- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 19, 2004

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan is expected today to answer the central question of whether nationwide elections in Iraq can be held before the anticipated June 30 transfer of power from U.S. authorities to the Iraqi people.

However, details of how and when balloting could be held successfully, or any alternatives to a pre-June vote, are not likely to emerge until Mr. Annan returns next week from a planned trip to Japan.

The United Nations’ special envoy to Iraq, Lakhdar Brahimi, after first having discussed his findings with Mr. Annan, is to brief some 50 member countries today on the difficulties of trying to hold elections by the scheduled handover date.

Mr. Brahimi, who spent about a week in Iraq with a small team of electoral experts speaking with political and religious leaders, is expected to address the “friends of Iraq” group at the United Nations in the morning.

“This will be Mr. Brahimi’s first opportunity to share his views on Iraq with a wide group of member states,” one U.N. official said. “We expect further details about his conclusions to emerge in the coming days.”

After Mr. Brahimi’s presentation, Mr. Annan is to hold his monthly luncheon with U.N. Security Council members, and the topic of Iraq is likely to be high on the agenda.

The U.S. administration, which has called for a system of regional caucuses to choose an assembly to lead Iraq, has said it is willing to listen to the recommendations of the United Nations.

Iraq’s leading Shi’ite cleric, Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani has insisted that direct elections be held, ensuring a central political role for the majority Shi’ites.

Yesterday, the Associated Press quoted Mouwafak al-Rubaie, a Shi’ite Arab member of the Iraqi Governing Council, as saying that the idea of using caucuses was “gone with the wind,” adding that the only solution palatable to Iraqis are general elections.

Speaking to reporters in Baghdad last week, Mr. Brahimi — who met with Ayatollah al-Sistani for more than two hours — said elections were the best way to form a government, but added that the ayatollah agreed with him “that preparation for these elections should be at the required standard.”

Mr. Brahimi declined to lay out a timeline for a ballot. He did say that before an election could be held, such questions as what kind of electoral system would be used, how voter rolls would be culled and how to protect against fraud, would first have to be answered.

As to whom should assume the mantle of power between June 30 and whenever elections could be held, Mr. Brahimi said that authority was likely to be “something provisional, something that is not going to last very long, something that is not going to have very extensive powers.”

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