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Annan to Consider Request to Review Possible Iraqi Elections - 2004-01-20

United Nations Secretary general Kofi Annan says he will consider a request to send U.N. experts to Iraq to help determine when direct elections might be held in the country.

Mr. Annan met Monday in New York with the chief American administrator in Iraq, Paul Bremer, and members of the U.S.-backed Iraqi Governing Council. They asked the United Nations to determine if direct elections are feasible in Iraq before a planned June 30 transfer of sovereignty.

After the meeting, Mr. Annan said all sides agree there will be elections soon in Iraq. But he said the question is, how soon - and whether - technical, political and security conditions would make elections possible as early as May of this year.

The U.S.-backed plan for transition to self-rule in Iraq calls for countrywide regional caucuses to chose an interim government, which would organize direct elections before the end of 2005.

But Iraq's leading Shi'ite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, is demanding early direct elections for a provisional government.

Tens of thousands of Shi'ites marched peacefully Monday in Baghdad in support of their cleric's position. Shi'ites are a majority in Iraq.

Some information for this report provided by Reuters and AP.