The Iraqi National Congress has again become the focus
of a dispute with the Bush administration as the pro-Western opposition
group begins operations in Iraq.
U.S. officials said the question of the INC's role has divided the
administration and prevented Iraqi opposition forces from deploying in
several cities in southern Iraq. They said the dispute pits the Defense
Department against the State Department.
The Pentagon wants the INC to be a major force in the pacification of
Iraq as opposition forces help identify members of the ruling Baath Party
and establish a civil administration in cities throughout the country.
Nearly 1,000 INC members are being deployed in southern Iraq and have begun
efforts to restore order.
The INC effort is being opposed by the State Department and the CIA,
officials said. They said the two departments regard the INC as unreliable
and jeopardizes U.S. assurances that Iraq would not be run by foreigners.
The State Department has blocked at least $4 million in funds for the
operation of the INC's Liberty television broadcasts to Iraq.
"Our view of an Iraqi interim authority," State Department deputy
spokesman Philip Reeker said, "is something that is run and chosen by
Iraqis; that it should be representative of all the groups in Iraq; it
should include members of the exile community who have worked very hard over
a number of decades for the liberation of Iraq, for the freedom of the Iraqi
people. It should also include people inside Iraq."
The fighting within the administration over the INC is said to be
endangering the U.S.-led war in Iraq. Five U.S. senators, all of them
Republicans, have sent President George Bush a letter calling on him to
"personally clear the bureaucratic road blocks from within the State
Department" and ensure that the INC obtains the funding allocated by
"American lives are at stake," said the letter, signed by Senators Sam
Brownback, Norm Coleman, Jon Kyl, John McCain and Rick Santorum.
The CIA has argued that the INC has little support in Iraq, particularly
in the Sunni Muslim community. Officials said the CIA has accused Chalabi, a
Shi'ite Muslim, and the INC of relaying largely unsubstantiated intelligence
information and assessments to the Bush administration.
On Sunday, Chalabi was flown to the southern Iraqi city of Nasiriya to
recruit support for the INC and establish a political presence in Iraq. At
the same time, Iraqi opposition sources said the CIA has threatened the INC
with attack unless the group coordinates efforts with the U.S. intelligence
On Tuesday, a leading INC member, Kanan Makiya, told the American
Enterprise Institute in Washington that the CIA threatened air strikes
against INC-aligned forces unless they evacuated Amara, about 360 kilometers
southeast of Baghdad.
The Amara headquarters was captured by Abu Hatem Mohammed Ali, who led a
militia of several thousand combatants, Makiya said. He said Abu Hatem was a
contact of the INC and also known to the Pentagon.
"He [Abu Hatem] was then told by a CIA officer whose name I do not know
but who spoke perfect Arabic that he had to vacate that city," Makiya said.
"He was threatened with bombing and strafing of the building, the compound
he took over, so he decided it would be better to be wise and he did
withdraw in fact."
INC leaders have urged the United States to allow opposition forces to
help the war effort. They said the INC and other opposition groups could
quickly win the confidence of ordinary Iraqis to rebel against the Saddam
regime. So far, they said, the United States has ruled out any military
engagement by the INC.
"I bring it as a cautionary tale of where we can go wrong," Maykiya
said, referring to the Amara episode.