The situation in Iraq continued to develop Thursday as the Iraq government announced a date for the national conference, the U.N. extended its mission in the country for another year, and an Iraq scientist said the country did not seek uranium in Africa in the 1990s.
Iraq's delayed national conference to select an interim national assembly will convene Sunday, Minister of State Qasim Dawod announced Thursday.
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.
Key political groups had said last month that they would boycott the conference, some areas of the country complained they hadn't been given enough time to agree on delegates, and officials expressed worries the gathering would be a target for terror attacks.
U.N. officials hoped to persuade resistant factions to attend, but it wasn't immediately clear if they had changed any minds.
"We invite everyone to take part in the political process," Dawod 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 meetings are scheduled to last three days.
Also Thursday, the U.N. Security Council unanimously approved a resolution extending the U.N. mission in Iraq for a year, but how significant a role the world body can play remains in question because of continuing insecurity in the country.
The resolution adopted by the 15 Council members reaffirms "that the United Nations should play a leading role in assisting the Iraqi people and government in the formation of institutions for representative government."
But Secretary General Kofi Annan made clear to the Council in a report Friday that the United Nations will remain "a high-value" target for attacks in Iraq for the foreseeable future, which will severely limit the number of U.N. staff allowed in the country.
Meanwhile, the father of Iraq's nuclear program said Iraq did not seek uranium in Africa in the 1990s because it already had a good supply.
Jafar Dhia Jafar, who headed Saddam Hussein's nuclear weapons program, told the British Broadcasting Corp. that his country had 500 tons of yellow cake uranium at the time. He dismissed a claim made in a British intelligence dossier published in September 2002, that Iraqis were shopping for uranium after 1998, when U.N. weapons inspectors left Iraq.
"We had 500 tons of yellow cake in Baghdad at the time so why should we go buy another 500 tons from Niger?" Jafar said in the BBC interview, broadcast Wednesday.
President Bush included the claim about African uranium in his State of the Union speech in January 2003, against the advice of U.S. intelligence officials. Some documents that allegedly supported the claim that Iraq sought uranium in Niger were subsequently exposed as forgeries, though British officials have continued to insist they had independent evidence.
As he had said at a news conference in Beirut in March, Jafar said Iraq had no active nuclear program in the last years of Saddam's regime.
"The facilities of the program were damaged during the war" in 1991, Jafar said in the BBC interview.
"Iraq did not have -- would not have had the resources under sanctions to continue with the program," he said.
"Saddam took a decision in July 1991 to abandon the program and destroy what remained of its equipment. We had orders to hand over the equipment to the Republican Guards, to the Special Republican Guards, and they had orders to destroy the equipment that we handed over to them."
Jafar added: "Everything was destroyed, such that the program couldn't be restarted at the time at all and never restarted."