Ex-minister says UK spied on Annan before Iraq war as top Shiite cleric seeks polls by year's end
British intelligence spied on UN Secretary General Kofi Annan in the run-up to the Iraq war, according to former cabinet minister Clare Short on Thursday.
For its part, Downing Street hit back at Short's comments by insisting security always acts "within the law".
Short told BBC Radio 4's Today programme when
asked whether British agencies had been involved in spying activities against Annan, "I know, I have seen transcripts of Kofi Annan's conversations."
Short - who quit the Cabinet in protest against the Iraq war - said, "Indeed, I have had conversations with Kofi in the run-up to war thinking, 'Oh dear, there will be a transcript of this and people will see what he and I are saying,'", she added.
Short was asked whether she believed that British spies had been instructed to carry out operations within the United Nations on people such as Kofi Annan. She replied, "Yes, absolutely."
In addition, Short was asked whether she knew about such operations when she was in Government. She said, "Absolutely, I read some of the transcripts of the accounts of his conversations."
Asked whether she believed that was legal, she made clear, "I don't know, I presume so. It is odd, but I don't know about the legalities."
Meanwhile, in a brief statement, Number 10 said, "British security always acts within domestic and international law. "We do not discuss individual cases."
In the meantime, Iraq's top Shiite Muslim cleric called for elections by the end of the year and insisted on guarantees "such as a Security Council resolution" that there will be no further postponements.
The demand was made in a statement issued by the office of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani and was his first comment on the issue since UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan ruled out elections by June 30 - when the United States returns sovereignty to the Iraqis.
"Despite the fact that the UN team excluded the idea of transferring power to an elected government, yet its decision of the possibility of holding elections at the end of 2004 is of great significance," al-Sistani said.
"The period in which an unelected government should take control [of] this country must be short and for few months only," he added.
The statement added al-Sistani "is demanding clear guarantees, such as a Security Council resolution, regarding the date so that Iraqis will be sure that there is no more postponement and prolonging."
It added that al-Sistani insists that "the unelected body" which will take power after June 30 "should be an interim administration of limited and clear mandate." (Albawaba.com)
© 2004 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)