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Iraqi Shi'ite Leader Submits Plan for Early Elections - 2004-02-09

An Iraqi Shi'ite leader has given a United Nations envoy a plan for early elections. According to Abdul Aziz Al-Hakim, who heads a Shi'ite political party, the report shows elections can be held before the scheduled handover of power in June.

Mr. Al-Hakim, who is also a member of the American-appointed Governing Council, says a team of experts prepared the report, which he calls a scientific study.

Mr. Al-Hakim handed the report to the head of the U.N. election team, Lakhdar Brahimi, late Sunday. Mr. Al-Hakim says Mr. Brahimi promised to study it. Mr. Brahimi is leading a nine-member team of U.N. officials who arrived in Baghdad Saturday to discuss the possibility of holding early elections.

The U.N. envoy has cautioned against holding elections in Iraq, unless stability can first be achieved.

American officials prefer a system of caucuses for choosing an interim government, saying there is not enough time to organize a direct vote.

But Iraq's Shi'ite leaders, including the influential cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, have rejected the American proposal and are pressing for direct elections to take place before June 30.

The U.N. team is expected to meet with Ayatollah Sistani, during its 10-day visit. After the U.N. experts complete their fact-finding mission, they will issue recommendations to U.S. and Iraqi authorities.