Conference to select an interim assembly for Iraq is delayed

Boycott threats, unrest force gathering's planners to reschedule in 2 weeks

July 30, 2004|By Alex Rodriguez | Alex Rodriguez,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Organizers of a national conference regarded as a key building block in Iraq's bid to govern through democracy announced yesterday that they have postponed the event for two weeks amid boycott threats and a new wave of violence.

Initially scheduled to begin tomorrow, the three-day conference would give Iraq an interim assembly with limited powers but veto authority over interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi's government. Caucuses were being held throughout Iraq to select many of the conference's delegates.

Conference organizers had hoped that the selection process leading up to the event would reflect Iraq's eagerness to embrace a democratic approach to governance.

Instead the process has been characterized by divisiveness and factionalism, analysts said this week. Political parties with ties to the U.S. coalition-appointed Iraqi Governing Council have dominated the selection process, prompting many Iraqis to doubt the conference's legitimacy, analysts say.

And on Wednesday, just three days before the conference was supposed to start, Iraq suffered its deadliest day of violence since the coalition handed power to Allawi's government on June 28. More than 100 people were killed in a series of clashes and attacks, including a suicide car bombing in Baqouba that claimed 70 lives.

The violence confirmed conference organizers' fears that insurgents would step up their attacks as the start of the meeting drew closer.

Abdul Halim al-Ruhaimi, one of the conference organizers, said yesterday that the gathering would be postponed two weeks until mid-August. The organizers bowed to concerns from the United Nations that the selection process had not been inclusive enough. U.N. officials also had concerns about the security that would be provided.

Al-Ruhaimi said the additional time would be used to help persuade groups that have opted out of the event to reconsider.

The conference has been looked upon as a dry run for January, when Iraq hopes to hold national elections.

In Saudi Arabia yesterday, Allawi met with Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and urged Muslim nations to dispatch troops to Iraq to help defeat an insurgency that he said threatens all Islamic countries.

Allawi made the appeal a day after Saudi officials disclosed that they had initiated an effort to encourage the creation of a Muslim security force to help bring stability to Iraq.

It was apparent that many questions about the force remain unanswered, including its size and the type of tasks the force would be asked to fulfill. Nor is it clear whether Muslim countries would go along with the idea. Another issue is how such a force would relate to the existing U.S.-led coalition.

In other developments Thursday:

Ukraine said it has begun talks with the United States and Poland to pare back and eventually withdraw its 1,650 troops from Iraq. A Ukrainian Defense Ministry spokesman said continued insurgency violence was a factor in his country's decision to reduce its troop contingent.

An American soldier was killed as U.S. forces battled militants in Hawija, about 150 miles north of Baghdad, the military said. Fighting Wednesday in western Anbar province left two Marines dead.

A videotape aired claiming that the insurgent group of Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi had abducted a Somali truck driver and threatening to behead him in 48 hours if his Kuwaiti company does not stop working in Iraq. Another group threatened to behead one of seven foreign truck drivers it was holding in 24 hours if its demands, which included a pullout by their company, were not met.

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper. The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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