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Annan Hopes to Issue Recommendation on Iraqi Elections This Week - 2004-02-17

U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan is hoping to make a recommendation this week on whether early elections are feasible in Iraq. Mr. Annan is receiving two reports from teams he sent to Baghdad to study the question.

The secretary general will meet over the next 24 hours with his special envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi, who just completed a whirlwind technical survey of political conditions in Iraq. He is also being briefed by a team that arrived back in New York Tuesday after doing a security assessment in Iraq.

Speaking to reporters Tuesday, Mr. Annan said he hopes to study their findings and issue recommendations before he leaves Friday for a visit to Japan. "I hope so. I hope I will be able to do that before then, before I travel," he said.

Mr. Annan's spokesman later cautioned that the Friday deadline might be impossible to meet, calling it "a tall order" with the Japan trip looming.

The question facing Mr. Annan is whether nationwide elections can be held in Iraq before the scheduled June 30 handover of power to a transition government. Iraqi Shiite Muslim leaders, including several members of the Iraqi Governing Council, say it is possible.

Members of Mr. Brahimi's team, however, have signaled that early elections are probably impossible. But they have also found fault with the U.S. and British backed alternative proposal for caucuses.

Mr. Annan says he hopes to offer a compromise that will be helpful in settling the dispute. "I hope we will be able to help break the impasse and steer things in the right direction," he said.

Mr. Annan earlier signaled deep concern about the challenge of holding elections in Iraq before the June 30 handover. He hinted that he would be open to a postponement of the handover, possibly for a few months.

U.S. and British officials, however, have said they are still working with a June 30 deadline.