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UN Team Meets With Iraqi Shi'a Leader

Baghdad, 12 February 2004 (RFE/RL) -- A team of United Nations election experts today met in Iraq with the country's top Shi'a cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who wants elections to be held before the planned 30 June transfer of power to Iraqis.

The UN team met with al-Sistani amid tight security at his home in the city of Al-Najaf, 160 kilometers south of the capital Baghdad.

Al-Sistani threw U.S. plans for transferring power into disarray by insisting that elections be held early to choose a new Iraqi legislature. Tens of thousands of his supporters have held peaceful demonstrations in Baghdad and the southern city of Al-Basrah to back his demands.

The UN team is investigating whether conditions are feasible to stage such early elections.

Meanwhile, the U.S. military said two U.S. soldiers were killed and another injured in a roadside bomb attack in Baghdad yesterday.