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Iraqis Postpone National Conference - 2004-07-29

Iraqi officials say they have postponed a key national conference that was scheduled to start on Saturday. The aim was to choose a special council to oversee the new interim government.

Sources close to the organizers of the conference say it has been delayed at the request of the United Nations, which wanted more time to prepare. It is now expected to take place in mid-August.

The point of the conference is to select a national council, which will advise and oversee the Iraqi interim government, serving as a watchdog of sorts. About 1000 delegates from all over the country were expected to take part in the conference and pick the 100-member national council.

But how important is this to the average Iraqi? Some, including 35-year-old high school teacher Ahmed Mohammed Arif, have been following the process pretty carefully.

"Not only me, me and most of the Iraqis, they are concerned about this council. It's a very important step for Iraq to be on the right way to democracy," he said.

But the interim government and the United Nations may want to use the next two weeks to spread the word, because many Iraqis appear to have no idea what the conference or the national council are all about. But that does not keep them from having high expectations.

College student Ahmed Ali said that this is the first time he has heard of the national council.

He added that the most important thing is holding a free election to choose a government that will represent all Iraqis, not like the former regime, which only represented a few. The main thing, he says, is that the election should be honest.

Engineer Luay Majid Al-Azzawi, 35, says he has heard of the national council, but he is not sure what it is supposed to do.

"We do not know anything about this council," he said. "What we want is to see an improvement in security and the economy."

Recent news reports have indicated that it has been hard to decide who gets to participate in the national conference, because so many groups and factions have wanted to be there. But several parties, including one prominent Sunni Muslim group, have announced that they are boycotting the conference, because they do not think it will be fair. One report indicates that the delay is at least in part aimed at convincing them to participate.