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Sunday, August 15, 2004

The New York Times > International > Middle East > Under Intense Security, Iraqis Gather for 3-Day Conference

The New York Times > International > Middle East > Under Intense Security, Iraqis Gather for 3-Day Conference: "August 15, 2004
Under Intense Security, Iraqis Gather for 3-Day Conference
By SABRINA TAVERNISE

BAGHDAD, Iraq, Aug. 15 � With helicopters circling in the sky and tanks on the streets, the Iraqi government kicked off its much awaited national conference here today. But the gathering faltered almost as soon as it began as Shiite delegates shouted protests from the floor and powerful mortars exploded a little more than 500 yards away from the conference center.
At least two people were killed by mortars, according to the Reuters news agency.
The conference, intended to give Iraqis their first chance at a nationwide political debate, teetered dangerously close to collapse, as delegates in speech after speech demanded that this country's interim prime minister, Ayad Allawi, stop fighting Moktada al-Sadr, a rebel Shiite cleric in the southern city of Najaf.
'We have a national conference going on and we're supposed to be discussing the pressing issues,' said Hamid al-Kifaey, an adviser to the government and one of the 1,300 delegates at the conference. 'But instead we're discussing Najaf and why the Americans are bombing.'"

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