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Last Updated: Saturday, 6 November, 2004, 01:05 GMT
Kofi Annan's letter: Falluja warning
UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has sent a letter to the leaders of the US, UK and Iraq expressing concern that the planned assault on the Iraqi city of Falluja could undermine elections due in January.

Here are excerpts from his letter:

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan
Kofi Annan says he is worried about civilian casualties

Iraq is approaching a decisive moment in its history - the elections which, as you know, are due to be held in three months' time.

The United Nations is committed to doing everything possible, as circumstances permit, to support Iraqi efforts to hold credible elections and, more broadly, to assist with Iraq's political transition...

I believe that the forthcoming elections are the keystone in a broader process to restore stability and legitimacy in Iraq.

If the January 2005 elections are to contribute to this critically important objective, and not to fuel further divisions and instability, it is essential that current efforts to attract a broader spectrum of Iraqis to join the political process should succeed.

Inclusiveness 'key'

Persuading elements who are currently alienated from, or sceptical about, the transition process to compete politically is key to creating a political and security context that will inspire confidence among all Iraqis in the process and allow the full participation of all segments of society in the elections...

Against this backdrop, I wish to share with you my increasing concern at the prospect of an escalation in violence, which I fear could be very disruptive for Iraq's political transition.

It seems to me essential that the interim Iraqi government and the coalition should seize such opportunities
I have in mind not only the risk of increased insurgent violence, but also reports of major military offensives being planned by the multinational force in key localities such as Falluja.

I wish to express to you my particular concern about the safety and protection of civilians. Fighting is likely to take place mostly in densely populated urban areas, with an obvious risk of civilian casualties...

Of course, I understand that there is an imperative need to restore security throughout Iraq. But I equally believe that, ultimately, the problem of insecurity can only be addressed through dialogue and an inclusive political process.

Willing to help

The threat or actual use of force not only risks deepening the sense of alienation of certain communities, but would also reinforce perceptions among the Iraqi population of a continued military occupation.

I believe that these concerns are particularly relevant in light of the various initiatives that are being taken to address, through political dialogue, the grievances of certain Iraqi constituencies... It seems to me essential that the interim Iraqi government and the coalition should seize such opportunities...

I, and all my colleagues at the United Nations Secretariat, want to help. But we need a conducive environment if elections are to produce a positive effect.

This is the moment for redoubling efforts to break the cycle of violence and open a new chapter of inclusiveness and national reconciliation...

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