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Annan: No Iraq vote this year

Annan is on a five-day trip to Japan.

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A U.N. report says Iraq won't be ready for elections until late 2004.
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NEW YORK (CNN) -- Iraq would need at least eight months to be ready to hold elections once a legal framework for them is established, according to a report by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

In a report to the U.N. Security Council released Monday, Annan added no such vote could take place before year's end -- long after the coalition's June 30 deadline to transfer power to a sovereign Iraq.

But the United Nations offered its help to develop a process to choose a transitional government by that date and to develop a permanent electoral process.

The report called for more "intensified" security discussions with the coalition and its Iraqi Governing Council to ensure the safety of U.N. teams.

Annan sent a fact-finding mission to Iraq earlier this month, at the U.S.-backed coalition's request, after Iraq's top Shiite cleric rejected plans for caucuses to select a transitional government and demanded direct elections.

"Elections are a necessary step in the process of building democratic governance and reconstruction," said the report. "The caucus-style system as it now stands is not practical and is not a substitute for elections."

But, it said: "Credible elections cannot take place by 30 June 2004."

"Substantial preparations are needed. Elections should be prepared well and should take place in the best possible conditions."

Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani has said that he would be willing to accept a delay in elections, but it is unclear how long a delay he would accept -- and what process he would accept for choosing the interim government that the coalition still maintains will take over on June 30.

Paul Bremer, the coalition's top civilian administrator, said before the report's release that with the caucus system off the table, "the question is how do we select a transitional government by the end of June."

"My sense is there's a lot of momentum behind this desire for democracy here," Bremer said. "We've had town hall meetings, selection of provincial councils ... all over this country. There's a real thirst for democracy."

From Japan, Annan said that the "electoral issue is extremely important."

"We need to find the mechanism, working of course with Iraqis, helping the Iraqis determine a mechanism for establishing an interim or transitional government so that the transfer of power which is anticipated on the 30th of June will go ahead," he said, "and that we work with them to organize elections in the not-too-distant future."

The U.N. report called for a legal framework "as soon as possible," noted that such a framework could be in place by May 2004 and recommended that "an autonomous and independent Iraqi Electoral Commission be established without further delay."

The report cited Iraq's unstable security situation and its lack of electoral organization as impediments to holding credible elections in a quicker time frame.

The U.N. team also recommended combining the constitutional convention and national assembly into one body instead of two bodies with two elections as currently required in the coalition's Nov. 15 political agreement with the Iraqi Governing Council.

Under that agreement, the constitutional convention was to be elected by March 15, 2005, followed by an election to ratify the constitution and then an election for the national assembly by December 31, 2005.

The U.N. recommended that the first election choose the national assembly, which would then write the constitution and put it before the people of Iraq for ratification.

During its week-long mission in Iraq, the fact-finding team, led by Annan's special advisor on Iraq, Lakhdar Brahimi, spoke with dozens of Iraqis across all spectrums of life.

While "many interlocutors speak of rising disillusionment and anger," the report said, "with so much at stake, Iraq is a dynamic place, full of ideas and political arguments."

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