Annan questions planned power transfer in Iraq

Increased unrest creates uncertainty over timing, according to U.N. chief


UNITED NATIONS - Secretary General Kofi Annan said yesterday that increased unrest in Iraq was complicating the work of his special envoy there and throwing into question the dates for the transfer of power to Iraqis, the scheduling of elections and a full-scale United Nations return to Baghdad.

With the growing opposition to the American-led coalition, many political figures in the United States and Europe have called for greater U.N. responsibility and presence in Iraq, but Annan cautioned against that possibility "for the foreseeable future."

His envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi, has been in Iraq for 10 days trying to help forge a consensus among Iraqis for forming an interim government to assume power from the coalition June 30. A team of U.N. election experts has been in Iraq since March 26, advising on the possibility of holding elections by the end of January 2005 as mandated in Iraq's temporary constitution.

Annan told reporters at U.N. headquarters that even these small missions were proving to be "rather difficult, given the deteriorating situation and the violence on the ground" that has occurred while they have been there.

"For the foreseeable future, insecurity is going to be a major constraint for us," he said, "and so I cannot say right now that I am going to be sending in a large U.N. team."

Asked whether the current mayhem threatened the June 30 date for transferring sovereignty to Iraq, he said, "The date has been out there for some time. It has been embraced by the Iraqis themselves, who are anxious to see the end of occupation as soon as possible, and I believe it is going to be difficult to pull it back.

"That having been said, I hope we are going to be able to bring down the violence and control the situation between now and then because the kind of violence we are seeing on the ground is not conducive for that sort of political process and transition," he said.

Brahimi told the Security Council after his first mission to Iraq this year that it would take at least eight months to organize national elections for a permanent government and then only after the necessary legal structures were in place.

Annan said yesterday, "I am not in a position to confirm to you or to ascertain whether the legal framework is in place or not, and therefore it is difficult for me to say the January date is still a viable one."

Annan said he would await Brahimi's return to New York when he will report his findings to the Security Council before saying what the U.N. view would be on how to achieve a stable future.

U.N. diplomats said yesterday that despite the violence, Brahimi was managing to consult with a wide range of Iraqis, including academics, tribal leaders, politicians, women's groups, religious figures, civil society leaders and members of the Iraqi Governing Council.

The United Nations has been expected to play a large role in the post-transition period, and the 15-member Security Council expects to be considering a new draft resolution on that subject from the United States and Britain next month.

The United Nations withdrew its entire international staff from Iraq in October after attacks on relief workers and the bombing of the world organization's Baghdad headquarters, which killed 22 people, including the mission chief, Sergio Vieira de Mello.

Since then, the U.N. activity in Iraq has been directed from offices in Cyprus and Jordan, and Annan has been pressing the coalition for a clear definition of what the U.N. role and responsibilities would be and what kind of security would be provided before making a commitment to return in force.

In answer to questions, Annan said he had heard rumors that the United States might be sending its U.N. ambassador, John D. Negroponte, to Baghdad as its ambassador there.

He said he had no idea whether the rumors were true, but he praised Negroponte as "an outstanding professional, a great diplomat and a wonderful ambassador here."

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