United Nations, 20 January 2004 (RFE/RL) -- United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan says he is considering whether to send a UN fact-finding team to Iraq to assess if early elections can be held or if alternatives should be used to select an interim Iraqi government.
U.S. and British officials and members of the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council met with Annan in New York on 19 January to ask for the UN's help in resolving a dispute with a leading Shi'ite Muslim cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who has called for immediate direct elections to choose a post-Hussein temporary government.
Under a plan agreed on 15 November 2003, U.S.-authorities want to hand over power to a selected -- not directly elected -- interim Iraqi government by 30 June. The U.S. says it does not believe direct elections can be properly organized before this deadline.
The top U.S. administrator in Iraq, L. Paul Bremer, who attended the meeting with Annan, said the U.S.-led coalition wants to hear the UN's perspective on whether early elections can be organized before 30 June.
"Is it possible to have a direct, full national elections in the timeframes established by the November 15th agreement, that is to say to return full sovereignty to the Iraqi people by June 30th?" Bremer said. "We think that that is a legitimate question and one where the UN with its expertise in elections can offer a perspective."
The U.S.-backed plan does not call for direct elections for a permanent Iraqi government until 2005.
In Baghdad on 19 January, tens of thousands of Shi'ite Muslims marched peacefully to demand early elections.