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Report: U.S. to Fund Covert Action in Iraq

The Pentagon will for the first time begin funding covert operations by Iraqi opposition groups inside the nation's borders in an attempt to gain intelligence about President Saddam Hussein's plans, London's Sunday Times newspaper reported.

The Sunday Times said the money would be used to bribe senior Iraqi officials and, if necessary, help them to leave the country -- and also to help to pay for a growing opposition network inside Iraq, which the paper says is hoped to reach as far as Saddam's inner circle.

The newspaper cited an anonymous spokesperson for the Iraqi National Congress (INC), Iraq's largest opposition group.

"The army won't fight for Saddam Hussein," an unnamed opposition source told the paper. "Our analysis is that they are too weak to fight against him, but they will not fight for him."

The State Department has already announced that it is planning to spend $8 million to support opponents of Saddam and an additional $6.6 million to help needy Iraqis inside and outside of the country.

Spokesman Philip Reeker made the announcements last Thursday as U.S. military officials disclosed that aircraft from the U.S.-British coalition patrolling southern Iraq had bombed two Iraqi air defense sites.

Reeker spoke after Condoleezza Rice, President Bush's national security adviser, called Saddam an "evil man" who will wreak havoc on the world if the West fails to stop him. Her comments came in a British Broadcasting Corp. interview that was seen as an attempt to boost sagging British support for a U.S. move to oust Saddam.

Vice President Dick Cheney also pressed the administration's case against Iraq at a Republican fund-raiser in Orlando, Fla., saying: "We must take the battle to the enemy and, if necessary, pre-empt certain threats to our country before the materialize."

The $6.6 million in humanitarian assistance would be earmarked for nongovernment organizations for medical care, relief for displaced Iraqis, shelter, water supplies, sanitation and other services, Reeker said.

Administration officials said the assistance was not related to humanitarian needs that many Iraqis will face if Bush orders military action against Iraq to unseat Saddam and his regime.

The officials, asking not to be identified, said the funds had been appropriated by Congress but have not been spent. They said that if arrangements had not been made to spend the money, it would not have been available after the fiscal year ends Sept. 30. Contracts to provide the services were open for bids from nongovernment organizations in July.

The officials said the money spent inside Iraq would be earmarked for the Kurdish population of Northern Iraq, which generally has been outside of Saddam's control because of military protection provided by the United States and Britain.

Iraqis forced to flee to neighboring countries also would be eligible for assistance, the officials said.

Many of Iraq's humanitarian needs are being met under a U.N.-sponsored oil-for-food program that allows Iraq to sell unlimited quantities of oil provided the proceeds go for food, medicine and other supplies.

Since 1996, $36.2 billion worth of contracts for humanitarian supplies have been approved, according to United Nations figures.

As for the $8 million, Reeker said it would be provided to the INC. Disbursement of the funds has been bogged down with disagreements with the INC dating from May, but the differences have since been cleared up.

The funding will enable the INC to publish a newspaper, support anti-Saddam television broadcasts into Iraq, maintain regional offices, and operate humanitarian relief programs. The television broadcasts went off the air months ago because of a lack of funding.

Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has suggested that the administration would not have a problem if Israel attacks Iraq in response to an Iraqi strike against Israeli targets.

"It's understood," Myers said, without elaborating. "We understand the point."

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has said that he would not stand idly by in the event of an Iraqi attack against Israel.

Eleven years ago, Iraq fired Scud missiles against Israel during the Gulf War. Israel did not retaliate, bowing to U.S. pressure. Then-President George H.W. Bush was concerned that Israeli countermeasures against Iraq could prompt Arab countries to pull out of the international coalition that had taken up arms against Iraq.

The U.S.-British attack in southern Iraq took place last Wednesday and was in response to Iraqi actions threatening coalition planes patrolling the southern no-fly zone, a Central Command statement said.

In Iraq, an unidentified military spokesman said four civilians were injured in the attacks, the official Iraqi News Agency reported Thursday.

"The evil U.S. and British warplanes attacked residential areas and service installations in Wasit and Missan provinces ... Wednesday night," the spokesman said, according to the news agency. Wasit and Missan are 106 miles and 267 miles respectively southeast of Baghdad.

"Our courageous air defenses drove the planes away," the Iraqi spokesman told INA.

The strike was the latest in a series of incidents in the no-fly zones over northern and southern Iraq. Coalition planes struck an Iraqi military communications facility Aug. 5.

Fox News' Andrew Hard and The Associated Press contributed to this report.