SLUG: 2-312844 UN/Iraq (L-Update)
/// 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.
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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.
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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)
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