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Tuesday, May 25, 1999 Published at 02:12 GMT 03:12 UK

World: Middle East

US to fund Iraqi opposition

No military support for opposition groups yet, the US says

Iraqi opposition groups are to be given US financial support, training and equipment.

The State Department says it will provide opposition leaders with training in civil administration so they are prepared for when Saddam Hussein's leadership comes to an end.

The BBC's Richard Lister: "The package will be substantial"
Opposition groups will also receive advice on distributing anti-Saddam Hussein messages in Iraq.

BBC State Department Correspondent Richard Lister says it is Washington's most concrete commitment so far to the cause of the Iraqi opposition.

American officials say the funding, which will cover the costs of setting up offices in New York, London and the Middle East, will be substantial but did not release an exact figure.

State Department spokesman James Rubin said: "We're trying to strengthen an Iraqi opposition movement that can lay out solid plans for the post-Saddam recovery in all sectors of national life."

State Dept Correspondent Richard Lister: "Biggest step so far"
The announcement came after talks in Washington between Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and leaders of the largest opposition grouping, the Iraqi National Congress (INC).

No weapons

But the State Department says the plan does not include providing military equipment for the opposition.

[ image: Planning for the future]
Planning for the future
Mr Rubin said: "We're not prepared to take action that is premature or that puts people's lives needlessly at risk.

"There are a number of steps that have to be taken before we're in a position to provide lethal assistance."

Mr Rubin said it was hoped that aid would begin flowing after a general assembly of opposition leaders is held in early July.

Six INC members and representatives of Iraq's Kurdish minority and other Arab groups were at the Washington meeting.

They included Adnan Pachachi, a former Iraqi oil minister and Sharif Ali bin Al Hussein, representing the deposed Iraqi monarchy.

One US official said: "[Mrs Albright] welcomed the fact that this group representing the mosaic of Iraq had come together to show their unity."

The opposition leaders are due to visit the US Congress on Wednesday and see President Clinton's National Security Adviser, Sandy Berger, on Thursday.

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