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Iraq’s Northern Incursion Devastates Anti-Saddam Opposition

September 10, 1996

AMMAN, Jordan (AP) _ Saddam Hussein’s incursion into northern Iraq has devastated opposition groups seeking his overthrow, leaving them struggling to re-establish themselves inside Iraq, dissidents say.

``Like other Iraqi dissident groups, we have lost strategic grounds in Iraqi soil,″ said Haround Mohammed, a spokesman for the dissident Iraqi National Accord. ``It will take time before we rearrange ourselves and station our cadres in a secret hideout in the mountains out of the reach of Iraqi tanks.″

The Iraqi-allied Kurdish Democratic Party routed the rival Patriotic Union of Kurdistan in northern Iraq this week, effectively giving Saddam control of the Kurdish ``safe haven″ set up by U.S.-led forces at the end of the Gulf War.

According to opposition and Western press reports, Iraqi security forces have seized the opportunity to arrest and execute scores of opposition activists who had been based in Irbil, the area’s de facto capital. Irbil fell to the KDP on Aug. 31.

The Iraqis are also alleged to have smashed computers, printers and radio transmitters used by opposition groups to produce anti-Saddam literature and broadcasts.

Mohammed’s group of former Iraqi diplomats, military officers and businessmen was formed in 1991, allegedly with the backing of the CIA. It was based in Irbil.

It produced and distributed anti-Saddam leaflets, books and radio broadcasts and recruited Iraqi army and other defectors, but, like other Iraqi opposition groups, never posed a serious challenge to Saddam.

Activists who deserted the group have claimed in interviews given to Arabic-language newspapers that the group had worked in coordination with the CIA.

They also claimed that CIA agents had been stationed in Irbil to collect intelligence data and question defectors fleeing to the Kurdish ``safe haven″ in northern Iraq.

A Western diplomat speaking to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity said several CIA officers who had been stationed in Irbil and the town of Sallahueddine were able to ``make a safe exit.″ He declined to give any details.

The Kurdish safe haven was created by the U.S.-led allies in 1991 to protect the Kurds from Iraqi reprisals after a short-lived Kurdish revolt was put down by Saddam’s army.

Mohammed said Iraqi troops have demolished his group’s headquarters in Irbil.

``But by sheer luck, we managed to move all our equipment, computers and other belongings before the Iraqi army invaded the area,″ he said.

Another Iraqi dissident said the Iraqi army looted the offices of the National Congress, an umbrella group for Iraqi dissidents that is also accused of having CIA links.

Bayan Jaber, a Syrian-based representative of the Higher Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, said at least 100 Iraqi dissidents based in Kurdish areas and affiliated with various opposition groups had been executed.

``The Kurds feel let down by the United States because it abandoned them in front of the tanks of Saddam Hussein,″ Jaber said.

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