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Iraqi National Congress' Liberty TV Off-the-Air - 2002-05-01

The Iraqi umbrella opposition group, the Iraqi National Congress, said it has had to cease satellite television broadcasts into Iraq due to lack of funding by the United States. The State Department said it has had to stop funding to the group because of continued concerns about its accounting practices.

Officials here say the administration continues to support the Iraqi National Congress and its programs including the television service. But they said the United States cannot provide additional money until a new grant is negotiated that resolves U.S. concerns about the way the INC accounts for funds.

The comments here follow an announcement by the London-based opposition group that it has halted its television broadcasts beamed by satellite into Iraq because the State Department has not released any funds for the TV project since February and it cannot pay its service providers.

The group said U.S. money has been withheld despite Bush administration assurances of "full confidence" in the INC and its television project, Liberty TV, which it called an important element in efforts to break Saddam Hussein's "stranglehold" on the media in Iraq.

The State Department has been engaged in an ongoing dispute with the INC about the group's use of U.S. aid and all but basic funding was suspended for several weeks early this year because of problems that emerged in a U.S. audit.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the United States would be happy to fund the broadcasts but it has to be done under conditions that insure the appropriate use of the money. He said, "The fact is the United States has supported them consistently. We've been discussing a new grant to provide additional funds. They say they are out of money. We've been discussing with them a grant to provide additional funds, but frankly it's been complicated by the financial management practices that have continued to bedevil this whole operation."

Mr. Boucher said about one-third of the $15 million the United States has provided to the INC to date has gone to the Liberty TV project, which began its broadcasts into Iraq last August.

The State Department has also been involved in a dispute with the INC over arrangements for a proposed conference the group hopes to convene soon involving hundreds of Iraqi opposition figures including former military officers.