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ASSEMBLY TO FORM IRAQ GOVERNMENT FACES DELAY TO JULY

A national conference that will pick Iraq's new interim government will probably be delayed until mid-July, the top U.S. official in Iraq said today.

"We're talking now like sometime in July to get a national conference put together," L. Paul Bremer said. "I don't think it will be in June."

He said the June deadline was created by the media.

Until today, U.S. officials working to build an interim Iraqi government had insisted that no plans have been changed.

But they also refused to repeat the timetable outlined after President Bush's envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad, held an April 28 conference with Iraqi political leaders. That timetable called for some form of interim government in early June.

Bremer did not say what caused the delay.

"We are continuing our active dialogue with Iraqi leaders," he said. "We are meeting with them every day."

Other Western officials have said the plan was to assemble 300 representatives from Iraq's many factions who would elect a new authority.

Bremer confirmed today that his goal was to establish a government "representative of all Iraqis," a larger undertaking in a nation divided along ethnic, religious and political lines.

Bremer's aim to build a more inclusive government could negate the results of a conference of seven leading Iraqi political figures held Friday.

Bremer said that meeting, billed as a gathering of political figures likely to form the core of a new government, wasn't "representative of the Iraqi people."

Despite the delays in forming a government, Bremer said coalition forces would stay in Iraq only as long as they were needed. "We have no strategic desire to be in Iraq any longer than we have to," he said.

Meanwhile, the United States is inviting a group of international experts to inspect two mobile labs suspected of having been used by Iraq as biological weapons facilities, a senior military commander involved in the weapons hunt told the Associated Press on Tuesday.

Although the laboratories do not represent proof that Iraq had biological weapons, American officials believe their only purpose was to produce such weapons. Outside confirmation could help legitimize one of the Bush administration's main reasons for going to war.

"We're going to invite a special team, an international team of experts to take a look at the labs," said Col. Tim Madere, the chemical weapons specialist for the U.S. Army's V Corps, one of the main units occupying Baghdad.

The two labs already have been inspected by U.S. and British technical experts and a group of scientists from coalition countries, Madere said in an interview.

Earlier this month, Pentagon officials said the discovery of the first trailer -- seized April 19 at a checkpoint near the northern Iraqi city of Mosul -- could prove Iraq had active programs to produce weapons of mass destruction.

Troops from the Army's 101st Airborne Division found the second trailer May 9 at al-Kindi, a former missile research facility in Iraq. The trailer is similar to another found last month in the same area that U.S. officials believe was a mobile germ-weapons workshop.

Saddam Hussein's regime had insisted that Iraq had destroyed all its chemical and biological weapons in the early 1990s as required by U.N. resolutions imposing sanctions after Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. U.N. weapons inspectors, who spent 3 1/2 months in Iraq just before the war, found no evidence to refute the Iraqi claims.

President Bush had cited Saddam's failure to eliminate Iraq's biological and chemical weapons programs as one of his main reasons for launching the war, which ousted Saddam last month.

In other developments:

U.S. officials looking for Iraq's weapons said 20 percent of cataloged radioactive materials stored at Iraq's largest nuclear facility are unaccounted for following severe looting.

They also said radioactive patches were found on the ground at the Tuwaitha nuclear plant, where looters dumped out barrels believed to contain hazardous materials.

NATO's 19 nations agreed unanimously today to start planning to help Poland lead a multinational peacekeeping force in Iraq, a move that begins to heal the alliance's deep divisions over the war.

The United States pressed for a vote Thursday on lifting U.N. sanctions against Iraq, a measure the Security Council seems virtually certain to approve.

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