U.S. Steps In to End Wrangle Over Iraqi Opposition Meeting

Six exiled Iraqi opposition groups have settled a feud that delayed a meeting to discuss their possible role in toppling Saddam Hussein, an Iraqi dissident said Sunday.

Though the way has been opened for a meeting in Brussels — originally scheduled for September, the opposition remains deeply divided and negotiations will be tough. The Iraqi opposition is split along sectarian, ethnic, clan and political lines. The rivalries have grown more intense with the prospect of a U.S.-led war to oust Saddam.

In a U.S-brokered compromise, Iraqi National Congress leader Ahmed Chalabi backed off demands to bring 300 more of his supporters to the meeting, which is expected to be dominated by his powerful political rivals.

The sides agreed to bring just 40 more delegates to the meeting, said Hamid al-Bayati, a spokesman for the six groups. That means about 300 delegates will attend in all.

The group hasn't decided who the new delegates will be, al-Bayati said. The meeting is expected to take place sometime next month.

Al-Bayati said five U.S. mediators from the State Department, the Pentagon and the National Security Council worked out the compromise during meetings Saturday in London.

"The Americans pressed for an enlarged conference to be held as soon as possible and we had no problem with this," al-Bayati said.

The delegates are expected to debate ways the six groups can help oust Saddam and form a possible government afterward.

Kanan Makiya, another key dissident and a Chalabi ally, had written the State Department asking it to stop the conference. He said liberal and independent dissidents would be excluded.

Chalabi spokesmen could not be reached for comment. Al-Bayati said Makiya had approved the compromise.

Al-Bayati also said a preparatory committee has turned down a proposal by Makiya and other U.S.-backed exiles that calls for a transitional government that would be set up before Saddam is toppled.

The United States has repeatedly urged Iraqi opposition groups to unite and develop plans for governing their nation if Saddam is overthrown.

Last week the preparatory committee said it was postponing the conference from Friday for two weeks, in part because most of the delegates have not yet received Belgian visas.

The Belgian government has said the delegates did not give it time to process visas. The Belgians also appeared concerned that holding the a meeting in Brussels could be seen as interference in Iraq's internal affairs.