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UN Team, Sistani Discuss Iraq Election Issue - 2004-02-12


A UN team has met with Iraq's top Shi'ite cleric to discuss his call for early elections. The team of experts lead by veteran diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi met with Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani today (Thursday) at his well guarded residence in the Shi'ite holy city of Najaf.

The ayatollah has demanded general elections to choose a government for the country. He opposes a U.S.-backed plan to hand over power to an interim Iraqi authority that would be chosen through regional caucuses.

The United States and several members of the U.S. -appointed Iraqi Governing Council say there is not enough time to hold elections before the planned June 30th transfer of power.

Washington has asked the United Nations to determine whether an early vote is feasible.

The UN team has been in Iraq since Sunday, discussing the issue with senior U.S. officials and Iraqi Governing Council members in Baghdad.

Meanwhile, a U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad said two American soldiers were killed and a third wounded in a roadside bomb blast in the city late Wednesday.

The incident followed two deadly suicide car bomb attacks this week (in Baghdad and in a nearby small town) that killed about 100 Iraqis and wounded dozens of others. Both attacks were targeted at people waiting to apply for jobs at police and army recruitment centers.

A car packed with explosives blew up in front of an army recruitment center in Baghdad early Wednesday, killing at least 46 people. A similar explosion occurred Tuesday in the town of Iskandariya, south of the capital, where a truck-bomb blew up near a local police station, killing more than 50 people.

There has been no claim of responsibility for the bombings, but U.S. officials say they bear the fingerprints of an al-Qaida operation.

Meanwhile, U.S. military officials in Baghdad announced Wednesday that they had doubled the reward for suspected terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi to 10-million dollars.

Earlier this week, U.S. officials said they had seized a letter allegedly written by the suspected al-Qaida operative outlining a plan to wage a sectarian war in Iraq.

Information for this report is provided by AP and Reuters.

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