'The discussion, which has been stimulated by Ayatollah Sistani, is whether there could be an element of elections injected into the earlier part of the process,' Straw said at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
'We have to work with great respect for him and similar leaders,' he said. 'We want elections as soon as it is feasible to hold them.'
Shiite clerics have become more forceful in their denunciation of the caucus plan and have organized increasingly large, albeit peaceful, demonstrations demanding elections.
State Department officials said no changes to the Bremer plan are being formally considered. They said much depends on the findings of a U.N. assessment team that the Bush administration has asked U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to send to examine the feasibility of elections.
One option being informally discussed is to delay the transfer of power until later in 2004, which might give the United Nations time to organize some sort of elections, said one official.
But that is almost certain to be opposed by White House political aides who want the occupation over and many U.S. troops gone by this summer to bolster Bush's re-election chances, the official said.
'It's all politics right now,' he said.
Other options are to go ahead with the June 30 turnover as planned, whatever the fallout, or to accelerate it by handing over power to the Iraqi Governing Council in March or April, he said.
The option of transferring power to the IGC ( a wholly-owned -appointed and -operated subsidiary of the CPA) reads as a threat to the Shi'ites to go along or be forced to negotiate with the IGC without the CPA as honest broker. It is petulance dressed up as policy.
Does democratising Iraq really mean transferring sovereignty to an unelected body chosen entirely by the US despite the wishes of the Iraqi people? Is there a better recipe for civil war?