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No Iraq Elections Until Late ’04 At Earliest, Says U.N.’s Annan

By Warren Hoge

The New York Times -- UNITED NATIONS

Secretary-General Kofi Annan SM ’72 said Monday that credible national elections could be held in Iraq by the end of this year or early in 2005, but only if planning a framework for them began immediately.

In a report to the Security Council that portrayed Iraq as a country in deepening crisis, Annan said his special envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi, and a team of U.N. elections experts had determined during a one-week trip there that it would take until May to set up that framework and then at least eight months from that point to organize the elections.

His report, written by Brahimi, said it was urgent that the Iraqis establish an independent election commission to come up with the technical and legal rules and structure for a national vote. The current American plan had envisioned full elections by the end of 2005.

While Annan said it was important to hold to the agreed June 30 deadline for the occupying powers to hand over authority in Iraq, he pointedly did not make any recommendation on what form of caretaker government ought to be created by that date. He said defining the mechanism for transferring sovereignty would be up to the Iraqis themselves.

Reiterating in his presentation that the report’s conclusions were based on the “Iraqi consensus,” Annan pledged U.N. assistance throughout the elections process. In that connection, Brahimi is expected to return to Baghdad next month.

Brahimi, a former Algerian foreign minister who recently completed two years as the U.N. envoy to Afghanistan, described Iraq darkly as a country of growing ethnic tensions that, unless urgently addressed, “could fuel the existing potential for civil strife and violence.”

Outlining the stark dimensions of the problem, he said, “After more than three decades of despotic rule, without the basic elements of the rule of law, a ruined economy, a devastated country, the collapse of state institutions, low political will for reconciliation and distrust among some Iraqis, conditions in Iraq are daunting.”

He said the political class was increasingly fragmented, communal politics were polarized and the political process “remains limited to a few actors, with varying credibility.”

Some actions by the Iraqi Governing Council are serving to increase rather than relieve tensions, Brahimi said. He cited one in particular, a decision placing family law under the jurisdiction of religious doctrine. He said women saw the move as “an ominous indication of what might be coming.”

In the report, Brahimi listed a number of alternative suggestions for a caretaker government that he had heard from Iraqis, without indicating which, if any, he might favor.