Hussein Foes Gather in Beirut to Prepare Unified Opposition

From Reuters

Iraqi dissidents plotted against President Saddam Hussein in a Beirut hotel on Saturday, hoping to give rebel fighters what they lack most--coordinated leadership.

A spokesman for the Supreme Assembly for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq said opposition leaders met informally before a full-scale conference begins Monday.

The three-day meeting was originally scheduled to start today, but the spokesman said it was delayed because some delegates could not reach Beirut in time.

The meeting will bring together some 250 Iraqi dissidents representing 17 groups united only by their hatred of Hussein.

The conference, the largest in the history of the Iraqi opposition movement, was called by the Iraqi National Joint Action Committee.

The coalition's factions include Shiite and Sunni Muslims, Kurds, socialists, Communists, a splinter group of Iraq's ruling Arab Baath Socialist Party and former Iraqi army officers.

Each group is backed by old enemies of Hussein--Iran or Syria or both.

Fighting between rebels and Iraqi government forces has swept cities and towns in the mainly Shiite south and several Kurdish areas in the north since the end of the 100-hour ground war in which a U.S.-led multinational force drove Iraqi troops out of Kuwait.

"The real problem for the uprising is it has no leadership," a leader of a pro-Iranian group said.

A Western diplomat said: "The Western allies (in the Gulf War) hope the army will take out Saddam as we are opposed to any breakup of Iraq, and the opposition groups are simply too divided to be effective."

The pro-Iranian leader, who declined to be identified, said that only the Kurdish groups and Al Dawaa, a Tehran-based Shiite group, have real influence inside Iraq. But even they are unable to lead the rebellion alone.

The joint action committee, formed last December in Damascus, "pleases Syria and does not upset Iran. It gives a popular title to the uprising and a face for any future ruling formula," the leader said.

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