U.N. sending team to break Iraq impasse

Wednesday, January 28, 2004

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- The United Nations agreed Tuesday to send a team to Iraq to help break the deadlock over electing a new government, as the deaths of six more American soldiers in roadside bombings underscored concerns about security in the volatile nation.

A bomb that exploded south of Baghdad killed three U.S. soldiers and wounded three others Tuesday night, hours after another bombing west of the capital killed three U.S. paratroopers and wounded one, the military said. In addition, two CNN employees died in a shooting south of Baghdad.

The United States has cited the ongoing violence in arguing against demands by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani for the direct election of a provisional legislature, which in turn will select a government to take power by July 1.

Instead, Washington wants the lawmakers chosen in 18 regional caucuses. The Americans and the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council asked U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to send a team to determine whether an early election would be feasible.

In Paris, Annan said he believes the United Nations can play "a constructive role" in helping to break the impasse, and would send such a team to Iraq once he is satisfied that the coalition "will provide adequate security arrangements.

Annan said the mission will solicit the views of Iraqis to find alternative ways to choose a provisional government. Shiite Muslim leaders have said al-Sistani wants to hear alternatives to the caucus plan if the U.N. team says it's not feasible to hold elections by the end of June.

The U.N. chief also said sending in "blue helmet" peacekeepers was not on the agenda, although he favored a multinational force for Iraq sometime in the future.

"I believe what we can anticipate would be a multinational force authorized by the Security Council, which could help and work with Iraqis to stabilize Iraq and make it safer," Annan said. "This would be a multinational force, with the support of the Security Council, and not 'blue helmets' per se."

In Baghdad, coalition spokesman Dan Senor welcomed Annan's decision and said the United States and its partners would protect the U.N. team.

Annan withdrew staff from Iraq last year after two attacks on the U.N. headquarters here, including the August vehicle bombing that killed 22 people.

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