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UN:  Iraqi National Conference Delay May Provide Opportunity for More People to Participate - 2004-07-29


The number of kidnappings in Iraq has soared in recent weeks. An insurgent group is threatening to kill one of its foreign hostages, if the Kuwaiti company the hostage works for does not pull out of Iraq. Saudi Arabia is calling on Muslim governments to send troops to help Iraqi authorities stabilize the country. And a national conference to select an interim assembly has been postponed for two weeks.

India has joined the growing list of foreign governments warning its nationals to avoid travel to Iraq. Officials have appealed to Iraqi insurgents to release three Indians they are holding hostage.

"In a video, a masked gunmen points his rifle at the head of an Indian hostage. He threatens to kill one of seven foreign truck drivers being held hostage, if the Kuwaiti company they work for does not leave Iraq," he said.

In Pakistan, relatives mourned two Pakistani hostages who were executed in Iraq.

Abductions of foreign workers in Iraq have become almost routine, along with roadside explosions, suicide bombings and attacks against Iraqi and coalition forces.

Iraq's interim prime minister, Iyad Allawi, has pledged to end the terrorist violence, which he blames in part on foreign radicals who have infiltrated the country.

But he says Iraq cannot do it alone. On an official visit to Riyadh, Mr. Allawi welcomed Saudi Arabia's initiative urging other Muslim nations to contribute troops to help stabilize Iraq.

"We are going to win. We have to win. There is no other route," he said. "And, I call upon the leaders of the Islamic countries and the Arab countries to close ranks, because this is really, basically, it's our fight."

In Iraq, the violence and political bickering has led organizers to postpone a national conference for two weeks. It was due to open on Sunday.

Some 1,000 delegates are to select a 100-member assembly to oversee the interim administration and organize elections for a more permanent government. A spokesman for the conference organizers says the United Nations wanted more time to prepare.

In Washington, the new U.N. special envoy for Iraq, Ashraf Jehangir Qazi, expresses hopes the delay will provide positive results, and allow more people to participate. Mr. Qazi is currently Pakistan's ambassador to the United States.

Ambassador Qazi says he will take up his new responsibilities when the U.N. deems the security situation stable enough for him to go to Baghdad, or "circumstances permitting," as the U.N. describes it.

"I would imagine that circumstances permitting refers primarily to the security situation. Because of the tragedy of last August, it is only understandable that the United Nations, and particularly the secretary general places extraordinarily high priority on ensuring as far as humanly possible that that tragedy is not revisited upon the U.N. mission."

The United Nations withdrew its staff last August, after U.N. envoy Sergio de Mello and more than 20 staff members were killed in a suicide car bombing at the Baghdad U.N. headquarters.

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