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U.N. Remains Ready to Help Iraq with Elections

United Nations -- The United Nations is prepared to return to Iraq to help with organizing elections and other aspects of the transition process if asked, top U.N. officials said March 16.

Arriving at his office, Secretary General Kofi Annan said, "I have made it clear that we are prepared to go back and assist should they want us to do so and I am waiting for them to let us know."

Annan sent a team headed by his special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi to Iraq earlier in the year at the request of the Iraqi Governing Council and the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) to see if credible elections could be held to elect a new government before the CPA ends June 30. The subsequent report issued by Annan and Brahimi said that it would not be feasible to hold elections before June and added that the United Nations would be willing to help, if asked, with preparations for elections or in forming an interim government.

The United Nations has received no response to the report. In recent days press reports out of Baghdad have said that some members of the Governing Council do not want the United Nations to help in Iraq.

At a press conference March 16, Brahimi restated the U.N. offer.

"That readiness is still there if it is required," Brahimi said. "The United Nations is willing to help with either or both of these tasks that need to be performed in Iraq."

"I reiterate what our position has always been. We are not looking for a job. We are not begging for a role in Iraq, but if the Iraqis want it, whatever capabilities we have are at their disposal," he said.

Brahimi acknowledged that there have been "quite a little bit of vibes coming out of Iraq saying that the U.N. is not wanted," but he said he believes there is widespread support in Iraq for a return of the United Nations.

"The impression we have so far is that a lot of Iraqis do want the U.N. back," Brahimi said.

Annan said of the reports, "I don't think it is so much a credibility problem for the U.N. as internal politics in Iraq."

Brahimi said that the secretary general received a written message from Iraq's Shi'ite leader Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani a few days ago in which al-Sistani said he had nothing to do with the articles in Iraq opposing a U.N. role.

Al-Sistani "wants the U.N. to continue to play a role in Iraq," Brahimi said.

After Annan sent the elections report to Iraq, it was agreed that "the CPA and Governing Council will be in touch with us," Brahimi said.

"We are now waiting for the CPA and the Governing Council to tell us if the United Nations is required to play a role and we will take it from there," said Brahimi, who until late last year headed U.N. operations in Afghanistan.

"We are very relaxed and waiting for them to come back to us in their own time," he said. "We will welcome any answer they come up with."

The United Nations has estimated it would take eight months after the legal framework was ready to prepare for elections. Iraq's provisional constitution, the Transitional Administrative Law, stipulates that elections be held by January 2005.

Asked if he thought that time is running out for the United Nations to be of help if elections are to be held by January 2005, the secretary general said he feels there is "still time for them to get us involved."

"The earlier you start working on that legal framework the better. It's not too late yet, but time is of the essence and eight months is a very, very tight timeframe. So the more time you lose now, the more you will have to do to meet that deadline," Brahimi said.

 By Judy Aita Washington File United Nations Correspondent
(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site:


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