The group, which held its first meeting on Monday, brings together Iraq's neighbours and Security Council members.

Several envoys said members of the US-appointed Iraqi Governing Council would probably be invited to the next meeting, although no date had been set.

Annan told the meeting, attended by 17 ambassadors, that he would soon place a report before the Security Council on what the UN could do in Iraq.

He added that the UN planned to nominate an interim chief representative for Iraq shortly and a special representative early next year.

"We urged that the Secretary General appoint a special representative or an acting special representative as soon as possible," US Ambassador John Negroponte told reporters after the meeting.

"The Iraqi Governing Council... (has also) asked that a special representative be named as soon as possible." he said.

Right move

Syria's UN ambassador, Faysal Miqdad, said the meeting was "a step in the right direction."

"Certain ideas were raised but frankly speaking this is the first time for such a meeting," he added.

Annan is said to be toying with the idea of stationing political staff in Cyprus or Jordan until security conditions improve in Iraq. In the interim, a chief envoy would commute to the Iraqi capital.

UN special representative Sergio Vieira de Mello was killed in an attack on the UN headquarters in Baghdad on 19 August that left 22 people dead.

The 17 nations at the meeting included Iraq's six neighbours - Syria, Jordan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Turkey as well as Egypt.

Security Council members in the group are the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France, Germany, Chile, Angola, Pakistan and Spain.