US Iraq coup plan lurches forward

Ankara: Jan 22 (South News) -Washington's not-so-secret plan to oust Iraqi President Saddam Hussein lurched forward with the appointment of a special representative to coordinate US funded Iraqi opposition forces, despite Turkish uneasiness.

The United States on Thursday named Frank Ricciardone, deputy chief of mission in Ankara, an important listening post for events in northern  Iraq as 'Special Representative for Transition in Iraq' to coordinate Washington support for the overthrow of the current Ba'ath  leadership in Iraq.

"We hope Ricciardone will carry out his new responsibilities somewhere outside of Turkey," the  Hurriyet daily on Friday quoted an unnamed foreign ministry official as saying.In a further blunt message Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit said Turkey had always supported the territorial integrity of its neighbors and was firmly opposed to a division of Iraq. "The US can carry out these activities on its own territory, but Turkey will certainly not take any part in this kind of interference," Ecevit said.

Ricciardone directed the 1996 evacuation to the United States from northern Iraq of people, who had received money from the CIA, in failed covert $20 million destabilisation operation. But even as the appointment was made, several opposition groups said they were either not interested or reacted cooly to the prospect.

Iraq's main Shi'ite Muslim opposition group Thursday rejected an aid offer from Washington to help finance efforts to topple President Saddam Hussein. ``Our answer is thank you but no thank you,'' said Hamid al- Bayati, British representative of the Tehran-based Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI).

In a further statement to the  London-based Arabic daily Al-Hayat, its leader, Ayatollah Mohammad Baqer al-Hakim, said "We will not accept US aid for a change in Iraq".

The US rejection follows close on the heels of the announcement of a new united front between the ruling Arab Socialist Ba'ath Party government and opposition parties in Baghdad on Wednesday, Jan 13. The agreement was signed between the Iraqi government and eight opposition factions who made a two-day visit to Iraq to hold talks.

The eight factions that signed the Baghdad agreement were the United Iraqi Organization, the Communist Party, the Islamic Union, the Islamic Association, the National Movement, the Socialist National Union, the Islamic Forum and the Socialist Association.

But Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said Ricciardone would be helped by a team of US officials, including a military and political adviser. Ricciardone, has headed the Iraq desk at the State Department, advised US military officers on aiding the Kurds in Iraq and also has served in Egypt.

Between 1991 and 1993, Ricciardone served as the number two for Washington's closed embassy in Baghdad, operating out of Amman, Jordan and London. Ricciardone later served as political adviser to the commanders of the multinational force that supported CIA operations in northern Iraq following the Gulf War. He was credited with liasing a military exercise  between Turkey, the U.S. and Israel in the Mediterranean recently.

President Clinton has designated seven organisations opposed to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to receive US support under the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998. The act, rushed to passage by Congress before last year's elections, called for spending up to $97 million in overt military aid to Iraqi opposition groups.

The groups named by the US were: Iraqi National Accord, the Iraqi National Congress, Islamic Movement of Iraqi Kurdistan, the Kurdistan Democratic Party, Movement for a Constitutional Monarchy, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, and the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq.

The three Kurdish groups which between them control most of northern Iraq -- the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the smaller Islamic Movement of Iraqi Kurdistan (IMIK) -- were all lukewarm in their reaction.

"The leadership of the PUK is studying the question. But, in principle, we are not in favour of aid with strings attached," said Fuad Maassum, a London-based member of the PUK leadership.

The KDP said it had not been officially informed of the US decision. Washington had "not consulted" the KDP in advance, said its London representative, Dilshad Miran.

In addition to Operation Northern Watch, the United States has had 2,500 military personnel based in Incirlik in southern Turkey

The two other groups named by the US president -- the London-based opposition umbrella group, the Iraqi National Congress, and the Amman-based  Iraqi National Accord -- have yet to give any public reaction.

The small Movement for a Constitutional Monarchy, which wants to restore the royal family overthrown in 1958, headed by Ali ibn Hussein, a descendant of the Hashemite family which used to rule Iraq, is the first to openly welcome US support.