

"Saddam will play the game of being a victim," al-Bayati said. "He won't be toppled through air strikes. He will stay in his bunker."

Pub Date: 12/19/98

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