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Annan Says UN Will Do All It Can To Help Iraqis

Annan Says UN Will Do All It Can To Help Iraqis Advance Political Process

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan today pledged the world body's full support for the political process in Iraq as a senior UN aide announced that more international staffers would head to the war-ravaged country to help with preparations for January elections.

"The United Nations is determined to do whatever it can to assist the Iraqi people, the circumstances permitting," Mr. Annan told reporters in New York.

He stressed that the elections must involve the broadest possible range of Iraqis. "Of course there are some extremists whom one can never get into the process, but the more inclusive the process, the greater the possibility that it will succeed and the results of the elections will be productive," he said.

Kieran Prendergast, who heads the UN Political Affairs Department, told a press briefing, "The Secretary-General accepts that we need to deploy more people [and] we will be deploying those people as circumstances permit."

Joining him was Carina Perelli, head of the UN electoral assistance office, who said conducting out-of-country voting "will be fraught with a lot of technical difficulties."

She noted that more resources will be required to facilitate the process. "We will support as much as we can through the mission. We have questions in terms of the feasibility of this exercise, but if [the Iraqis] have taken this decision we will assist them technically as much as we can."

Mr. Prendergast also stressed that "there is a difference between what is desirable and what is feasible given the very tight time constraints within which we are working."

Iraqis have already started enrolling in the election process, with 85 per cent of the 542 registration centres in place open. Balloting is planned for January to allow Iraqis to choose members of a constituent assembly that will then draw up a constitution.

Echoing the Secretary-General's comments about inclusiveness, Mr. Prendergast said, "Constitutions are best designed when they have a very broad base of input into the process" through a wide-ranging consultation.

The UN wants the elections to result in the broadest possible range of Iraqi constituencies in the Assembly, he added.

He predicted that Iraqi Kurds would participate in large numbers, as would the Shia'a. "Less likely to participate are the communities who are alienated and [we must look at] what can be done to encourage them to come into the process."

Ms. Perelli, referring to the importance of hearing the "unmediated voice of the Iraqi people," stressed the importance of ensuring that all centres - not just 85 per cent - can open. This will allow people to "vote with their feet" by indicating their level of interest in participating. "Our job is to ensure that they have the means of participating."

She said she did not expect a partial election, but added: "Right now it's too early to make any sort of predications."

Meanwhile in Baghdad, talks on the elections were held between the Secretary-General's Special Representative for Iraq, Ashraf Qazi, and the country's Deputy Prime Minister, Barham Saleh.

Mr. Saleh is a member of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and the two men touched on the situation in that area, according to a UN spokesman.

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