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Saturday, 10 August, 2002, 03:38 GMT 04:38 UK
Iraqi exiles hail US 'commitment'
Iraqi troops
The opposition says the Iraqi army is demoralised
Iraqi opposition leaders say they have been encouraged by talks with US officials to discuss their possible role in American plans to overthrow Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

(Mr Powell) wished us well and encouraged us

Ahmed Chalabi, Iraqi National Congress
One opposition figure sad he had sensed "more seriousness and commitment" from the administration during the talks in Washington on Friday.

US officials have in the past questioned the unity and effectiveness of the Iraqi opposition.

The meeting came as US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said the policy of containing Saddam Hussein had failed to prevent him developing weapons of mass destruction.

"There is no way any reasonable person could look at that record and say it has worked," he said. "It hasn't worked and it is not working."

The Iraqis are due on Saturday to speak by video link to Vice President Dick Cheney - who is currently on holiday.


"Our shared goal is that the Iraqi people should be free," a US official quoted Secretary of State Colin Powell as telling the Iraqis when he joined the talks on Friday.

Ahmed Chalabi, head of the Iraqi National Congress.
Chalabi says he wants a democratic Iraq
"(Mr Powell) wished us well and encouraged us," commented Ahmed Chalabi, the head of the Iraqi National Congress (INC) umbrella group.

It is the first time US President George W Bush has invited the leaders of all the opposition groups for talks together.

The BBC's Jon Leyne in Washington says the US Government has had to overcome deep scepticism about their credibility.

A US general once dismissed Iraqi exiles as "silk-suited, Rolex-wearing guys in London".

No match

Our correspondent says the main aim of the meeting was to show that the Iraqi opposition could be united.

Pro-Saddam rally in Baghdad
Saddam urged Iraqis to be prepared
INC spokesman Sharif Ali bin Hussein said the opposition was ready.

He told the BBC that extended military action against Saddam would not be needed because his army would not fight.

"This was put to the test in 1991, when hardly any units fought against the allied troops," he said.

In any attack, US forces should concentrate on Saddam Hussein's command and control, as well as Saddam himself and his colleagues, rather than massively targeting military objectives and Iraq's infrastructure, he added.

Mixed signals

There is growing speculation that the US is planning to attack Iraq over its failure to readmit United Nations weapons monitors, who have been barred from the country since 1998.

President Bush has called for the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.

However, the White House on Friday reaffirmed that Mr Bush had no timetable for deciding whether to take military action and said he might not make any decision this year.

A senior Republican congressman said America should not attack Iraq as long as Saddam Hussein remained within his own borders.

Dick Armey, the majority leader of the House of Representatives and a senior member of President Bush's Republican Party, warned against any action without what he called "proper provocation".

He said Iraq's refusal to allow in UN weapons inspectors was not a good enough reason.

The BBC's Jon Leyne
"The Americans are eager to listen to their message"
The BBC's Duncan Hewitt
"Here in Washington, they know that they have to persuade allies"
Dr Ahmad Chalabi, Iraqi National Congress
"The Iraqi opposition has been united for a long time"

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See also:

09 Aug 02 | Middle East
08 Aug 02 | Middle East
07 Aug 02 | Middle East
07 Aug 02 | Middle East
02 Aug 02 | Middle East
09 Aug 02 | Middle East
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