A U.N. official said Friday holding general elections in Iraq is important, but cast doubt on whether such elections could be held before the United States is scheduled to hand over sovereignty in June.

Special U.N. representative Lakhdar Brahimi spoke to reporters in Baghdad Friday on the election issue, emphasizing that time and preparation were more important than setting a deadline.

"What I think everybody has agreed to is that elections are terribly important," he said. "That holding reasonably credible elections is also extremely important and that the date of the elections have go to be consistent with this requirement."

Earlier in the day, Mr. Brahimi's spokesman said there is not enough time to organize an election in Iraq before the U.S.-led coalition hands over power to Iraqis at the end of June.

The U.N. team spoke after meeting Thursday with Iraq's leading Shi'ite cleric, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, in the holy city of Najaf. The Shi'ite cleric opposes the U.S. plan to hand power to a provisional government picked not in general elections but by regional caucuses.

U.N. Representative Brahimi says the ayatollah wants the sovereignty of the Iraqi people to return early.

"I think that all Iraqis would like sovereignty to return earlier rather than later and that Ayatollah Sistani shares this view with everybody else," said Lakhdar Brahimi. "It's another issue of organizing elections. We are now working on what are the requirements, the minimum requirements."

Mr. Brahimi also raised doubt about the U.S. plan to select the transitional government through regional meetings. "The United States and the Iraqi Governing Council, which prepared the power-transfer plan, need to improve it considerably," he said.

This is the first U.N. mission to operate in Iraq since a car bomb destroyed its headquarters in Baghdad last August, prompting the world body to withdraw from the country.

The team is expected to report its findings to the U.N. secretary-general next week.