A "more secure environment" in Iraq is necessary for the United Nations (searchto play a full role in helping set up an interim government and arrange elections, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan (searchsaid Tuesday.

In a speech before the Japanese Parliament (search), Annan also urged Iraqis and others to recognize the distinct identity of the U.N. and not confuse it with the country's various power-brokers.

"A more secure environment is absolutely essential if we are to play our full role," said Annan, who pulled all non-Iraqi U.N. workers out of the country last year after devastating homicide bombings at the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad.

"The people of Iraq and others must see us for what we are: an impartial, independent world body with no other agenda than to help their country in this time of need," Annan added.

Annan spoke the day after the U.N. released a report saying Iraq could be ready to hold direct elections for a new government by January 2005 and calling for the establishment of a credible caretaker government in the interim.

The U.N. leader said his organization was willing to help in the task if asked.

"It is necessary for Iraqis to agree on an interim mechanism to which sovereignty can be transferred," Annan said, adding that the U.N. was ready to help with elections, drafting a constitution and establishing "a state based on human rights and the rule of law."

The U.N. chief also praised Japan for its support to the organization, contributions to peacekeeping forces and financial aid to poor countries in Asia and Africa.

Annan pledged to push for U.N. reform and recognized Japan's complaints about the organization. Japan says it is assessed too much for U.N. dues and it deserves a permanent seat on the Security Council.