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Iraqi, U.S. Officials Ask For UN Advice On Elections

New York, 19 January 2004 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. officials and Iraqi leaders today asked the United Nations to send a team to Iraq to advise on the feasibility of quick elections or alternatives in selecting a new Iraqi government.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said after meeting with the Iraqi Governing Council and U.S. provisional authorities, that he had not yet decided on such a "technical" team and further discussions are necessary.

"Both the Governing Council and the CPA [Coalition Provisional Authority] representatives have expressed a strong wish that the UN should quickly send a technical mission to Iraq to advise on the feasibility of elections within the next few months and, if not, what alternatives might be possible," he said.

The top U.S. administrator in Iraq, L. Paul Bremer, attended the meeting and said afterwards that the possibility of elections "is a legitimate question and one where the UN with its expertise in elections can offer a perspective."

Adnan Pachachi, the current Governing Council president, said the issue of holding elections must be resolved by the end of February when the Iraqis will implement basic laws for the hand over and transition.

In Baghdad, tens of thousands -- unconfirmed reports say up to 100,000 -- of Shi'ite Muslims marched peacefully in the capital today to demand an elected government.

Also in Baghdad, Iraqi Health Minister Khudayer Abbas said today that the latest toll in yesterday's suicide bombing in the capital shows that 24 people, mostly Iraqis, were killed.

In other news, a convoy of Japanese soldiers, the vanguard of the country's first post-World War II deployment to a conflict zone arrived at its future base in southern Iraq today. They will take part in noncombat operations.