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Annan: Political Reconciliation Key To Ending Iraqi Violence

Kofi Annan (file photo) United Nations, 25 June 2004 (RFE/RL) -- UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said today that political reconciliation is the key to ending the violence that has surged in Iraq days before the transfer of sovereignty.

Annan told a news conference that, despite poor security conditions, UN experts are continuing to provide assistance on setting up a national conference of Iraqis next month. He said they are moving ahead with preparations for elections in January.

"There [are] limits to what force alone can do you. You have to go the political route, and so please do not underestimate efforts to get the political process going and to get the Iraqis engaged in talking to each other democratically and otherwise. And I think that is, in the long run, going to make more difference than any force you can put in," he said.

Within the next week, Annan said he will name a special representative, to be based in Baghdad.

Annan said he will not be traveling to Iraq for the 30 June handover because he does not want to add to security demands. He cited Iraqi and coalition officials as wanting the event to be a low-key affair.

In other news, the U.S. military says it launched an air strike today against a suspected militant hideout in the central Iraqi city of Al-Fallujah, AP and Reuters reported.

A statement said the strike used "precision weapons" to target and destroy a suspected safehouse for fighters led by Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi. The United States says al-Zarqawi is Al-Qaeda's top operative in Iraq. A group linked with al-Zarqawi claimed responsibility for a series of apparently coordinated attacks in five Iraqi cities yesterday that left nearly 100 people dead.

Militants yesterday attacked police stations in Al-Fallujah, Ba'quba, Al-Ramadi, and Baghdad and set off car bombs in Mosul. Scattered violence is reported today.

Over the past week, U.S. forces have already twice bombed houses they said were hideouts for al-Zarqawi and his fighters.

In a videotaped message today, five armed masked men who said they were local fighters denied that al-Zarqawi is hiding in Al-Fallujah.