U.S. Invites Iraqi Opposition Groups to Discuss Overthrow of Saddam

The United States has invited six Iraqi opposition groups to Washington next month for talks on removing Saddam Hussein, spokesmen for three of the factions said Saturday.

The State Department confirmed a meeting was planned either Aug. 9 or Aug. 16 to coordinate "our work with the Iraqi opposition."

A spokesman for the Iraqi National Congress, Nabil Mousawi, said in London that the congress, an umbrella group of dissident parties, would accept the invitation.

"It is the first time that the U.S. administration has issued a joint letter from the Pentagon, the State Department and other agencies," Mousawi said. "Finally we have one intended policy from all sections of the administration."

He said the opposition groups wanted to hear confirmation that the Bush administration is committed to overthrowing Saddam.

"We will hear from them how this is going to be coordinated between the Iraqi opposition and the U.S. government," Mousawi said.

President Bush has described Saddam as a menace and said he wants him removed, but Iraqi dissidents want to know how far the United States is prepared to go to accomplish that.

State Department spokesman Frederick Jones said the meeting would be hosted by Undersecretary of State Marc Grossman and Undersecretary of Defense Douglas J. Feith.

The leader of the small Constitutional Monarchy Movement, Sharif Ali Bin Al-Hussein, said in London that his party had accepted the invitation.

In Damascus, the Syrian representative of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, Bayan Jabber, said his group was invited, but had not yet decided whether it would attend. The council draws its support from Iraq's Shiite Muslim majority.

Jones said the other parties invited are the Iraqi National Accord, another umbrella group, and the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan.

The Kurd groups are the two main powers in the Kurdish zone of northern Iraq, which is beyond the control of the Baghdad government. Spokesmen for the groups in London and Ankara, Turkey, said they heard of the meeting, but could not confirm their leaderships had been invited.

Representatives of the Iraqi National Accord could not be reached Saturday.

The Iraqi National Congress, which is based in London, took part in a meeting of former Iraqi military officers and opposition groups in the British capital earlier this month.

Representatives of the State Department and Pentagon attended the meeting. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said afterward that it was "a useful tool."

In June, Bush administration officials discussed preparations for a post-Saddam Iraq with representatives of the two Kurdish groups, the supreme council, the national accord and other groups.