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Iraqi cleric demands UN role
By foreign affairs editor Peter Cave
Iraq's top Shiite cleric the Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani has demanded that the United Nations be brought in to determine whether early democratic elections in Iraq are feasible.
The issue of when to hold elections has deeply divided the US-appointed Governing Council, which has failed to reach an agreement for more than two weeks.
Ayatollah Sistani says that he will not retreat from his call for early democratic elections unless a neutral UN committee, appointed by secretary-general Kofi Annan, concludes that in the current circumstances it is technically and politically impossible.
The US deliberately excluded the UN from any role in the transition to democracy in the draft plan it released last month.