Sunday January 31 1999 3:22 AM ET 

Iraq Group Slams U.S. Doubters Of Plans To Topple Saddam

LONDON (Reuters) - A London-based Iraqi opposition group has slammed
remarks by a senior U.S. official who had questioned American plans to
overthrow President Saddam Hussein and cast doubt over Iraq's future if
such plans succeeded.

The Iraqi National Congress (INC), in a statement issued Saturday, said
Marine Corps General Anthony Zinni, commander of U.S. forces in the
Gulf, lacked ``full understanding of the political and social situation
in Iraq.''

``General Zinni's view that Iraq would splinter and that Iraqi society
will not withstand the removal of Saddam's dictatorship is widely off
the mark and shows a real lack of knowledge and misinformation about
Iraq,'' INC spokesman Ahmed Allawi said in the statement.

Zinni, who had been opposed to a shift in U.S. strategy to overthrow the
Iraqi regime instead of the previous containment policy, told the
Senate's Armed Services Committee Thursday that none of the Iraqi
opposition groups presented a viable threat to Saddam.

``The general claims to have studied the Iraqi opposition, yet neither
the general nor anyone from his staff has ever been in contact with the
Iraqi National Congress,'' he added.

U.S. Congress last year approved legislation known as the ''Iraq
Liberation Act'' allocating $97 million to Iraqi opposition groups to
help them overthrow the Iraqi leader.

President Clinton in November called for a new government in Baghdad,
and Washington recently picked seven Iraqi opposition groups, including
INC, as eligible to receive funds. It also appointed a senior diplomat
to coordinate with the opposition groups.

The INC spokesman also lashed out at other comments by a senior Central
Intelligence Agency (CIA) official who it said had cast doubt on the
prospects of a democracy emerging in Iraq after Saddam.

The INC statement quoted Ellen Laipson, Vice-Chairman of the National
Intelligence Council of the CIA, as saying that many Iraqis supported a
form of leadership that does not meet Western standards for democracy.

Describing the remarks as ``immoral,'' Allawi said: ``This person voices
the prevailing view that Iraqis and Arabs are unworthy of democracy and
incapable of pluralism and participatory government. We find this view
offensive if not blatantly racist,'' he said.

``We hope that the Clinton Administration will disavow the comments of
these two officials and move swiftly to implement the Iraqi Liberation
Act,'' Allawi added.

A senior American official met Iraqi opposition groups in London Friday,
the first session in a process the United States hopes will end with
Saddam's downfall.

Frank Ricciardone, an Arabic-speaking career diplomat, told reporters
the United States wanted to see Iraq regain its proper place in the
international community but believed this would only be possible after
Saddam's removal as Iraqi leader.

                         Copyright  1999 Reuters Limited.