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Iraq Not Ready For Elections For At Least 1 Year, Bremer Says - 2004-02-21

The top U.S. administrator in Iraq said Saturday that the country will not be ready for elections for at least one year, an opinion that is certain to anger many Iraqis.

The U.S. civil administrator in Iraq, Paul Bremer, says it will not be possible to organize elections for at least a year because of a number of problems.

In an interview broadcast Saturday by Dubai-based Arabic television channel Al Arabiya, Mr. Bremer cited technical problems that he said would take time to correct.

The result, he said, is that it could be up to 15 months before valid elections can be held.

Mr. Bremer said problems include the fact that Iraq does not have an election law or legislation to govern political parties, has no voter lists and has not had a credible census for nearly two decades.

The comments were aired one day after Iraq's most influential Shi'ite Muslim leader told the German magazine Der Spiegel that any delay in elections must not last long.

Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani insisted the United Nations set a firm date in the near future. He also said any delay would be acceptable only if an interim government has limited authority.

Tens of thousands of the ayatollah's followers marched through Iraqi streets earlier this year after he demanded direct elections before Iraqis regain sovereignty at the end of June.

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan said this week he agrees with the United States that elections are not feasible before the transfer of power on June 30.

Mr. Annan has yet to offer advice on when an election could happen, but all parties involved are hoping the world body will come up with an acceptable compromise to end the dispute.