Iraqi opposition leader plans post-Hussein government

At U.S.-paid HQ in Iran, preparing to cross border

January 28, 2003|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

TEHRAN, Iran - Ahmed Chalabi, the Iraqi opposition leader, announced yesterday that he intends to travel to Iraq shortly to meet with other opposition leaders and plan a provisional government that would replace the regime of Saddam Hussein.

Chalabi, who heads the Iraqi National Congress, the main umbrella opposition group, told a news conference that he was going into Iraq despite objections from some members of the Bush administration but with the White House's blessing.

The setting of Chalabi's message was almost as striking as the substance. It was conveyed at his organization's Iranian headquarters in a private villa in a gated community in the affluent Agdassieh neighborhood of north Tehran.

Despite U.S. economic sanctions against Iran, the villa - decorated with expensive Persian carpets and brocade-covered sofas and chairs, staffed by about a dozen Iraqi aides and security people - is paid for by the State Department, Chalabi said in an interview.

A special Treasury Department exemption under the Office of Foreign Assets Control was required to allow American funds to finance his operation, he said.

"We hope to go to our country in northern Iraqi Kurdistan to have consultations with the leaders over there," he told the news conference. "And we expect we can come up with a coalition leadership council, which will be empowered to establish a coalition provisional government at the appropriate moment so that the government will lead the process of liberation and would also assume control of the administration of Iraq."

"Welcome to INC headquarters," he told a reporter before the news conference. "Paid for by the State Department. I brought the OFAC license myself."

Chalabi's comfort in inviting journalists to his U.S.-financed headquarters in Iran and announcing plans to cross into Iraq underscored how confident he feels about the support of his Iranian hosts.

He and about 15 aides have been in Tehran for several days. Although their presence has not been officially acknowledged, they said they had been meeting with senior officials in agencies such as the Revolutionary Guards and the security and intelligence apparatus who report directly to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's spiritual leader and the most powerful man in the country.

Iranian officials have promised to help them enter Iraq illegally, they said.

One senior Iranian official played down the Iraqi opposition's activities in the country, saying in an interview: "They are just passing through. They happen to have friends here."

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