Kofi Annan May Visit Iraq Tells Sistani

Kofi Annan May visit Iraq; Tells Sistani Direct Elections Impractical

Kofi Annan is seeking a Jan. 15 meeting with the countries involved in Iraq and with the Interim Governing Council, so as to determine what the UN role will be in that country. The UN was not mentioned in the November 15 agreement setting a timetable for the return of Iraqi sovereignty and eventual elections, and Annan is said to suspect that US civil administrator in Iraq, Paul Bremer, deliberately excluded the UN.

The London-based, Saudi-funded daily, al-Hayat, says he is thinking of visiting Iraq, and got some specific answers from Annan for Friday’s edition, which I translate below:

‘Al-Hayat asked him about his concerns over the ways in which the Occupation Authorities have exceeded or contravened international law, to which Annan had alluded in his report to the Security Council. He said that it is necessary for there to be discipline in “respecting fundamental international law. And on the practical side, there is a need to treat the citizens in a way that does not produce disgust or lead them to join the opposition. It is important that the interaction with them accord with international principles.”

With regard to his request for a clarification of the UN’s view of the occupation authority and the Interim Governing Council, he wants to know “What is desired of us from now until June 30th,” the deadline for the announcment of a temporary government, and clarity about the expectations in the stage that comes after the formation of that government.

He said that the role of the United Nations was ignored in the first phase of the “Coalition,” as well as by the Governing council, which led him to wonder “Was this an oversight or was there a purpose behind it?”

Replying to a question about the treatment of Saddam Hussein, Annan refered to the position of the Vatican, affirming that the scenes were “extremely disturbing to many,” and said, “I can understand the reaction in the Arab world.”

This last passage referred to the feeling of many that the US release of the videotape of Saddam being medically examined was a violation of the Geneva Conventions on the treatment of p.o.w.’s, who ideally should not be exposed to public view or ridicule. The Vatican called for mercy for Saddam, in part on those grounds.

The LA Times (registration required) reported that Annan has also indirectly replied to the request by Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani for a UN assessment of whether direct elections were feasible, made last Saturday. The LA Times writes, ‘Annan delivered his answer to Sistani on Tuesday, telling the Security Council that holding open elections by June 30 was not realistic. But he reassured the ayatollah that his interests would be addressed in elections later. “While there may not be time to organize free, fair and credible elections” for a provisional government, he said, “every segment of Iraqi society should feel represented in the nascent institutions of their country. None should feel excluded, pending the subsequent holding of free elections for a constituent assembly and parliament.” ‘

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