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Report: Ayatollah Sistani Accepts Election Delay - 2004-02-21


Iraq's most influential Shi'ite Muslim leader has said he will accept a delay in elections for a sovereign Iraqi government, but only if an unelected caretaker administration has limited power.

Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani made the comment to German magazine Der Spiegel. He had called for direct elections instead of the indirect selection of an interim government to take sovereignty from the U.S.-led coalition on June 30th.

But in the interview, Ayatollah Sistani says he can accept a delay as long as the United Nations sets a firm date for a vote in the near future.

His comments come after U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said he and his special advisor on Iraq agreed with the United States that elections were not feasible before the transfer of power.

Other Shi'ite leaders in Iraq and some members of the Governing Council are still calling for direct elections before the handover of power.

U.S. officials say they are now open to alternatives to their original plan for a series of regional caucuses (meetings) to choose an interim government for Iraq. The U.S. administrator in Iraq, Paul Bremer, says many ideas have been proposed.

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