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Annan To Decide On Sending Team To Iraq

Prague, 23 January 2004 (RFE/RL) -- UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said today he will decide in the next few days whether to send a team to Iraq to assess the feasibility of prompt direct elections there.

Iraq's U.S.-appointed Governing Council asked Annan on Monday to send the UN experts. Earlier today, Iraq Shi'ite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani called for Iraqis to suspend demonstrations for early elections until the UN has decided. Al-Sistani and his followers oppose a U.S. proposal for an interim Iraqi government to be chosen by regional caucuses.

Another Shi'ite leader, Muqtada al-Sadr, today rejected UN involvement. In Washington today, Iraqi Governing Council member Ahmad Chalabi said he favors direct elections before the U.S.-led coalition hands power over to Iraqis on 30 June.

In another development, a two-person UN team arrived in Baghdad today to assess security conditions for a possible return of UN advisers to Iraq. A UN spokesman said the UN team will consult with the Coalition Provisional Authority and coalition forces.

One of Annan's top aides, Lakhdar Brahimi, met last night in Washington with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and U.S. national security adviser Condoleezza Rice to discuss the UN's role in Iraq.

Also today, the CIA said that David Kay has quit his post as leader of the hunt for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The resignation was anticipated. In making the announcement today, CIA Director George Tenet praised Kay for his efforts. The CIA said former UN weapons inspector Charles Duelfer will succeed Kay.

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