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Iraqi Dissidents Discuss Saddam Ouster During London Meeting


Leading Iraqi dissidents have concluded a three-day meeting in London, focusing on options to remove Saddam Hussein from power.

It was the most public display of Iraqi opposition seen in the West. More than 70 former Iraqi military officers gathered in London to discuss strategies aimed at Saddam Hussein's removal from power and visions of what a post-Saddam Iraq might look like.

Although the United States did not support the conference financially, representatives from the State Department and the Pentagon attended sessions on the first day. State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher in Washington described the meeting as "a useful tool."

Also present on Friday was Prince Hassan of Jordan, the uncle of King Abdullah. He later told the BBC that the meeting was encouraging. "I think it is up to the people of Iraq to face that challenge," he said. "And obviously they have to be encouraged, because if we are going to talk about the future, and of course I am not just talking about the people here in the hall, but all the people of Iraq have to take their own decisions about their own future."

But the state of Jordan distanced itself from the gathering, saying Mr. Hassan's participation was an individual act.

In recent weeks, Jordan has denied Arab and Western media reports suggesting it would allow U.S. planes to use Jordanian air bases in the event of an American attack on Iraq.

While the London meeting was closed to reporters, dissidents who spoke between sessions conveyed their wish that the United States would intervene soon to force President Saddam Hussein's ouster. But many expressed concerns that military efforts must not target Iraqi civilians or the infrastructure.

A spokesman for the Iraqi National Coalition said meeting organizers were forced to move the discussions on the second day from a west London conference hall to an office complex in the north of the city, following telephone warnings that the gathering might be targeted by a suicide bomber.