Iraq delays national conference for two weeks

/ Source: The Associated Press

A crucial national conference considered a key first step in the country's fledgling move toward democracy was postponed for two weeks, a conference organizer said Thursday, a day after a massive car bombing that killed 70 people.

The conference had been scheduled to begin Saturday, but has been postponed until mid-August, according to Abdul Halim al-Ruhaimi, a conference organizer.

The gathering had been plagued by severe difficulties before it even began, with key political groups promising to boycott and leaders in ethnically diverse areas unable to agree on slates of  delegates to send.

Iraqi media had reported that less than half the nation's 18 provinces had chosen their delegates just days before the conference was to begin.

U.N. requested delay
The United Nations repeatedly called on the organizers to delay the conference for as long as a month to encourage wider participation and ensure it was properly prepared, U.N. officials told The Associated Press.

On Thursday, Iraqi officials agreed to a two-week delay to give them time to speak with groups that had been reluctant to attend, al-Ruhaimi said. In return, they demanded that a high-level U.N. official attend the conference.

The three-day conference was stipulated to be held by the end of July under a law enacted by the departing U.S. civil administration last month.

The decision to push back the gathering came a day after a devastating bombing in Baqouba underscored the continuing wave of violence across the country.

Organizers had worried the gathering itself would be a nearly irresistible target for terror groups and kept its location and security plans secret, but they denied those fears played any role in the decision to delay the meeting.

Spokesman: Delay unrelated to ‘security situation’
"The security situation has nothing to do with the postponement," al-Ruhaimi said.

The conference, made up of 1,000 delegates from Iraq's provinces as well as tribal, religious and political leaders, is planned to help choose a 100-member national assembly with 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.

Conference organizers had spent weeks traveling the country to help the provinces choose their delegates, but some local officials have been unable to agree on who to send.

In addition, several important groups, including radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's movement and The Association of Muslim Scholars, an influential Sunni group with links to insurgents, have said they would stay home.