A U.N. official says it is not likely elections can be held in Iraq before power is handed over at the end of June.
Ahmad Fawzi, a spokesman for U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, told British radio today (Friday) it is not a question of delaying elections, but holding them when the country is ready, which Mr. Fawzi says will be after the transfer of power.
The comment comes one day after Mr. Brahimi met with Iraq's top Shi'ite cleric in Najaf to discuss the situation. Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani has demanded elections before June 30th, but U.S. officials have said there is not enough time to organize elections.
Mr. Brahimi and his team of experts have been meeting this week with groups in Iraq to find a solution.
U.S. officials want caucuses to choose delegates who would pick an interim government. Elections would be held next year. Both sides have shown willingness to work out a compromise.
After Thursday's meeting, Mr. Brahimi said he agrees completely with the ayatollah that direct elections are the best way to select a new government, but he did not specify a timetable.
The U.N. envoy said only that he and Ayatollah Sistani agree that any elections must be well prepared and arranged to get the best results.
In New York, a spokesman for U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan said elections can be expected next year. Fred Eckhard told reporters the question is, what should be done before June 30th to establish a legitimate provisional government in Iraq.
Information for this report is provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.