- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 29, 2004

NEW YORK — Iraq’s government is planning a conference in late November to promote political stability and seek support for upcoming elections, but U.N. officials say they are worried about the timing and lack of a clear agenda.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said Tuesday the conference was set for Nov. 22-24, though U.N. officials said the dates and the agenda have not been set.

“The goal of the conference is clearly defined to seek the support of Iraq’s neighbors and the international community to support them, political stabilization and the upcoming elections in the country,” he said.

He said countries that will attend are Iraq’s neighbors and the expected host, Egypt, as well as the eight major industrialized powers and China, the United Nations, the Arab League, the Organization of Islamic Conference and the European Union.

Nationwide elections are scheduled for Iraq in January, with participation from the entire country — not “bits and pieces,” Mr. Zebari said. Persistent violence has made it doubtful that elections can be held in some areas.

U.S. and Iraqi forces say they are inflicting a heavy toll on insurgents blamed for a spate of kidnappings, bombings and other attacks this month.

Iraqi security forces backed by U.S. troops arrested a suspected terrorist on Haifa Street in Baghdad yesterday, cornering the panicked man in a closet as he tried to conceal his face with his wife’s underwear, an Iraqi national guard commander said.

Kadhim al-Dafan is believed responsible for car bombs and other attacks in the area, said Col. Mohammed Abdullah. Five other suspected insurgents also were taken into custody as U.S. and Iraqi forces clashed with rebels.

Also yesterday, four U.S. soldiers were wounded when a homemade bomb went off northwest of Baghdad, the U.S. command said. The four were reported in stable condition.

Several U.N. officials and diplomats, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said in New York that it may be too soon for the international conference sought by the new Iraqi government.

French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier said on Monday there should be an international conference to consider the question of a U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq. He said all Iraqi political forces — even some that have “chosen the path of resistance by arms” — also should be included.

Mr. Zebari took issue with both these points, saying the U.N. Security Council had authorized the Iraqi government to decide whether it wants about 150,000 U.S.-led coalition troops to remain, and the interim government wants the upcoming conference to be for government representatives only.

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