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UN: Annan To Release Report On Iraq

Prague, 23 February 2004 (RFE/RL) -- UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan is due to release a report today that could include some recommendations regarding the shape of Iraq's political future.

The report, due to be released in New York, comes as the UN continues to assess the findings of a team it sent to Iraq earlier this month.

That team, led by special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, met with numerous Iraqi political leaders in an attempt to clarify differences over Iraq's political process as the U.S. prepares to hand over power to a sovereign government on 30 June.

Annan said yesterday that he has studied Brahimi's conclusions. "On the fact-finding mission to Iraq, led by my adviser Mr. Lakhdar Brahimi, I have studied the team's report and recommendations, and I think the team has laid the groundwork for further progress," he said. "But there are a number of important issues and questions to be addressed."

Annan's statement that there are still numerous issues to consider makes it unclear whether his report today will directly answer the central questions of when elections should be held in Iraq. The UN chief said last week that he agrees with the United States that there is not adequate time to hold direct elections prior to the handover date. But he said the handover should go ahead as scheduled.

UN diplomats have said privately that Annan and other top UN officials now favor holding elections in Iraq within a short time frame after 30 June, perhaps by the end of this year. Other key parties in the debate have shifted some of their positions as they wait to include the UN recommendations in their planning.

Washington, which originally wanted a regional caucus system to choose the makeup of the sovereign government, has abandoned that stance. But it has restated its opposition to holding one-man, one-vote elections anytime soon.

The top U.S. administrator in Iraq, L. Paul Bremer, told the Dubai-based satellite television station Al-Arabiyah on 21 February that it would not be possible to hold direct elections in the next 12 to 15 months. He said there are a range of technical problems.

"The most important problems are technical ones, as UN specialists pointed out when they were here last week. Iraq has no election law. It has no electoral commission to even establish a law. It has no law governing political parties. It has no voters' lists. It has not had a credible, reliable census in almost 20 years. There are no constituent boundaries to decide where elections would take place," Bremer said.

Calls for elections have been particularly strong from Iraq's Shi'a community, which has a 60 percent majority. Preeminent Shi'a religious leader Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani sees direct elections as a way to ensure the community has a strong future voice after decades of disadvantage under regimes rooted in the country's Sunni Arab minority.

Al-Sistani has signaled in past days that he could reverse his earlier insistence on elections prior to the formation of a sovereign government. But he said elections must be held shortly afterward.