Friday, February 27, 2004

Iraqi Cleric Calls for Elections by Year's End: "Ayatollah Sistani called for 'clear guarantees,' possibly in the form of a resolution by the United Nations Security Council, that elections would be held no later in 2004. He said that the caretaker Iraqi government that will take control of the country from the Americans at the end of June should confine itself to setting up those elections. Ayatollah Sistani used as his starting point a statement last week by the United Nations secretary general, Kofi Annan, that the earliest possible date for elections would be the end of this year.

"'The religious authority demands clear guarantees' such as a Security Council resolution 'that elections will be held according to that date in order to assure the Iraqi people that this issue will not be delayed under some pretext,' Ayatollah Sistani said. While the ayatollah conceded that nationwide elections would not be possible before the transfer of sovereignty took place on June 30, he implied that it was the duty of every organization and foreign government involved in this country to work toward democratic elections by Dec. 31. "Although the U.N. team has dismissed the idea of handing sovereignty over to an elected government," Ayatollah Sistani said, "its decision that it is possible to hold elections at the end of this year is extremely important.""

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