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Kurds oust

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Iraqi Kurds say they discussed with U.S. officials plans to oust Saddam
Mon Apr 22,11:58 AM ET
By SALAH NASRAWI, Associated Press Writer

CAIRO, Egypt - Leaders of the two main Kurdish parties that control northern Iraq met with U.S. officials last week to coordinate efforts to remove Saddam Hussein (news - web sites) from power, according to Iraqi dissidents and Arab press.

Masoud Barzani, leader of the Kurdish Democratic Party, and Jalal Talabani, leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, also discussed plans for a government that would replace Saddam's regime once the Iraqi leader is ousted, the Iraqi dissidents told The Associated Press.

Officially, the Kurdish groups the only armed Iraqi opposition groups have said nothing about the meeting, perhaps out of fear of being accused by other Iraqi factions of working unilaterally with the United States.

On Sunday, the London-based Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper reported that both Barzani and Talabani met officials from the Pentagon (news - web sites), the State Department and the CIA (news - web sites) in Germany last week.

Quoting a Kurdish source, the paper said both sides met for three days near Berlin and reviewed coordination "to launch a strike against Saddam most likely by the end of this year."

The Iraqi dissidents told AP on Sunday that Barzani and Talabani also discussed with U.S. officials plans for merging their two governments administrating northern Iraq ahead of a possible move against Saddam.

German Foreign Ministry spokesman Andreas Michaelis confirmed Monday that the two Kurdish leaders were in Germany last week but refused to provide further information.

A spokeswoman at the U.S. Embassy in Berlin told AP that the United States never comments on intelligence matters.

Delshad Miran, a spokesman for the KDP in London, and Fouad Massoum, the British-based PUK's Europe's representative, told AP their two leaders are in Europe but declined to divulge more.

If confirmed, it would be the first meeting between the two leaders since their parties fought a bloody war over control of the Kurdish area in 1994. The United States, which imposes a no-fly zone on the enclave to protect Kurds against Saddam's incursion, has been mediating between the two parties.

Such a meeting would be a strong signal to Saddam that the Bush administration is determined in its efforts to remove him from power. The 1995 Iraq Liberation Act, passed by Congress and signed by then-President Clinton (news - web sites), made it a matter of law that the United States supports "regime change," or the ouster of Saddam. Bush has recently reiterated that goal.

Earlier this month, several Iraqi opposition leaders, including representatives from the two Kurdish groups, met in Washington to iron out plans for a post-Saddam government.

The Bush administration reportedly is weighing options for deposing Saddam, among them supporting a local insurgency, fostering a coup by the Iraqi leader's closest lieutenants and an outright U.S.-led invasion.

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