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US and EU Set to Open International Conference on Iraq

The United States and the European Union will co-host an international conference on Iraq next week in Brussels. The gathering will give the Iraqi transitional government an opportunity to present its priorities and ask nations to relieve debt left over from massive borrowing during the rule of Saddam Hussein.

The U.S. State Department says top-level officials from more than 70 countries have accepted invitations to attend the conference, which will be led by a large number of officials from the Iraqi transitional government.

They are expected to present their vision and strategies for the transition period leading up to the next round of Iraqi elections late this year.

Ambassador Richard Jones, the State Department's senior advisor on Iraq, says the conference is expected to address the drafting of the new Iraqi constitution, economic challenges, reconstruction and security concerns.

"The conference itself will be a good opportunity for the international community to show that it is united in its support of the democratically elected government that came into being after the January 30th elections," said Richard Jones. "It will be an opportunity also for that government, in a very efficient manner, to present its views, its vision for the new Iraq, its priorities as a government for the period it is in office to the international community and to appeal for assistance from that community."

Ambassador Jones says, so far, nations have forgiven more than $30 billion in debt incurred by the former Iraqi government of Saddam Hussein.

He says, however, the country is still about $80 billion in debt to creditor nations.

"This is an incredible debt burden that Saddam saddled on his people," he said. "We believe that it is very important for the international community to recognize that the Iraqi people did not benefit from this borrowing and if that debt burden is not relieved it will be a drag on their economy and it will keep them shackled and prevent them from making economic progress."

Officials of the Iraqi transitional government are facing a series of looming deadlines within the next six months.

The transitional assembly has until August 15 to draft a new constitution that is to be voted on in a nationwide referendum by October 15.

Elections for a permanent government are to be held on December 15 with elected officials to take office by December 31 of this year.