Iraq Pushes Back Assembly-Making

map and a flag of Iraq, with UN council
Iraq will hold its national conference July 31, delaying the key event by several days at the request of the United Nations because officials are not prepared to handle it, conference organizers said Tuesday.

The conference, considered a vital step in the nation's democratic transformation, will be attended by 1,000 delegates who will select members of a 100-member interim assembly that will help shepherd the nation to its first elections scheduled to be held by January.

In other recent developments:

  • The chief executive of a Jordanian firm says he's pulling out of Iraq because of his concern for the lives of his two employees, reports CBS News Correspondent Elaine Cobbe in Baghdad. Two of his drivers were kidnapped Monday by a group calling itself the Mujahedeen Corps. That group threatened to kill them within seventy-two hours unless the company ceased working with U.S. forces here.
  • A senior Egyptian diplomat returned to work Tuesday a day after being released by militants. The release of Mohammed Mamdouh Helmi Qutb, the third ranking diplomat at the Egyptian mission in Baghdad, came as two different militant groups threatened to kill four new foreign hostages in an increasingly audacious wave of kidnappings in Iraq. A third group threatened attacks to cut off the highway between Jordan and Baghdad, a key supply route for the U.S. military.
  • A Baghdad mortar barrage killed an Iraqi garbage collector and injured 14 coalition soldiers. Gunmen also killed a hospital official south of the capital.
  • An explosion outside the volatile city of Fallujah on Tuesday injured six Iraqis, according to hospital officials. The explosion partially damaged a house in the village of Niemieyah, south of the city, witnesses said. It was not immediately clear if the blast came from an airstrike or mortar fire. The U.S. military has conducted seven airstrikes against suspected terror hideouts in Fallujah in recent weeks.
  • The U.N. controller chairing an oversight body for Iraq said it may take more than a year to establish a system to track how much oil is being produced in the Mideast country.

    The date and location of the national conference, which was to have been concluded by the end of the month, had been kept secret because of security fears. Under a law enacted by the outgoing U.S. occupation authority in June, the gathering was to have been finished by the end of the month.

    However, the United Nations requested a delay because preparations were far behind schedule, conference chair Fuad Masoum said Tuesday. The three-day conference will now begin on July 31 and end Aug. 2.

    "There was an idea put forward by the United Nations to delay the conference because of a lack of preparation, from technical and other perspectives," Masoum told reporters at a briefing Tuesday. "We don't want to go ahead without the UN."

    Masoum conceded the interim government had "a legal dilemma" because of the July 31 deadline, any date beyond that would need to be cleared by new legislation.

    The conference had been beset by difficulties even before it began. Leaders in some provinces could not agree on slates of delegates and some key factions have threatened to boycott the event. Security fears were also considered serious.

    Masoum declined to reveal the names the 1,000 delegates, possibly because they still had not been determined.

    The assembly to be chosen by the conference delegates 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.

    Employees of companies working with U.S. forces here are now frequent targets of attacks and kidnappings, reports Cobbe It's not the same as targeting countries with troops here — the ends are economic rather than political.

    Most companies say their employees never signed up to risk their lives, so they'd rather give in to the hostage-takers than put them at risk.

    Four or five mortars were fired early Tuesday toward Baghdad's so-called Green Zone, the site of Iraq's interim government and the U.S. and British embassies, the U.S. military said.

    One mortar hit the Salhiya district, just outside the Green Zone, killing an Iraqi garbage collector and injuring another, according to an Associated Press Television News cameraman at the scene.

    "This poor guy was just doing his job and he has been killed by a mortar ... intended for the coalition," local resident Muthana Joma Hassoun told APTN.

    A military spokesman, speaking on condition of anonymity, said mortar fire injured 14 soldiers, but their nationalities, the exact location of the attack and the seriousness of their wounds were not immediately clear.

    South of Baghdad, gunmen assassinated the assistant director of Mahmoudiya Hospital, the hospital's chief said Tuesday.

    Dr. Qassem el-Obaidi was shot dead by assailants in a car as he was driving home from work late Monday, said the hospital's director, Dr. Daoud al-Ta'i. Mahmoudiya is about 25 miles south of Baghdad.

    The violence has deeply hampered efforts to rebuild Iraq and made countries reluctant to send troops to assist the new government.

    The Egyptian diplomat's kidnappers said they had seized him to deter his country from giving security aid to Iraq. An Egyptian official in Cairo said no ransom was paid, and the kidnappers released Qutb after realizing Egypt was not sending troops.

    When asked by reporters outside his embassy Tuesday how he was treated by the militants, Qutb said: "The treatment was very good. They set me free."

    The group, The Lions of Allah Brigade, said it freed Qutb because he was a religious man and had good morals, according to a statement sent to Al-Jazeera TV.