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Exiled Iraqis Delay Conference Again

Exiled Iraqi opposition groups have again postponed a conference planned this month in Belgium to discuss their possible role in toppling Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

In a statement sent to The Associated Press in Cairo on Thursday, a preparatory committee said it is putting off the conference, scheduled for Nov. 22 in Brussels, Belgium for two weeks, in part because most of the delegates have not yet received Belgian visas.

Six major opposition groups, who refused to work together in the past, have been planning the conference. In addition to discussing their role in any U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, delegates also were expected to choose a committee that might be the basis of an interim government for a post-Saddam Iraq.

Rivalries and internal fighting over power-sharing after a change in the Iraqi regime have delayed the conference, originally scheduled for September.

A major obstacle is a demand by Ahmed Chalabi, a leader of the U.S.-backed Iraqi National Congress, to enlarge the conference by some 300 INC members, trying to bring more of his supporters to a gathering expected to be dominated by more powerful political rivals.

Kanan Makiya, another key dissident and a Chalabi ally, has written the U.S. State Department asking it to intervene to stop the conference, which he says is dominated by a few groups and in particular excludes liberal-minded, independent dissidents.

The United States has urged Iraqi opposition groups to develop plans for governing their nation if Saddam is overthrown. In a recent letter to exiled Iraqi opposition leaders, U.S. Undersecretary of State Marc Grossman pressed the dissidents to speed up the convening of a broad conference on Iraq's future.

Grossman said the proposed conference should choose a committee to consult with all sectors of Iraqi society about the country's future should Saddam be ousted.

The Iraqi opposition is split along sectarian, ethnic, clan and political lines. The rivalries have grown more intense with the prospect of a U.S.-led war to oust Saddam.

The six groups planning to meet in Brussels are the Constitutional Monarchist Movement, led by a first cousin of the last Iraqi king; the Iraqi National Accord; the Iraqi National Congress; the Kurdistan Democratic Party; the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan; and the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, a Shiite group.