The United States will train up to 145 members of the Iraqi opposition-in-exile in skills such as field medicine, logistics, computers, communications, broadcasting and power generation, reported The Associated Press, quoting a senior state department official.
But at least for the moment as throughout the 18 months since Washington added 'regime change' to its agenda for Iraq, the United States will not train the opposition Iraqi National Congress (INC) to fight the Iraqi army, added the official.
The training plan, despite its limitations, marks a rapid escalation in the level of US support for the INC, which critics have dismissed as an ineffectual organization more prone to talk than to act, said the agency.
The official was speaking after the new leadership of the INC had its first meeting with Vice President, Al Gore, who promised that US support would continue and that supplies of materiel and training would accelerate.
The US Congress has given the Clinton administration authority to give the INC equipment and training worth $97 million, but the opposition has so far received only a tiny amount.
The State Department, which handles relations with the INC through special representative, Frank Ricciardone, said its aim last year was to reunite the INC and give it the organizational tools it needed to receive US aid directly, said the agency.
"This year they mean to make a year of 'operationalizing' the INC again, coming back together as a real organization, with leaders, staff, office space, activities, programs et cetera that they can lay out," the official said.
Aside from the $97 million available in the form of Pentagon surplus equipment and training, the United States has $8 million available in cash this year for the opposition.
The United States began reviving the INC in late 1998 when it became clear the Baghdad government was not about to let back UN inspectors to monitor its weapons programs.
The opposition had been seriously damaged, and US credibility hurt, when Iraqi forces drove the INC out of the autonomous Kurdish-run north of Iraq in 1996, said the agency - Albawaba.com
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)