Friday, February 13, 2004

UN to OK direct elections?

The UN may recommend that direct elections take place in Iraq soon, but not as soon as June 30, the date the US had set to hand sovereignty over to the Iraqis:

A team of United Nations election experts met with Iraq's leading Shiite Muslim cleric Thursday and expressed support for his demand for a direct vote to choose a new government. But there was no agreement on how soon elections could be held.

In an example of the violence still roiling Iraq and threatening any voting, insurgents fired rocket-propelled grenades at a convoy carrying Army Gen. John Abizaid, commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East, as he visited the town of Fallouja. Neither Abizaid nor Maj. Gen. Charles H. Swannack Jr., the commander of the Army's 82nd Airborne Division, who was also in the convoy, was injured.

Following Thursday's meeting between U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi and Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani in the Shiite holy city of Najaf, officials with the world body indicated that they might be leaning toward recommending national elections but delaying the process until after June 30, the date Washington has set to hand over sovereignty to an interim Iraqi government.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan "understands that there is a consensus emerging … that direct national elections are the best way to establish a parliament and government in Iraq that are fully representative and legitimate," Fred Eckhard, Annan's spokesman, said at U.N. headquarters in New York.

"At the same time," Eckhard added, "there is wide agreement that elections must be carefully prepared, and that they must be organized in technical, security and political conditions that give the best chance of producing a result that reflects the wishes of the Iraqi electorate and thus contributes to long-term peace and stability in Iraq."


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