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Iraqi Conference Delegates Agree on Need for Stability, Security - 2003-04-28

More than 300 representatives of Iraqi groups met in Baghdad Monday to discuss the political future of the country. They disagreed about what role the United States should play in rebuilding Iraq. The delegates have agreed to meet again within one month to try to form an interim government.

More than 300 delegates attended the day-long conference, representing a wide range of political factions, from both inside and outside Iraq. They included many political parties outlawed under Saddam Hussein, and Kurds from the north, Muslim clerics and tribal chiefs and a few women.

The delegates debated everything from the shape of a future government to how big a role the United States should play in its development. There was also disagreement over the role of Iraqi exiles who have come back to try to help put together a new government.

But one delegate, Hatem Mukhlis of the Iraqi National Movement, said a top priority in the discussion was the urgent need to restore stability and security in post-war Iraq. "Stability, security, getting people back to work and paying salaries," Mr. Mukhlis said.

At the end of the meeting, the delegates agreed to hold a general congress within four weeks to set down some rules for organizing a transitional government.

This is the second such gathering this month. The first was held in southern Iraq.

The Baghdad meeting coincided with Saddam Hussein's 66th birthday, and comes only three weeks since the end of the war that ousted him from power.

On a day that in the past would have been filled with pro-Saddam parades, Iraqis instead spent their time freely debating a future without him - in what one senior coalition official described as the early stages of democracy.