The Bush administration says it has begun a series of meetings with Iraqi opposition groups on how Iraq would be governed after the fall of Saddam Hussein. The U.S. dialogue includes the umbrella group, the Iraqi National Congress, or INC, along with a variety of other opposition factions including Kurdish and Islamic-based groups.
The State Department says it has opened a series of what it terms "working group" meetings with various opposition factions on a post-Saddam Iraq, leading up to what is expected to be a broader U.S.-funded conference of opposition groups in Europe later this summer.
Though officials have said there is no U.S. military plan at present to oust Saddam Hussein, his departure is a stated policy goal of the Bush administration.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said it is "not too big a leap" to be thinking about what happens in Baghdad after a change of government. "The aim of all this," he said, "first of all, is to look to all the different Iraqi opposition groups to try to see what everybody can do in terms of mobilizing against Saddam Hussein. But also looking to the future of Iraq after Saddam Hussein. As you know, the subjects that we thought should be addressed at the conferences, or the work-shops and conference over the summer, is post-Saddam Iraq and how these people could help organize Iraq in the future, once Saddam is gone."
Mr. Boucher said the first of the meetings was convened last Friday by the State Department's third-ranking official, Under-secretary of State for Political Affairs Marc Grossman.
They are to be continued this week by Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs Ryan Crocker, who has been an unofficial liaison with Kurdish opposition groups based in Northern Iraq.
The U.S. outreach will involve not only the London-based Iraqi National Congress and the mainline Iraqi Kurdish groups the KDP and the PUK - but a variety of other secular, Islamic and ethnic-based factions as well.
The INC is the most prominent of the opposition groups, and it has received the most U.S. funding under a 1998 act of Congress authorizing nearly $100 million for anti-Saddam forces.
However, its relationship with the State Department has been strained by a long-running dispute over its accounting practices, and funding for INC programs has been sporadic.
Mr. Boucher said Monday the administration was willing to give the organization another $8 million for programs this year, but that depends on a positive report from State Department auditors currently examining the groups' finances in London.
The INC, which among other things produces satellite television broadcasts aimed at Iraq, denies any misuse of U.S. funds.