Baghdad, Iraq Iraq announced that a national conference for 1,000 delegates to choose an interim assembly would begin Saturday -- a vital step toward democracy in a nation struggling to deal with a persistent campaign of kidnappings and other violence.
Coalition troops and interior ministry forces will assist authorities in protecting the three-day event. As a reminder of the type of dangers they face, a mortar barrage pounded a neighborhood near the enclave holding the U.S. Embassy and Iraqi government offices hours before Tuesday's announcement, killing an Iraqi garbage collector and wounding 14 U.S. soldiers.
The conference, stipulated under a law enacted by the former U.S. occupation authority, was to have been concluded by the end of July, but it had to be delayed because preparations were behind schedule, conference chairman Fuad Masoum said.
"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 said. "We don't want to go ahead without the U.N."
The conference is beset with difficulties, with some local leaders unable to agree on delegates and some important factions threatening to boycott. The gathering will help create an interim assembly intended to help prepare for elections next year that many hope will bring order to a country wracked by a persistent insurgency.
The violence pushed a Jordanian company working for the U.S. military here to announce it was withdrawing from Iraq to secure the release of two Jordanian employees kidnapped by militants.
Fayez Saad al-Udwan and Mohammad Ahmed Salama Hussein al-Manaya'a were abducted Monday by a group calling itself the Mujahedeen Corps in Iraq. The group warned the Jordanians would be killed within 72 hours unless their employer pulled out of the country and stopped cooperating with U.S forces.
The decision by Daoud and Partners -- a private company providing construction and catering services to the U.S. military -- came hours after al-Manaya'a's father threatened to "chop off the head" of the firm's chief executive if he did not comply.
Early Tuesday, four to five mortar rounds landed near Baghdad's Green Zone, the former home to the U.S. occupation authority and current site of Iraq's interim government and the U.S. and British embassies.
One hit Salhiya, a nearby neighborhood, killing one garbage collector as he cleared trash and wounding another, residents said.
The mortar fire also wounded 14 U.S. soldiers, 11 of whom later returned to duty.
In the city of Baqouba, a suicide bomber blew up a car but did not cause any other casualties, Iraqi officials said.
In a bid to shore up support for the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq, Secretary of State Colin Powell appealed Tuesday to Hungary and 30 other nations not to "get weak in the knees" because of kidnappings in Iraq or public opinion polls at home that increasingly back withdrawal of troops.
"Democracy is hard. Democracy is dangerous. And this is the time for us to be steadfast, not get weak in the knees," Powell said on Hungarian television. "We must not allow insurgents, those who will use bombs and kidnapping and beheadings, to triumph."