- The Washington Times - Monday, January 26, 2004

NEW YORK — U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan is expected to announce today that he will send a team to study the feasibility of holding direct elections in Iraq this summer, even as an Iraqi Cabinet minister said the country is not ready.

U.N. and foreign diplomats said that Mr. Annan is likely to announce during a visit to Paris that he is sending the advisory team, as requested by coalition authorities and Iraqi leaders in New York last week.

But Iraq’s acting interior minister told reporters yesterday that the country is not ready for elections.

“We ask for this matter to be postponed, even if it is for a short time, until all the political and security preparations can ensure that elections can run in a free and stable manner,” Nouri Badran said at a news conference.

Mr. Annan, traveling in Europe, has acknowledged that Iraq does not appear ready for elections.

Pressure has increased on the United Nations to return to Iraq three months after its staff was withdrawn because of growing threats against foreigners. In August, the organization’s Baghdad headquarters were bombed, killing nearly two dozen staff and visitors.

But Mr. Annan until now has been unwilling to send staff back into Iraq without security guarantees and a clear set of independent responsibilities.

Yesterday evening, a series of explosions rocked the green zone in central Baghdad that is home to the Coalition Provisional Authority and thousands of soldiers and civilian workers.

Two U.N. security specialists, assigned with the provisional authority to ensure the safety of Iraqi U.N. employees, have been working inside the heavily fortified area.

A second security team, which will evaluate measures to protect the proposed electoral specialists, should be dispatched shortly.

Diplomats said Mr. Annan was sure to send the electoral specialists, who will determine whether the political and social climate is conducive to direct elections.

“It would be very difficult for him not to honor the request by the Iraqi Governing Council and the occupation [authorities],” said one council diplomat who has been watching the Iraq issue closely. “It’s a reasonable request, and the United Nations has plenty of expertise” in setting up elections.

It is not clear who will be on the team, when the members will go or what exactly they will do.

Details could emerge during a visit to Washington today by Lakhdar Brahimi, an adviser to Mr. Annan who enjoys good relations with the Bush administration.

The Coalition Provisional Authority and Iraqi Governing Council agreed in November that sovereignty should be transferred to Iraqis by July 1.

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