Annan: Iraq can't vote before June 30
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has said direct elections for a transitional legislature in Iraq cannot be held by the June 30 transfer of power, but that date for a return to sovereignty must still be "respected."
"As we move forward, we hope we will be able to work with the Iraqis and the coalition to find a mechanism for establishing a caretaker or an interim government until such time elections are organized," Annan said Thursday.
His statement came as Paul Bremer, the top U.S. civilian administrator in Iraq, said in Baghdad that changes and adjustments are possible in the structure of the political handover to Iraq this (northern hemisphere) summer, but stressed that the June 30 handover date remains.
"And hold it should. In the November 15th agreement, the Governing Council and coalition promised the Iraqi people sovereignty on a date certain and we will give it to them," Bremer said in a news conference.
The June 30 deadline was set in a handover plan developed by the Coalition Provisional Authority and the Iraqi Governing Council. The plan calls for a caucus-style selection of a transitional assembly, with direct elections delayed until 2005.
Annan made his comments at the United Nations after a meeting with what is called the Group of Friends of Iraq, countries concerned about the situation in Iraq.
The secretary-general said the 46 delegations in the room heard highlights of a report from the U.N. team led by envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, which looked into whether elections for a transitional legislature could be held before June 30.
"We've shared with them where we stand, what we hope to do next and explained to them the state of play," Annan said.
The report on direct elections will be completed Friday, will be sent to Annan in Japan Saturday for his approval, and is expected to be released Monday, he said.
Along with saying there cannot be direct elections by June 30 but that date must be respected, the report is expected to outline a timetable for when elections might be feasible and what steps are needed for fair elections.
Diplomats say it could take eight to 10 months to get all of the preparations and balloting could take place sometime early in 2005.
The United Nations plans to wait to be asked by the Iraqis to return and make an assessment on what kind of interim arrangement can be put in place.
Brahimi, who was at Annan's side, said the United Nations will help shore up the political process up to June 30 and after that date "when sovereignty will be restored to Iraq."
One of the ideas for a caretaker government would be to expand the 25-member Iraqi Governing Council and extend its authority past the June 30 deadline.
Brahimi just returned from the volatile land, where there have been a spate of large-scale, bloody insurgent attacks in recent days. The shaky security situation is expected to have an impact on how and when elections are staged.
Last week, two assaults targeted Iraqi police and army recruits in Baghdad and Iskandariyah, killing more than 100.
Another was a well-planned strike in Fallujah against the police station and the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps, killing 25 people, mostly police.
On Wednesday, suicide bombers killed eight people at a multinational base in Hilla, and coalition soldiers repulsed an attack on the Abu Ghraib prison near the Iraqi capital, killing one of the attackers and arresting 55 others, a military spokesman said.
In the latest violence Thursday, a roadside bomb killed two U.S. soldiers and one Iraqi near Khaldiyah, west of Baghdad.
With the soldiers' deaths, 547 U.S. troops have been killed in the Iraq war, 379 from hostile fire.
Of those, 408 have died after U.S. President George W. Bush declared an end to major combat on May 1.
The United Nations undertook its electoral study at the request of the CPA and the Governing Council, which were reacting to the nation's top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who wanted direct elections instead of caucuses to pick the Iraqi leadership before June 30.
U.S. involvement will not end
Bremer said he would not give his opinions on particular alternatives to the November 15 plan until the United Nations announces its recommendations for a transition.
"There are dozens of ideas around and I think it's appropriate now to await the independent view" from the United Nations on whether elections can be held before the handover and if not, what the alternatives would be.
Among alternatives, he said, "are caucuses that cascade downwards, upward-cascading caucuses, various other kinds of selections, partial elections."
He added, "As I understand the process, the secretary-general intends to issue his views on this question in the next 24 hours and I would prefer to wait until I hear what he has to say.
"There are, as I have pointed out before, a number of ways in which a transitional government could be selected if it was not possible to hold elections. It is a very complicated task to do it if you don't do it with elections."
Bremer stressed that the June 30 deadline would not mean the end of U.S. involvement in Iraq.
One hundred thousand American troops would remain in that nation and the Coalition Provisional Authority would transfer to a massive embassy with thousands of government officials.