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Iraqi Political Groups Hold Conference on Interim Government - 2003-04-28

Various Iraqi political groups agreed Monday to hold a national conference within four weeks to choose an interim government to replace the deposed regime of Saddam Hussein. Meanwhile, President Bush is pledging U.S. support to build what he says will be a "prosperous and peaceful" Iraq.

After an all-day meeting in Baghdad, various Iraqi political factions agreed to hold a national conference within a month that will select an interim government to rule Iraq.

The meeting was attended by more than 250 Iraqis representing groups from both inside and outside Iraq, as well as the top U.S. official overseeing Iraq's reconstruction, retired General Jay Garner.

Despite the agreement to meet again, clear differences did emerge from the meeting over the U.S. role in helping to rebuild Iraq. While the delegates welcomed the removal of Saddam Hussein at the hands of coalition troops, several said Iraqis must rule their own country, and called for a limited U.S. role in the rebuilding period.

Meanwhile, President Bush told a group of Iraqi-Americans Monday that the United States will do all it can to build a prosperous, peaceful and democratic Iraq.

The president spoke in Dearborn, Michigan, home to one of the largest Arab-American communities in the United States. He told a crowd gathered to hear him speak, "America pledged to rid Iraq of an oppressive regime, and we kept our word. America now pledges to help Iraqis build a prosperous and peaceful nation, and we will keep our word again."

With the Saddam Hussein regime now gone, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said, the United States can now reduce its military presence in the Persian Gulf region.

Secretary Rumsfeld also thanked coalition troops for their efforts in Iraq, in a speech to about 1,000 soldiers at U.S. Central Command headquarters in Qatar. "They will certainly take their place alongside the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Liberation of Paris and each of you helped make that happen," he said.

Some of those troops will be engaged in the search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, a search that, so far, has failed to produce any confirmed chemical or biological weapons.

But British Prime Minister Tony Blair told reporters in London that he has no doubts that such weapons will be found eventually, as coalition forces get more information from captured Iraqi scientists. "Before people, let us say, crow (express criticism) about the absence of weapons of mass destruction, I suggest they wait a little bit, because there is a very deliberative process in place here," he said.

In addition to searching for weapons, coalition troops are also trying to confirm the fate of Saddam Hussein. Former Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz has reportedly told U.S. interrogators that the deposed Iraqi leader survived two U.S. air strikes, one on the opening night of the war and a second on April 7.

However, U.S. officials are not sure if Mr. Aziz, who surrendered in Baghdad last week, is telling the truth.