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Jewish World Review Dec. 10, 2002 / 5 Kislev, 5763

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Consumer Reports

U.S. to fund Iran-based Iraqi opposition group

By Eli J. Lake (UPI) | The United States has approved military funding for six Iraqi opposition groups, including an Iran-based organization that maintains close ties to that country's hard-line Islamic clerical leadership.

The group, known as the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, or SCIRI, is an umbrella for a number of Shia Islamist groups including some that have in the past coordinated activities with Iran's intelligence services. The group maintains an office in Tehran that is paid for by the Iranian government.

Under an order signed by President Bush Saturday, SCIRI and five other Iraqi opposition groups would be eligible for $92 million worth of military training and defense articles from the Pentagon -- authorized by the 1998 Iraq Liberation Act.

"The Iranians have allowed SCIRI to take some positions different than the government. That said the group is never going to go against Iranian policy, and is dependent on Iranian financial and logistical support," Patrick Clawson, the deputy director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy told United Press International Monday.

Clawson called the step "significant because the Iranians are willing to see someone on their soil accept money from the United States government."

U.S. funding for Iraqi opposition groups on Iranian soil in the past has been limited to the Iraqi National Congress, an umbrella of exiled oppositionists founded in 1992 who have received overt support from the U.S. government since 1999. In 2001, the State Department approved funding to the INC to establish an office in Tehran and last year the Iranians also agreed to allow the organization to set up a radio transmitter on its soil for broadcast into Iran.

But the Iraqi National Congress also does not receive funding directly from the Iranian government and its composition and leadership are largely based in London. This is not true for SCIRI, whose spiritual and political leader Muhammed Baqr al-Hakim lives in Tehran.

Last month, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz wrote the SCIRI leader inviting him to a conference scheduled to begin on Saturday in London of the Iraqi opposition. Ahmad Chalabi, a co-founder of the INC and close friend of many in the civilian leadership at the Pentagon is currently in Tehran for talks with al-Hakim on the issue of the opposition conference.

U.S. officials Monday told UPI that the funding for opposition activities would go largely for military training for such activities as liaison officers between Iraqis and the U.S. military and military policing. Under the arrangement, the six opposition groups have submitted names of people for the training and these names are in turn vetted by Pentagon officials. One State Department official said Monday, "We are saying here you go. We are ready to give you the whole 92 million, now give us the full list of names."

Apart from the INC and SCIRI, the groups are: the Iraqi National Accord; the Kurdistan Democratic Party; the Movement for Constitutional Monarchy and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan;

The decision to authorize the training represents a significant break in a longstanding policy fight within the Bush Administration on whether to authorize the training at all. For the first year and a half of the administration, the $92 million promised in the Iraq Liberation Act for the Iraqi opposition was not disbursed.

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© 2002, UPI