U.N. team in Iraq to assess power transition
Iraqis protest in Basra, Iraq, carrying posters of Sistani January 15.
President Bush in Charleston, South Carolina, defends the Iraq invasion despite questions about prewar intelligence on WMD.
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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- A United Nations team has arrived in Baghdad to assess whether it's possible for Iraqis to hold independent elections June 30.
The team will receive the full support of the U.S.-led coalition military, a coalition spokesman said.
"We are here to provide them with information, we are to provide them with logistical support, we are here to provide them with technical support, we are here to provide them with security support," said Dan Senor, spokesman for the Coalition Provisional Authority.
The arrival of the U.N. officials was announced Saturday in New York by Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who said members will consult with Iraqi leaders and members of the Iraqi Governing Authority, the nation's temporary, U.S.-appointed leaders.
"The U.N. team will endeavor to meet with representatives of all constituencies and listen to all Iraqi views and perspectives," Annan said in a statement.
"I hope the work of this team will help resolve the impasse over the transitional political process leading to the establishment of a provisional government for Iraq."
However, in the end, Annan said, Iraqis must reach a consensus to make a new government "legitimate and credible."
As part of the security precautions, Senor said the coalition will not be making the team's schedule public but would not be organizing their schedule.
"The U.N. team will be operating as an independent entity in Iraq," Senor said. "We will be here to provide them with logistical and security support but we will not be coordinating with them."
Most U.N. officials pulled out of Iraq in October, following a bomb attack on the group's Baghdad headquarters in August that killed 22 people, including top U.N. envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello.
Commenting on another issue related to the Iraq war, coalition military spokesman Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt said the U.S. military is committed to investigating allegations of sexual assaults on female troops stationed in Iraq.
"We take those allegations very seriously, we conduct investigations very thoroughly and, as necessary, punish those appropriately," he said.
On Friday, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld ordered a 90-day investigation into the allegations. (Full story)