Legislation backed by key Republicans would give nearly $100 million to Iraqis trying to bring down Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
"The purpose of this legislation is to finally and irrevocably commit the United States to the removal from power of the regime headed by Saddam Hussein," said Rep. Benjamin Gilman, R-N.Y., chairman of the House International Relations Committee.On Tuesday, Gilman and Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., introduced bills that would authorize the president to give $97 million to Iraqi rebels and $2 million to Radio Free Iraq, set up under earlier legislation. Congress has either approved or is considering another $58 million, mostly in humanitarian and political assistance to Saddam's opponents, who operate mainly outside Iraq.
The actual total that would go to the rebels would be determined by the president. The only direct requirement of the bill is that he designate which groups would be eligible for the aid.
"It is time to move beyond political support to direct military assistance," Lott said in introducing the legislation.
"This is the 55th day without weapons inspections in Iraq," Lott said. "The problem in Iraq is not the people of Iraq; the problem is Saddam Hussein. And we should have a direct, active, overt support of the opposition that would lead to the removal of Saddam Hussein from office."
The Clinton administration had no immediate response to the Republican move that would, in effect, openly commit the United States to overthrowing Saddam - a tack the administration has resisted.