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Iraq Elections Could Be Held By End Of 04

Iraq Elections Could Be Held By End Of 2004 If Conditions Are Met - Un Report

Credible elections are not possible in Iraq before the 30 June planned handover of sovereignty but they can be organized by the end of this year or in early 2005 given the establishment of certain conditions, including a legal framework for the process, a United Nations fact-finding mission to the country says in a <" ">report released today.

Lakhdar Brahimi, Secretary-General Kofi Annan's Special Advisor, led the team which was dispatched in response to requests from the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), the Iraqi Governing Council and others concerned to study the feasibility of early elections and possible alternatives.

In an agreement reached last November, the CPA and the Governing Council envisaged regional caucuses to choose members of a transitional national assembly, but the UN team found that the caucus-style system "does not appear to enjoy sufficient support among Iraqis to be a viable option."

While in Iraq, the team met with a range of Iraqi stakeholders and was told that political agreement on a legal framework for the balloting could be secured by May. If this is the case, and if other conditions are met, the team concluded that "elections could be held by the end of 2004 or shortly after."

All Iraqi stakeholders would have to agree as soon as possible on the electoral framework so that preparations for operational work can begin, according to the report, which anticipates that the preparatory process would take at least eight months after a legal and institutional framework has been established.

The report recommends setting up an Iraqi Electoral Commission to start working immediately towards a well-organized process that would result in polling as soon as possible.

The report adds that once basic agreements are reached, a precise polling date should be set and announced.

The mission backs agreement among "many" Iraqis that a single assembly should be chosen through elections held by the end of this year or shortly after with the dual functions of drafting a constitution and acting as the principal law-making body. It also underscores the prevailing consensus in Iraq on keeping the 30 June handover date.

Regarding the transfer of sovereignty, the team says the UN would be willing to help in building consensus among Iraqis on the specific powers, structure and composition of a provisional governance body and the process for its establishment, and could provide advisory services and technical assistance for the electoral process.

Ultimately, the Iraqi people must decide on these issues and implement them, the report stresses. "They are more than capable of doing so."

The team, which visited Iraq from 6 to 13 February, calls for intensified discussions on security within the Iraqi Governing Council and the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) to complete arrangements for expanding UN activities in the country. "The United Nations is ready to play a supporting role - in helping to facilitate political consensus, as well as in offering technical advice on elections - if the people of Iraq so request it, the Security Council mandates the Organization to play that role, and appropriate arrangements are made to provide security for our own personnel."

These conclusions are echoed by the Secretary-General in his letter transmitting the report to the President of the Security Council. "[A] precondition for the United Nations to succeed in Iraq is the clear and unambiguous support of a united Security Council and the establishment of a secure environment," he emphasizes.

Team member Carina Perelli, Director of the UN Electoral Assistance Division, told reporters in New York today that the UN will act in response to the wishes of the Iraqi people. "We will now wait to hear from the Iraqis and the CPA to see whether they accept the report and our recommendations and what are the future steps," she said. "The UN and the UN Electoral Assistance Division stands ready to contribute to this process if the Iraqis and the CPA at this point consider that our help is necessary."

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