Yet, confusion remains regarding whether Iraq's Shia leader Ayat Allah Sistani endorses the return of a UN team.

A UN electoral team, led by Lakhdar Brahimi, a senior official, went to Iraq last month to study the feasibility of holding elections and to discuss proposals for an interim government when the US-led occupation is likely to hand over charge on 30 June.
 
But in the last few days some Shia in the Iraqi Governing Council, especially former exile Ahmad Chalabi, voiced opposition to a UN return.
 
Chalabi, a senior member of the IGC who has close ties to the Pentagon, told a news conference the 25-member body was sending a letter that would envisage "an important role for the United Nations in Iraq."
 
He said the "role of the UN is to provide counseling assistance in the run-up to the transfer of power, and technical assistance in the elections."

Elections are not expected to be held until late this year, at the earliest after an interim government takes power on 30 June. Ayat Allah Ali al-Sistani had demanded immediate elections.

But Brahimi told a news conference at UN headquarters in New York on Tuesday that Iraqi leaders had agreed during his visit to the country in early February that this would not be feasible before 30 June.
 
Brahimi said al-Sistani told UN Secretary General Kofi Annan in a written message several days ago that there was no basis for news reports saying the leader opposed a continuing role for the United Nations.

"He wants the UN to play a role, to continue to play a role in Iraq," Brahimi said.

Refuted
 

A letter was apparently sent to
Annan by al-Sistani 

But on Wednesday, al-Sistani's son, Muhammad Riza, an adviser to his father, issued a statement insisting the leader had not written to Annan and al-Sistani would not meet Brahimi again if he returned to Iraq.

However, senior UN officials disputed this, saying that such a note had been sent to Annan on al-Sistani's behalf by someone close to the Ayat Allah.

Annan and Brahimi last month issued a report saying that proper elections, as the Shia wanted, needed some eight months of preparation after a legal framework was set up for the vote.

The report also gave several alternatives for an interim government and said the United Nations would offer further advice if asked.

Concern

Chalabi's opposition to a UN role was of concern to the United States.

US officials in Baghdad and Washington have asked the United Nations to help give legitimacy to an interim Iraqi government that is to take power by 30 June.

Meanwhile, Washington is likely to relinquish sovereignty of Iraq to a government formed from the US-appointed IGC.

Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage told a US radio station on Tuesday the makeup of the Council might be changed, but power would be handed over to it.

Currently, the 25 seats are allocated according to Iraq’s ethnic and sectarian make-up.