Last December's Iraq Liberation Act commits Washington to supply $97 million in military aid to the Iraqi opposition. But that opposition is so small and fiercely divided along personality, ethnic and ideological lines some key groups boycotted the New York meeting to avoid being tainted as U.S. pawns as to make it something of a fiction in the real strategic equation. The military training that begins in Florida this week involves teaching four men, in civilian attire, such topics as the role of the military in a democracy. Not exactly menacing stuff, but it may reflect what's being left unspoken. "The prime strategic concern remains to avoid the breakup of Iraq," says Thompson, "and as long as Saddam's in power that can be avoided. Incremental bombing of his air defenses in the north and funding opposition groups doesn't really endanger the status quo, and while the U.S. would be happy to see him overthrown, it's not investing much in pursuing that option partly because Saddam's regime is still strong enough to maul any guerrilla challenge." Which is why his Arab neighbors have long since concluded that Washington doesn't intend to overthrow Saddam, and are therefore pushing to end sanctions and find ways of living with the regime in Baghdad. But don't tell Congress.
Ssshhh. Don't tell Congress, but nobody's taking this overthrowing Saddam thing very seriously. Iraqi oppositionists report for military training in the U.S. this week, following a weekend conference in New York sponsored by the State Department, but neither the opposition nor Washington has a serious strategy for overthrowing the Iraqi dictator. "This is pretty much a charade," says TIME Pentagon correspondent Mark Thompson. "President Clinton adopted the Iraq Liberation Act for domestic political reasons, as a way of showing the U.S. was doing something about Saddam without actually doing anything significant. People in the Pentagon believe that unless he's assassinated, he'll be in power until he dies."