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Last Updated: Friday, 30 January, 2004, 18:19 GMT
UN team to probe Iraq elections
Shia Muslims at prayer in Baghdad
Iraqi Shias are calling for early direct elections
United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan has said he will send a team to Iraq within days to explore the possibility of holding early elections.

Mr Annan said he made the decision after receiving security assurances from US-led forces in Iraq.

Earlier this week a team of UN security experts arrived in Iraq to see if it was safe to send the elections team.

The US and Iraq had asked the UN to send experts to investigate whether a vote could be held by the end of June.

The US-led Coalition Provisional Authority has been resisting pressure from Shia Muslims in Iraq to hold direct elections before Washington transfers power to Iraqi leaders.

It has been planning a series of caucus meetings to choose an Iraqi assembly which would then select a government.

This is opposed by the majority Shia community, who favour an elected transitional legislature.

Tens of thousands of Shias have demonstrated against the CPA's plans.

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