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Iraq to select national assembly

BAGHDAD -- Iraq's delayed national conference to select an interim national assembly will convene Sunday, Minister of State Qassim Dawoud announced yesterday.

The conference, considered a crucial step in the country's move toward democracy, was to have been held in late July, but was delayed to allow more time for preparations -- a postponement encouraged by the United Nations.

Some areas of the country complained last month that they hadn't been given enough time to agree on delegates, and officials expressed worries the gathering would be a target for terror attacks. The postponement was announced the day after a car bombing killed 70 people in Baqubah, underscoring the continuing wave of violence across the country.

In addition, key political groups had threatened to boycott the conference. UN officials wanted more time in hopes of persuading those factions to attend, but it wasn't immediately clear yesterday if they had changed any minds.

''We invite everyone to take part in the political process," Dawoud told reporters.

The conference, made up of 1,000 delegates from Iraq's 18 provinces as well as tribal, religious, and political leaders, is intended to help choose a 100-member national assembly that will counterbalance the interim government.

The assembly will have the power to approve the national budget, veto executive orders with a two-thirds majority, and appoint replacements to the Cabinet in the event a minister dies or resigns.

The meeting is scheduled to last three days.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Adam Ereli welcomed the announcement. ''This is an important and noteworthy development in Iraq's transition to a representative democracy," he said.

Ereli noted the conference is required under a law promulgated by the US-led occupation authority before sovereignty was turned back to the interim Iraqi administration in late June.

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