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Conference on Iraq to Address Elections, Reconstruction

An international conference is scheduled to begin Monday in Egypt to address planned elections in Iraq. The conference is expected to call on the international community to protect U.N. forces assisting with the election.

The conference will take place in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el Sheikh on November 22 and 23. It will be attended by all of Iraq's neighbors and the Group of Eight industrialized nations, China, the United Nations, the European Union, the Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Conference.

A draft proposal for consideration reportedly calls on the international community to provide assistance to protect the United Nations in Iraq.

The United Nations is helping Iraq's electoral commission prepare for general elections scheduled for January. No country except Fiji has offered any troops to protect United Nations staff in Iraq. The high level of violence and insecurity in the country have led some to wonder whether comprehensive elections can successfully be held.

Many of the countries attending the conference were strongly opposed to the U.S.-led war in Iraq. Arab League spokesman Hossam Zaki says it's unclear whether the call for support for the U.N. and the elections will lead to any immediate troop commitments.

"What they're saying is that they're trying to encourage as many countries as possible to participate in this effort," he explained. "Now whether this call is going to be heeded by other countries, that's a different story. But that is something that the participants saw as a worthy demand."

Mr. Zaki says the draft document also addresses the concerns of countries that would like greater access to reconstruction contracts that have been mostly limited to U.S. companies.

"Obviously some of the participants have specific complaints about how the reconstruction is being managed so far and I think they are calling on the government of Iraq to make this an open and transparent process," he said. "So this is what is going to be addressed too."

The draft statement also reportedly suggests that another conference be held in Iraq and be attended by all political groups, including those that have opposed the U.S. occupation and the Iraqi interim government.