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UN Team Studies Possibility of Early Iraq Elections - 2004-02-10


A United Nations team is holding more talks with Iraqi politicians to determine whether it is possible to hold nationwide elections in the next few months.

The head of a Shi'ite Muslim political party (Abdul Aziz al-Hakim) says he has given team leader Lakhdar Brahimi a report showing early elections are possible. The team arrived in Iraq on Saturday.

Leaders of Iraq's Shi'ite majority want direct elections to be held by June 30th, the deadline Washington has set for returning the country to Iraqi rule.

But leaders of the Sunni minority oppose early elections, saying the situation in Iraq is too chaotic.

Meanwhile, U.S. military officials say another top Iraqi fugitive has been taken into custody. Speaking on the condition of anonymity, the officials said Muhsin Khadr al-Khafaji was turned over to U.S. troops (last weekend) in the Baghdad region. The officials did not give any details of the circumstances.

Muhsin Al-Khafaji -- listed as number 48 on the U.S. list of 55 most wanted Iraqis -- is identified as the former Baath Party chairman and commander of the Baath militia in the Qadisiyah region, northwest of Baghdad.

In a separate development, a top U.S. military officer in Iraq said Monday U.S. forces have seized a computer disc containing a letter written by a suspected al-Qaida operative outlining a plan to wage a sectarian war in Iraq in the coming months.

Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt said the letter was written by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian national suspected of having links to Ansar al-Islam -- an al-Qaida supported Muslim militant group operating inside Iraq.

General Kimmitt told reporters in Baghdad the letter is deemed credible and that it clearly shows there is a plan for outsiders to come into Iraq and spark sectarian violence.

Information for this report is provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

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