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Annan Recommends Iraq Elections be Put Off Until After Power Transfer - 2004-02-19


U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has agreed with the United States that elections in Iraq are not feasible before a transitional government is in place.

As he emerged from briefing a group of 46 U.N. ambassadors Thursday, Mr. Annan said he would recommend that direct elections be put off until after the scheduled June 30 transfer of power.

"We shared with them our sense of the emerging consensus or understanding that elections cannot be held before end of June, that the June 30 date for handover of sovereignty must be respected," said Mr. Annan.

Mr. Annan declined to say when elections might be feasible. His only comment was "sometime in the future".

Special U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, who just returned from a week-long visit to Iraq, called Thursday's recommendation the first of several the Secretary General will make. Among the sensitive issues still under consideration are how to choose a caretaker government.

Those decisions are not expected until after the secretary-general returns from a trip to Japan that begins Friday.

Thursday's recommendation goes against the wishes of Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the leader of Iraq's majority Shiite Muslim community. Ayatollah Sistani had called for direct elections before a transitional government takes power.

But the U.N. envoy, Mr. Brahimi, said Thursday he was hopeful the Shiite cleric would accept Mr. Annan's recommendation.

"Ayatollah Sistani and I had a very, very good discussion, and I think he, like everybody else, realizes that the United Nations has no agenda except to help them, and that if we can tell them something it is because we strongly believe it is in the interests of Iraq," he said.

U.N. diplomats say a U.S. backed plan for an elaborate system of caucuses in Iraq has also been rejected. One diplomat said the plan had been discredited among Iraqis.

The U.S. administrator in Iraq, Paul Bremer, was quoted Thursday as saying changes are possible in the formula for choosing a new government in Baghdad. He, too, said the June 30 deadline for a handover of power to Iraqis should remain firm.

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