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UN Team Studies Possibility of Early Iraq Elections - 2004-02-09

A United Nations team is meeting with more Iraqi politicans Monday as it studies whether Iraq is ready to hold nationwide elections in the next few months.

Spokesman Ahmad Fawzi says the team of U.N. officials is focused on gathering facts as it meets with political leaders both on and off the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council.

The head of a Shi'ite Muslim political party, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, says he has given team leader Lakhdar Brahimi a report showing the early elections are possible.

Leaders of Iraq's Shi'ite majority are pushing for elections to be held by June 30, the day U.S. officials have set as a deadline for returning the country to Iraqi rule.

U.S. officials insist that is not enough time to prepare an orderly election. Washington has proposed a system in which regional caucuses would choose an interim assembly, followed by general elections in 2005.

Leaders of Iraq's Sunni Muslim minority also oppose early elections, saying the situation in Iraq is too chaotic.

The nine-member U.N. team, which arrived in Iraq Saturday, is expected to meet with influential Shi'ite cleric Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani before the end of the 10-day mission.

Meanwhile, two U.S. soldiers have been killed in northern Iraq by what the military is calling an accidential explosion. The military says the blast near the city of Mosul happened as troops were trying to dispose of some explosives. It says six other soldiers were wounded in the blast Monday.

Some information for this report provided by Reuters, AFP and AP.