WASHINGTON – Members of the Iraqi National Congress — Saddam Hussein's rival parliament-in-exile — have made their case to sympathetic ears in Washington for at least 10 years, but the arrival of their members on Capitol Hill Thursday has added significance in light of recent talk about the next stage in the war against terror.
The possibility of moving the warfront from Afghanistan to Iraq has members of the INC seeking help from House Republican Policy Committee members, who have expressed a willingness to work with the group to take down the regime in Baghdad.
"They promised to be supportive of us — in a similar way to what they are doing right now in Afghanistan," said Francis Brooke, a U.S. spokesman for the 234-member INC.
Taking advantage of the good will, the INC asked the committee to help convince the State Department to allocate funds earmarked for the INC under the Iraqi Liberation Act of 1998.
According to officials, $25 million was appropriated to the group to conduct anti-regime activities, including information and humanitarian aid campaigns inside Iraq.
But $10 million that INC members said is crucial for their mobilization has not been disbursed.
"They expressed very strong support for us and to urge the State Department to stop restricting the funding to support our operations inside the country," said INC Chairman Ahmed Chalabi after the meeting.
With sentiment moving against Iraq, however, Chalabi and his cohorts may end up with more than just cash. Movement is afoot on both sides of the political aisle to support the president in extending the war on terror to Iraq, where Saddam has reportedly been stockpiling weapons of mass destruction since the Persian Gulf War.
Congressional leaders, including Sen. Tent Lott, R-Miss., Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., sent Bush a letter Wednesday urging the president to step up to the next warfront.
"All indications are that in the interest of our own national security, Saddam Hussein must be removed from power. Let us maximize a rapid victory by beginning immediately to assist the Iraqi opposition on the ground," reads the letter urging support for the INC. "If we have learned one thing from the ongoing battle in Afghanistan, it is that working effectively in coordination with locals on the ground can significantly leverage our own use of military force."
And while INC members have been exiled from Iraq, the organization has strong ties with many ethnic groups inside the country who want to oust Saddam.
According to Brooke, the INC also has growing military capability inside the country, but needs additional resources to combat Saddam's arsenal in the regime's stronghold of Baghdad, much like the way the Northern Alliance routed the Taliban in Kabul.
"They are willing to carry the fight directly to [Saddam] if we provide support," said Rep. John Shadegg, R-Ariz. "The gentlemen are at the forefront of that fight and deserve our support."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.