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8/18/04 - HISTORIC IRAQI CONFERENCE - 2004-08-18


From Iraq, the sounds of democratic debate:

Two Iraqi citizens fighting over a microphone. The two are among more than a thousand delegates who attended the opening session of the Iraqi national conference. The conference brought together representatives from all of Iraq’s religious, ethnic, and political groups. The delegates were called to select members of a transitional National Assembly that will oversee the interim government of Prime Minister Iyad Allawi until national elections are held in January 2005.

Mr. Allawi welcomed the delegates, saying the conference is a first step toward what he called "the horizons of dialogue":

"Your blessed presence here is a challenge to the forces of evil and tyranny that want to destroy this country."

The new United Nations representative in Iraq, Ashraf Jehangir Qazi, also participated in the conference, which the U-N helped organize:

"Yours is the land that gave birth to the first laws of society. Accordingly, Iraq is surely able to build a civil society that adheres to the rule of law and shuns political lawlessness and violence."

On the first day, explosions from nearby insurgent attacks shook the conference center, but the delegates were unfazed, even though some could be targeted by terrorists. One man from northern Iraq says he feels taking part in the conference is the right thing to do:

"Someone has to start democracy. It's got to start at some point. And I think, whatever is being said about it, it's a positive step in a positive direction."

Iraqi Interim President Ghazi al-Yawer had this message for those who refuse to participate in the political process in Iraq. "Although we can have different opinions,” he said, “we shun those who would use violence to hijack the government. Anyone who uses violence as their means will be working against the interests of Iraq."

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