U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan says he sees little chance the world body can resume a major role in Iraq under current security conditions. At the same time Mr. Annan is preparing to launch an independent probe of the scandal-tainted Iraq oil-for-food program.
Speaking to reporters Tuesday, Mr. Annan described security conditions in Iraq as 'deteriorating'. He said this is not the time to be considering expanding the world body's role there.
"And for the foreseeable future, insecurity is going to be a major constraint for us," he said. "And so, I cannot say right now that I'm going to be sending in a large U.N. team.
The secretary-general said, even the small U.N. team on the ground, led by his envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, is having a difficult time trying to help in the formation of an interim Iraqi government and prepare for elections.
Mr. Annan said he sees little chance of postponing the scheduled June 30 hand-over of sovereignty. Iraqis, he said, are anxious for the U.S.-led occupation to end. But he worries that continuing violence may ruin the process.
"I hope we are going to be able to bring down the violence and control the situation between now and then, because the kind of violence we are seeing on the ground is not conducive for that sort of political process and transition," he said.
On a related subject, Mr. Annan said he is in the final stage of putting together an independent panel to investigate allegations of massive corruption in the Iraq oil-for-food program.
"I think we are quite close. And I'm in touch with the panel members, who would investigate this in an independent manner. I hope to be able to make the announcement in the course of the week," he said.
In a letter to the Security Council last month, Mr. Annan said the oil-for-food panel will be authorized to seek cooperation from U.N. member states and their relevant authorities.
A preliminary U.S. General Accounting Office probe last month suggests the oil-for-food scandal could be one of the worst to hit the world body. The GAO study concluded that Iraqi business groups had raised more than four billion dollars by imposing illegal surcharges on oil sales.
Former President Saddam Hussein is believed to have smuggled another $5 billion in oil out of the country through friendly neighboring countries.