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Annan says Iraqis ready for polls
December 16, 2004
he UN is "doing the job" of supporting elections in Iraq and no more staff are needed there, its Secretary General, Kofi Annan, has said.

Mr Annan was speaking after a meeting - possibly his last - with outgoing US Secretary of State Colin Powell.

About 6,000 Iraqis have been trained in how to conduct elections and 130,000 will staff polling stations, Mr Powell said Mr Annan had informed him.

Mr Powell also reiterated US support for the beleaguered secretary general.

Mr Annan has faced calls for his resignation from several senior Republicans as revelations emerge about corruption in the now-defunct UN-administered oil-for-food programme in Iraq.

Tentative presence

The United Nations on Wednesday said it had decided to expand its presence in Iraq outside Baghdad and would be opening offices in Basra in the south and Irbil in the north.

About 59 UN staff are now deployed in Iraq. Of those, 25 are electoral experts to assist in the 30 January poll. A 150-stong contingent of Fijian troops under UN control will provide security.

Election at-a-glance
But these staff levels remain a fraction of the UN presence before a bomb ripped through its Baghdad office in August 2003, killing 22 people.

High-level US officials have indicated they will seek a greater commitment of staff from the UN ahead of the elections.

This sentiment was reiterated on Thursday when a White House spokesman said "we encourage them [the UN] to continue to expand their presence in Iraq".

But Mr Annan told reporters following his meeting with Mr Powell on Thursday that "from a technical point of view, we have done all that we need to do".

"We have enough people in there to do the work," he said.

He conceded that "if need be", more staff would go in, but insisted: "We are doing the job".

Mr Powell said Mr Annan had told him 6,000 Iraqi personnel had been trained to run the elections and 130,000 polling staff had been appointed.

The UN effort "seems to be on track", he said.

Annan anxious

Both men said they wished to "get to the bottom" of allegations that Saddam Hussein was able to siphon off money from the oil-for-food programme administered by the UN during his rule.

A Senate committee headed by Senator Norm Coleman - who has already demanded Mr Annan's resignation - and an independent UN inquiry are looking into the matter.

Mr Annan said he was anxious to see the investigations concluded so "we can... put it behind us".

Mr Annan also paid tribute to Mr Powell on what may be their last formal meeting before Mr Powell's planned replacement by Condoleezza Rice as secretary of state.

The meeting "gave me a chance to thank Mr Powell for the excellent co-operation and the wonderful work he's done around the world, and we at the UN are going to miss him," Mr Annan said.

Mr Annan will meet Ms Rice, currently the White House national security adviser, later on Thursday.


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