Iraq's leading opposition figures told President George Bush that U.S. soldiers would be greeted "with sweets and flowers" upon entering Iraq.
Their remarks came in an hour-long session with the president at the White House. Although Iraq's well-organized opposition parties have been meeting regularly with U.S. officials, it was their first presidential encounter. Joining the meeting also were Vice President Dick Cheney, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, and other senior White House aides.
Kanan Makiya, a professor at Brandeis University and a leading Iraqi intellectual, told The New York Times he was "deeply reassured" by what he called "the president's intense commitment to a genuinely democratic post-Saddam Iraq."
Not everyone who cheered the meeting was happy with its guest list. Iraq expert Laurie Mylroie accused the State Department of continuing a strategy begun in the Clinton years to divide and weaken groups opposed to Saddam Hussein. That includes Iraqi National Movement head Hatem Mukhlis, a physician living in New York. His group received funding and encouragement from the State Department last year, just as the department cut off funds earmarked by Congress for the rival Iraqi National Congress. The State Department accused the INC of bad accounting, but it has since been cleared. Ms. Mylroie said the department is "saddling the opposition leadership with ineffectual and/or unwanted figures and otherwise trying to divide and play off one faction against the other."
Despite the confusion and pre-war tension, opposition leaders seem to be charting their own compass points. They told the president they would like a post-Saddam leader chosen before military action as "a pole around which they can rally during liberation," according to participant Rende Francke. They also announced a meeting later this month in Irbil, a town under Kurdish control in northern Iraq, to select a post-Saddam transition team. "We're meeting inside Iraq to show we are determined to participate in the overthrow of Saddam," said INC leader Ahmed Chalabi.