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White House: Caucus plan for Iraq shelved

Iraqi Shiites march in support of Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani in Najaf on Friday.  Sistani had disrupted the U.S. elections plan by calling for a direct vote.
Iraqi Shiites march in support of Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani in Najaf on Friday. Sistani had disrupted the U.S. elections plan by calling for a direct vote.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The White House on Friday acknowledged that the administration's plan to use a caucus-style election to choose an interim Iraqi government has been shelved.

That point has been conceded in private conversations for at least two weeks, but Friday marked the first time the White House said so publicly.

Negotiations on an alternative plan continue, with the United Nations now in a lead role, and the White House said it remained committed to the June 30 deadline for transferring sovereignty.

White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan, in conceding the plan had been shelved, acknowledged the caucus plan "is something that has not received much support" from the Iraqi people.

"We have always said we are open to refinements and clarifications," he said Friday.

U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan has backed the U.S. position that Iraq is not ready for national elections anytime soon.

The negotiations involving the Bush administration, the United Nations, the Iraqi Governing Council and a variety of Iraqi community and religious leaders include talk of simply expanding the existing Governing Council. After the transfer of sovereignty this larger council would be charged with drafting a new constitution and scheduling elections to choose a new government.

In Baghdad, Iraqis had varying opinions on Annan's conclusions about the prospect of Iraqi elections.

Annan said Thursday that direct elections for a transitional legislature can't be held before the political handover date of June 30, but he endorsed the importance of that date.

Some backed the announcement and others didn't.

"We agree that the elections should be delayed until we improve the security in this country to avoid cheating and to avoid the breakout of a civil war," said a spokesman from the office of Samir Shakeer Mahmud, a Sunni Arab who is a member of Al-Sumaidi clan and sits on the interim Iraqi Governing Council.

"We need to have a definite date," said Mowaffak al-Rubaie, a Shiite Arab and another member of the interim council. "Power must be handed over to a body that is impartial in order to be able to make a decision that will provide continuity. We can't do it the American way like when George W. Bush replaced Bill Clinton the whole system changed and we cannot have this."

Hewa Mahmud Othman, the son and spokesman for Dr. Ali Othman, a Sunni Kurd from Sulamaniya who is also on the council, said, "people were not surprised" because U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, who led the team looking into the feasibility of early elections "made an unofficial statement with these same thoughts to the people."

"We need to have a delay on the elections because having elections now would be a recipe for civil war. The same thing happened in 1992; when the Kurds tried to rush into elections they ended up with four years of conflict and are still split into two groups."

CNN's John King and Kianne Sadeq contributed to this report.

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