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SLUG: 2-312844 UN/Iraq (L-Update)
DATE:>
NOTE NUMBER:

DATE=2/7/2004

TYPE=CORRESPONDENT REPORT

TITLE=U-N/IRAQ (L-UPDATE)

NUMBER=2-312844

BYLINE=PETER HEINLEIN

DATELINE=UNITED NATIONS

CONTENT=

/// EDS: UPDATES intro of 2-312832, which moved on 2/6/04, with UN team arriving in Baghdad; no changes to text or audio. ///

INTRO: A U-N political team has arrived in Baghdad to determine the feasibility of holding elections in Iraq before power is handed over to a civilian government. Peter Heinlein reports from U-N headquarters in New York.

TEXT: The team of U-N political and security experts has been asked to settle a dispute over whether elections can safely be held before June. The leader of Iraq's majority Shiite community, Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani, wants early elections to decide who will run Iraq's transitional government, after the U-S and British-led coalition leaves.

Coalition officials say it would be impossible to hold nationwide elections that soon. They say the infrastructure for a credible vote is not in place. They prefer a caucus system for selecting delegates to a provisional assembly.

Secretary General Kofi Annan said Friday his team of experts is beginning its mission with an open mind.

/// ANNAN ACT ///

They are supposed to look at the options on the table - election or caucuses - if they are viable. If they are not, they are to propose other options.

/// END ACT ///

U-S officials say they are sticking to the scheduled June 30th handover of power to an Iraqi civilian government. But Secretary General Annan again left the door open to a possible delay in the handover date, depending on the decision of his team of experts.

/// 2ND ANNAN ACT ///

Since they are going to be consulting quite a lot of people, if they were to come to the conclusion, (and) then everybody concerned accepted there should be some shift in the dates, I don't think we would be able to resist that.

/// END ACT ///

Officials say the U-N political advisory team has no deadline, but must work quickly to meet looming deadlines. If elections are deemed feasible, they are likely to be held in late May.

Two other U-N teams are already working in Baghdad - one a security liaison team working with coalition officials, the other handling security for the political mission and preparing for the likely permanent return of international U-N staff to Iraq.

All international staff were evacuated last October, after two suicide bomb attacks on the U-N headquarters in Baghdad. (SIGNED)

NEB/NYC/PFH/TW



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