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U.S. reportedly OKs funds for Iraqi opposition


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Bush campaigned on tougher U.S. policy

'Much better footing'


WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The United States has given an Iraqi opposition group permission to use U.S. funds to collect information on alleged violations of human rights and United Nations resolutions by the government of President Saddam Hussein, U.S. officials say.

A White House official confirmed that final approval for the Iraqi National Congress to use the money inside Iraq was given this week by the Treasury Department. The move marks the first policy decision by President George W. Bush on how to treat the Iraqi opposition.

Bush administration officials characterize the decision as a minor change advocated and supported by the Clinton administration. Some analysts said they worry the move may prompt a reaction from Iraqi President Saddam Hussein before the new administration has decided on an overall policy toward Iraq.

Bush administration officials said they are annoyed at a report in the Washington Post that characterized the move as an important policy shift from that of the Clinton administration.

Bush campaigned on tougher U.S. policy

During the presidential campaign, Bush repeatedly called for a tougher U.S. policy toward Iraq.

But a White House spokesman said the application for permission to use U.S. funds to help the Iraqi group "was submitted under the previous administration." The spokesman, who wished to remain anonymous, noted that the $4 million in question is from the fiscal year 2000 budget. "This approval was all but done under the previous administration," said one official.

Bush administration officials -- and others expected to join the administration shortly -- differ over how much assistance to give to the Iraqi opposition.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell is said to have doubts about going too far, while other Bush insiders argue it is time to arm the opposition and provide them a measure of protection in the northern and southern so-called "no-fly" zones patrolled by U.S. and British aircraft.

'Much better footing'

Ahmad Chalaby, the head of the Iraqi National Congress told a Washington audience Thursday that "we expect that our relationship with the United States government under the new administration will be on a much better footing than it was under the previous administration, and we look forward to a very active relationship with the United States government."

However Chalaby warned that Saddam Hussein is unlikely to let the Bush administration set the pace of events.

"The agenda of timing of this is going to be driven by Saddam, because he senses danger now," said Chalaby, noting that the Iraqi leader "always acts to avert danger and in doing so he threatens everybody else."

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4:30pm ET, 4/16

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