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Tuesday, November 2, 1999 Published at 11:06 GMT

World: Middle East

Iraqi exiles plan to oust Saddam

The removal of Saddam Hussein is the main aim of the opposition

A four-day conference of exiled Iraqi opposition parties in New York has ended with an endorsement of a new programme of action for the overthrow of the Iraqi President, Saddam Hussein.

The four-day conference was attended by 300 delegates under the umbrella of the Iraqi National Congress.

They elected a seven-member executive body with representatives of the Kurdish minority, independents, an Islamist and a monarchist, to increase pressure on Saddam Hussein from outside and within Iraq.

The United States, which had funded the event, offered a firm commitment to protect and help the Iraqi opposition.

The Iraqi Government had earlier ridiculed the opposition meeting - the biggest such gathering in years - as an event orchestrated by the Clinton administration.

A US State Department official has been quoted as saying that some conference delegates were threatened by the authorities in Iraq.

'Democracy' and 'pluralism'

The opposition action programme calls for a reform of the Iraqi political system along Western lines.

[ image: The US will train opposition fighters]
The US will train opposition fighters
"The agenda is that we will institute a democratic, pluralistic regime that respects human rights and the rule of law and the Iraqi people have the right to choose what form of government they want," Sharif Ali Bin Al Hussein, of the Constitutional Monarchy Movement and new member of the INC leadership, said at a news conference.

The INC, meeting for the first time in seven years, said "the door was open" for several other opposition groups to join the INC.

The main Shi'ite group, the Iranian-based Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, was among those who decided not to attend the meeting.

US support

The gathering cost almost $2m, partly financed by the US Congress.

And Thomas Pickering, US Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs, told the opposition members on Monday that US support for their cause would continue.

"The United States will stand with you after the change of the regime, as we stand with you now in advancing the historic day of Iraq's transition," he said.

Last week, the US announced it would be giving "non-lethal" military training to opponents of Saddam Hussein.

The 10-week course is part of a $97m US initiative to help opposition groups unite against the Iraqi leader and prepare them to rule the country if he is ousted.

Four Iraqis, including two former military officers who have defected, will receive training at an air base in Florida, according to the defence department.

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