By Ray Fleming
KOFI Annan is a naturally cautious man but I have never seen him speak so carefully and non-committally as at his press conference on Monday evening following his talks at the UN with representatives of the Iraq Governing Council and the American government.

He said he had agreed to “technical talks” to determine whether or not it would be productive to send a UN mission to Iraq to assess the feasibility of holding full-scale elections before the formation of an interim government by the deadline set by the United States of 30 June of this year. It is understandable that the UN Secretary General wants to be careful. If he does anything which seems to be designed to help the Coalition Provisional Authority (Britain and the United States) rather than the Iraqi people themselves he will simply prolong unrest and put the UN itself in further danger when it does eventually return to the country.

The United States has said that full elections cannot be organised before the end of June and has proposed consultations to identify an interim assembly of representative Iraqis; the powerful Shite Ayatollah Sistani has said he wants full elections before a transitional government is put in place on July 1.

The window of opportunity to solve this deadlock is the belief that Sistani would agree to the US plan if the United Nations were to confirm, on the basis of its considerable experience in this field, that there is no time for a full election before June.

Since there are now only four months or so left in which to create an election machinery for a vast country the answer seems obvious. But why, then, did the Americans choose 30 June as the hand-over date in the first place?


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