updated 3/17/2004 12:57:07 PM ET 2004-03-17T17:57:07

The Iraqi Governing Council asked the United Nations on Wednesday for help putting together a new government, a council spokesman said.

The council requested that U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan send a U.N. team back to Iraq to help organize a government that would take over from the U.S.-led coalition June 30, council spokesman Hamid al-Kafaai told The Associated Press.

The letter sent by council president Mohammed Bahr al-Ulloum, a Shiite cleric, also requested technical assistance in preparation for a general election due by the end of January 2005.

“The Governing Council has asked that the United Nations offers advice to Iraq in the field of elections and the formation of a transitional government,” al-Kafaai said.

The United States has urged a U.N. role in the U.S.-backed political process for Iraq, and coalition spokesman Dan Senor welcomed news of the invitation.

The announcement of the invitation, decided in a council meeting Wednesday, followed remarks to reporters by Bahr al-Ulloum’s deputy that Iraq’s most powerful Shiite cleric and his supporters on the U.S.-appointed Governing Council were unhappy with a U.N. report last month that found Iraq unready for elections ahead of June 30.

Sami al-Askari said several council members did not think the return to Iraq of U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi would be helpful and that Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani would not receive him if he returned.

“It is not Brahimi’s personality, but some members have some reservations about the contents of his report and believe his return at the head of a U.N. delegation will hinder” the U.N. role in Iraq, said al-Askari.

Brahimi, a former Algerian foreign minister, was in Iraq last month at the head of a team of U.N. experts to investigate whether elections could be held before June 30. In a report, he said such a vote was not feasible, giving reasons long cited by Washington — no electoral structure, no reliable census and an untenable security situation.

At a news conference, al-Askari said: “His eminence al-Sistani and many Shiites are unhappy with the report that the United Nations and Lakhdar Brahimi issued because it gives a lopsided picture of realities and facts, and paints a picture of a sectarian problem in Iraq.”

Al-Askari was accompanied by Ahmad Chalabi, a powerful Shiite council member who said the council had agreed on the text of a letter to the United Nations. But Chalabi, who opposes Brahimi’s return, said only that the letter recognized the expertise of the United Nations in the field of elections.

Quoting from the letter, Chalabi said it stated the Governing Council’s conviction that there was an important role for the United Nations to play in Iraq over the June 30 transfer of power and offering assistance in organizing elections.

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