This snow-covered corner of the Hungarian plain is perhaps as unlikely a location as any to find Iraqi exiles training to assist in the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. Yet Taszar airbase in southwest Hungary is now Camp Freedom, training base for the `Free Iraqi Forces' (FIF). The FIF training programme is now entering its second month, with a second intake of up to 500 Iraqi exiles embarking on a four-week course. Major Robert Stern of the Taszar training team spoke to The Middle East about the nature of the training and how it fits into plans for a possible war on Iraq.
He emphasises the "liaison" character of the volunteers' work, reflecting US sensitivity to charges that the force will be a proxy militia or paramilitary force. He denies that the FIF will directly engage in military activities such as helping to select targets, but says "they will be involved in the planning and execution of any operations." Would they negotiate surrenders from Iraqi forces? "They are there to facilitate and communicate, so this is a question for commanders on the ground". The course is split into two two-week phases. The first phase covers basic skills including self-defence, landmine hazards, nuclear, biological chemical (NBC), and small arms training, human rights, the Geneva Convention, first aid and navigation. This is followed by civil-military liaison training, focusing on liaison between coalition forces and NGOs, government and relief organisations and displaced persons.
The training at Taszar is only six weeks into a programme that allows for up to 3,000 FIF to be trained over six months. Major Stern says "the training programme will continue during any hostilities, and new intakes will continue to arrive at Taszar. They will have an important role in the post-conflict period, when there will be a need for co-ordination between coalition forces and relief organisations and displaced persons."
At this stage there are no publicly acknowledged plans for FIF to participate in a transitional post-war government. "In a free and democratic Iraq, the composition of the government will be up to the people" he says. Nonetheless, most observers believe that some form of transitional government will be necessary, perhaps in the form of a US military government or a UN administration, along the lines of UNMIK in Kosovo. According to press reports this week, the UN is drawing up contingency plans for an interim administration that could be put into action even...