Iraq's Conference to Start Sunday

Iraq's delayed national conference to select an interim national assembly will convene Sunday, Minister of State Qassim Dawoud announced Thursday.

The conference, considered a crucial step in the country's move toward democracy, was to have been held in late July, but was delayed to allow more time for preparations — a postponement encouraged by the United Nations (search).

Some areas of the country complained last month that they hadn't been given enough time to agree on delegates, and officials expressed worries the gathering would be a target for terror attacks. The postponement was announced the day after a car bombing killed 70 people in Baqouba (search), underscoring the continuing wave of violence across the country.

In addition, key political groups had threatened to boycott the conference. U.N. officials wanted more time in hopes of persuading those factions to attend, but it wasn't immediately clear Thursday if they had changed any minds.

"We invite everyone to take part in the political process," Dawoud told reporters.

The conference, made up of 1,000 delegates from Iraq's 18 provinces as well as tribal, religious and political leaders, is intended to help choose a 100-member national assembly that will counterbalance the interim govenment.

The assembly will have the power to approve the national budget, veto executive orders with a two-thirds majority and appoint replacements to the Cabinet in the event a minister dies or resigns.

The meeting is scheduled to last three days.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Adam Ereli welcomed the announcement. "This is an important and noteworthy development in Iraq's transition to a representative democracy," he said.

Ereli noted the conference is required under a law promulgated by the U.S.-led occupation authority before sovereignty was turned back to the interim Iraqi administration in late June and provides for the participation of Iraq's many factions.

The need for the latter was the primary reason for the meeting being put off last month, an Iraqi minister said.

"The main delay was at the request of the United Nations," Abdul Latif Rashid, minister of water resources, told reporters during a visit to Prague, Czech Republic.

Rashid said the U.N. delegation to Iraq had only recently arrived and felt it needed time for consultations with Iraqi citizens and political parties.

He said organizers wanted the United Nations to participate to give the conference legitimacy and to ensure votes that take place are "fair and free."