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Annan to Endorse US Position on Iraq Elections - 2004-02-19

U.N. diplomats say Secretary-General Kofi Annan will endorse the position that direct elections in Iraq are not feasible before June. Mr. Annan is meeting advisers and interested parties on how best to steer Iraq toward democracy.

The secretary-general is being briefed by his special adviser, Lakhdar Brahimi, who has just returned from a week-long fact-finding mission to Iraq.

Mr. Brahimi was dispatched to settle a dispute between the U.S. and British-led coalition and Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the leader of Iraq's majority Shiite community. Ayatollah Sistani has called for elections before a transitional government takes power in June. Coalition officials had preferred a system of regional caucuses.

As he arrived at U.N. headquarters, Mr. Brahimi expressed hope that his mission had succeeded.

"I think it was successful, considering that we were there only one week, considering that we have been away for a very long time, considering that a lot of things are happening, not all of it very good," he said. "But I think, nevertheless, I think it is promising."

During his visit, Mr. Brahimi made clear that it would be difficult to hold elections under the current conditions in Iraq. He told reporters he believes Ayatollah Sistani will accept the U.N. decision.

"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.

Diplomats say secretary-general Annan is likely to make public Thursday his recommendation that early elections are not feasible. He and Mr. Brahimi are briefing a Friends of Iraq group of interested nations on his recommendation.

But the secretary general is expected to postpone for at least a week a decision on the larger question of how the transition to Iraqi rule should be accomplished.

The U.S. proposal for caucuses is also said to have been rejected. Other options under consideration include turning over power to an enlarged Iraqi Governing Council that would represent a broader cross-section of the population, and advancing the national elections, now planned for late next year.