BAGHDAD, Iraq – Iraqi factions pledged at the end of a daylong conference in Baghdad Monday to come together again within a month to select an interim government.
The country's new American administrators secured the agreement from a multiethnic assortment of delegates. It represents the first specific timetable for trying to assemble the foundations of democracy in postwar Iraq and a more secure tomorrow.
"I think we have enough ... to come up with a road map," said U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad (search), adding that an administration could be in place within weeks.
Monday's daylong conference coincided with a date that had been a national holiday: It was Saddam Hussein's 66th birthday.
"Today, on the birthday of Saddam Hussein, let us start the democratic process for the children of Iraq," the U.S. civil administrator for Iraq, retired Lt. Gen. Jay Garner (search), told delegates.
The conference brought together Shiite and Sunni Muslim clerics in robes, Kurds from the north, tribal chiefs in Arab headdresses and Westernized exiles in expensive suits. Still, some said Shiites, who make up 60 percent of Iraq's population, were underrepresented, and delegates generally agreed on a need for wider representation in the future.
"This is the start of democracy," delegate Hatem Mokhless said. "Discussions were serious and deep. It is a long and difficult road but we shall cross it."
Washington invited U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to send an observer, but he declined. He did so because the role of the United Nations in post-war Iraq hasn't been defined, said Mexico's U.N. Ambassador Alfonso Aguilar Zinser, the current Security Council president.
The United States wants the U.N. role in Iraq limited to providing experts to help reconstruction and to endorse the U.S.-organized administration. Many council members, however, want the world body to play an active part in putting the new government together.
For Iraq, a nation riven by a generation of autocratic rule, the notion of a broad leadership council appeared to gain ground, with many delegates endorsing it as the best path.
"We hope we can form a unified government, one that reflects the entire spectrum of Iraq," said Ahmad Jaber al-Awadi, a representative of the newly formed Iraqi Independent Democrats Movement.
Under Saddam, the all-powerful Baath Party barred dissent and effectively banned competing parties. Monday's meeting, like one in the ancient city of Ur earlier this month, pulled aside that monolithic facade to reveal a fractious land roiling with political agendas.
Partly because of that, many delegates discussed the possibility of a presidential council rather than a single leader for Iraq, according to one prominent former exile, Saad al-Bazzaz.
"I'm not expecting one person as president," he said, predicting a council of three to six members. "We have been discussing this -- many of us."
Khalilzad said the government could include a chief executive under a broad-based leadership council representing a variety of ethnic, religion and other groups. Or, he said, it could be a single executive.
As with similar meetings in Afghanistan last year and in late 2001, the twin goals of promoting democracy and accomplishing tasks collided.
Delegates spoke out about their own agendas, and the meeting lasted more than two hours longer than planned -- well into the evening, no small matter in a city living under an 11 p.m. curfew.
"If it goes like this, it will take months to get a government," said Serdar Jaf, leader of a Kurdish clan. "People are only speaking out what they want to speak about. Everyone has his own ideas. There's no program, no agenda."
In a sign of how far the process has to go, none of the major factional leaders -- Kurdistan Democratic Party leader Massoud Barzani, Patriotic Union of Kurdistan chief Jalal Talabani or Iraqi National Congress leader Ahmed Chalabi (search) -- attended Monday's proceedings. Bush's envoy, Khalilzad, indicated he would meet with some of them Tuesday.
A senior coalition official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said it was too early to expect results.
"This meeting was not sufficiently representative to establish an interim authority, and that was not our desire," the official said.
Though the agenda was ostensibly politics, many focused on the immediate need for security in a land where the overthrowing of Saddam's regime three weeks ago touched off a rampage of looting and arson.
In a 10-part resolution, delegates urged the U.S. to act more quickly to rein in the gun-toting thugs preying on the postwar population. Another resolution politely thanked the U.S.-led coalition for its overall efforts in Iraq.
The platform appeared to be adopted by consensus at the end of a boisterous final evening session. Only about a quarter of those present bothered to raise their hands in approval. The rest slung jackets over their shoulders to go or shouted out other demands -- such as asking the American forces to disarm the Iraqi citizenry.
In a sign of new cooperation, the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, an Iran-based group of Shiite Muslim exiles, sent a low-level delegation. The council had boycotted the first meeting on April 15, and high-ranking members refused to attend Monday's conference in protest of its U.S. sponsorship, said Hamid al-Bayati, a London spokesman for the group.
Emerging from the meeting, delegates generally agreed many key people from Iraqi society were missing.
"Many groups were not represented today, such as some of the Islamists," said Saied Moustafa al-Qazwini, a Shiite cleric and member of the League for Iraqi Religious Leaders.
Khalilzad, Bush's envoy, said: "We are not excluding anyone from the process. If anyone excludes themselves, it's up to them."
As thousands of demonstrators marched in the sun-baked streets for unity of Shiite and Sunni Muslims, of Iraqi Arabs and Iraqi Kurds, Iraqis returning after years abroad hugged and kissed as the gathering began and marveled at their return.
"In Baghdad?" one delegate asked another in disbelief. "Yes, in Baghdad," the other replied.
One delegate, Sheikh Hussein Sadr, dean of the Islamic Council in London, summarized the delicate balance the United States faces in coming months as it tries to built a new, post-Saddam nation.
"The Iraqi people owe a lot to the United States and the United Kingdom ... for deposing the dictator," Sadr said. But, he added: "Iraq cannot be ruled except by Iraqis."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.