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UN: Iraq Elections Could Be Held By End Of Year

United Nations, 23 February 2004 (RFE/RL) -- UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan says direct elections could be held by the end of the year in Iraq if key security and technical conditions are met.

Annan says in a report issued today that a series of extensive administrative and technical changes are needed before elections can be held.

Chief UN elections adviser Carina Perelli told reporters in New York that Iraqi officials must reach a political consensus on the "road map" for elections before the process can begin: "We have come to the conclusion that once those basic agreements [on an election framework] are reached among the Iraqis, it would take at least eight months to be able to conduct a credible, well-organized election."

Annan's report recommends that Iraqis immediately set up an independent electoral commission. Perelli said the autonomy of such a body is essential, given Iraq's recent history in which any elections were manipulated by former leader Saddam Hussein.

"Because of the distrust that exists, probably an independent electoral commission, completely set up anew for this interim election, will be probably more credible for Iraqi voters than just a sort of division or department of Ministry of Interior," she said.

Perelli said security conditions will pose a serious challenge. But she said UN election monitors have guided countries through "rough" conditions before, such as East Timor in 1999. Perelli said the sooner Iraqis have ownership of the electoral process the quicker they will defend their right to vote.

"Obviously, elections under violence are not an alternative that I recommend in abstract but it's very difficult to know what the situation is going to be once this process is launched," Perelli said.

Earlier in the day, Annan reiterated that the UN is ready to help Iraq prepare elections once the United States hands over power to Iraqis on 30 June. Speaking in Japan, Annan also stressed the importance of finding a broadly accepted formula for choosing a caretaker government in Iraq: "We need to find a mechanism, working of course with the Iraqis, helping the Iraqis determine a mechanism for establishing an interim or transitional government so that the transfer of power, which is anticipated on the 30th of June, will go ahead and that we work with them to organize elections in the not too distant future."

Annan's report was issued after the visit to Iraq earlier this month of an electoral group headed by his envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi. The team found an emerging consensus in favor of direct elections. But it did not recommend a single plan for forming an interim government.