Iran helps Iraqi exile leaders returning to oppose Hussein

Border crossing planned into area held by Kurds

January 26, 2003|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

TEHRAN, Iran - More than a dozen exiled Iraqi opposition leaders have quietly entered Iran to prepare their entry into northern Iraq, in a sign of Iran's increasing involvement in planning for its neighbor's future.

Iran's welcome of the opposition leaders, who came at the invitation of a senior Iraqi opposition cleric here, was coupled with an official offer of protection into Iraq, the opposition leaders said.

The opposition plan is to meet in an Iraqi area under Kurdish control, out of reach of the government, to designate a group that will eventually decide on the shape of a government if Saddam Hussein is ousted.

"We are struggling to determine whether or not an Iraqi leadership that can claim legitimacy can emerge," said Kenan Makiya, an author and Brandeis University professor who is part of the delegation.

Makiya, who was one of three Iraqi opposition leaders to meet President Bush at the White House this month, added: "The Iranians are actually offering to protect us so we can hold our meetings in northern Iraq. Would you believe that?"

Plans for the opposition to meet inside Iraq were drawn up at a meeting of more than 300 Iraqi opposition figures representing six main groups in London last month. There, the deeply divided groups called for a democratic and parliamentary federal government to replace Hussein, and they appointed a 65-member committee to continue planning.

Makiya said his group planned to enter Iraq in the next few days but had rejected the offer of Iranian protection.

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