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US-Iraqi Opposition Talks Focus on Factions' Unity - 2002-08-09

The Bush administration convened leaders and senior delegates of six Iraqi opposition groups at the State Department Friday. They attended a meeting U.S. officials said enhanced the unity of factions seeking the ouster of Saddam Hussein. Plans were announced for a broader meeting of the opposition to be held soon in Europe.

The more-than-two-hour meeting here was the most ambitious effort thus far by the Bush administration to try to unite the fractious Iraqi opposition, and get the groups to focus on preparing for the post-Saddam era in Iraq.

A State Department spokesman said the talks were productive and included planning for a larger, broad-based conference of the Iraqi opposition in the next few months.

Speaking for the Iraqis, Hamid al-Bayati of the Iranian-based Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq said there is a consensus to replace what he termed "a regime of oppression" in Baghdad with a democracy.

"All Iraqi opposition are united, and all the Iraqi people are united to get rid of dictatorship and to establish democratic, constitutional, parliamentary regime in the future in Iraq," he pointed out.

The meeting was hosted by the third-ranking officials of the State and Defense departments though Secretary of State Colin Powell joined in briefly, saying, according to a U.S. official, that "our shared goal is that the Iraqi people should be free."