U.N. Official Rules Out Early Elections in Iraq

Ahmad Fawzi told BBC radio, Reuters reported, ”It’s not a question of delaying (the handover). It’s finding a new timetable.”

“Elections will take place when the country is ready and that will be after the handover of power.”

The United Nations is trying to break an impasse between Iraq’s majority Shiites, who are calling for elections before the June 30 transfer, and Washington, which says that is not enough time to organize them.

The U.S. plan calls for a temporary legislature to be picked by 18 regional “caucuses” so the June transfer can occur, followed by national elections in early 2005.

Iraq’s leading Shiite cleric Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, however, has said elections should be held before June 30 because Iraqis would view the caucus-selection process as “illegitimate.”

Some members of the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council were pushing an alternative to the caucuses that would transfer sovereignty to an expanded council on June 30. The council would then organize elections before the end of the year.

Doubts about the complex U.S. plan were expressed Friday to U.N. special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi during a meeting with the 25-member Iraqi Governing Council.

“What everyone agrees on is that elections are terribly important,” Brahimi told a news conference in Baghdad.

“But the Iraqi street must know that elections are very complicated process and cannot be achieved unless there are good preparations so that everyone accepts the results,” he said, according to the BBC.

He also warned Iraqis of the risk of civil war associated with the creation of a new government.

“I am a little bit disturbed and a little bit uneasy because there are very serious dangers,” Brahimi said. Civil wars erupt, he said, “because people are reckless, people are selfish, because people think more of themselves than they do of their country.”

Mouwafak al-Rubaie, one of the governing council’s 13 Shiite members, said he believed al-Sistani would go along with the idea of handing over power to an expanded council instead of the caucus-selected legislature, according to the Associated Press.

Al-Sistani issued no statement after his Thursday talks with Brahimi.

Brahimi said he would submit his recommendations to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan in about a week or ten days.