Firing Blanks

The plot to oust Saddam and the constant pounding from U.S. jets are going nowhere

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Saddam Hussein doesn't get to pick his enemies, but if he did, the choice would be easy. Gunning for him on one front is a 25-year-old rookie pilot from California who wants to be known only by his call sign, "Loose." An F-15E Strike Eagle pilot, Loose recently lit his afterburners to escape a salvo of three Iraqi missiles. "I had a big fat grin," Loose says, remembering the day when the missiles came close, but missed, and his commander radioed back that he could retaliate with a pair of 500-lb. bombs. Once again an American pilot trained at a cost of $2.5 million had beaten the $14,000 bounty Saddam offers to any Iraqi who can down a U.S. jet. "People can say this is a low-intensity conflict," Loose said from his hardened bunker at Turkey's Incirlik Air Base. "But I can tell you that having somebody shoot at me definitely makes me feel like I'm at war. And I guarantee that the people I dropped bombs on feel they are at war."

Saddam's other "enemy" lives 2,000 miles away in an 18th century town house on London's fashionable Cavendish Square. It looks more like the corporate digs of a leveraged-buyout firm than the headquarters of a guerrilla movement. Instead of AK-47s and Molotov cocktails, No. 17 Cavendish Square boasts fully equipped offices with ergonomic furniture, fresh-cut flowers and expensive prints hanging on the walls. For a suite on its second floor, the U.S. State Department pays more than $200 a sq. ft. annually, according to documents obtained by TIME--double what most empty modern office space in London costs. Iraqi opposition leaders are supposed to use the lavish accommodations Washington has provided to plot Saddam's overthrow, but most say they stay away. For them, Cavendish Square is an embarrassing example of how the other front in this war with Saddam has become an extravagant charade.

Most Americans can be forgiven if they have forgotten--assuming they ever knew--that the U.S. has been at war with Iraq. A year ago, as the U.N. weapons-inspection program in Iraq collapsed, President Clinton announced that the U.S. would not only "contain" Saddam's threat to the rest of the world but also work to "change" the brutal regime in Baghdad. Clinton also signed the Republican-sponsored Iraq Liberation Act, which allowed him to supply Iraqi opposition groups with as much as $97 million worth of military equipment and training. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright appointed veteran foreign-service officer Frank Ricciardone to be her czar for overthrowing the Iraqi dictator, and in January took him along on a Middle East tour to show him off to Arab leaders.

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