U.S. Ambassador John Bolton on Monday criticized the timing of Secretary-General Kofi Annan's reported decision to fire the U.N.'s highly regarded electoral chief, just 10 days before critical elections in Iraq.

"The U.N.'s role in previous elections has been quite helpful and important to the Iraqi people," Bolton said. "This is a major election ... leading up to the return of full sovereignty to Iraq and I don't think anybody should do things that disrupt that."

The Associated Press reported Saturday that Annan has decided to dismiss Carina Perelli, quoting a U.N. official on condition of anonymity because an official announcement had not been made. She had been previously accused of management failures and harassing staff.

Stephane Dujarric, the chief U.N. spokesman, said Monday that Annan has made a decision about Perelli's future but refused to say what it was until Perelli was notified.

Bolton criticized the fact that the decision was coming at this time, almost a year after a consulting firm was asked to conduct a review into complaints arising from Perelli's office.

"Why make a decision 10 days before the election in Iraq?" Bolton asked.

"If you're going to make a decision, make it at an appropriate point," he added. "There was a referendum two months ago. When that work was completed, that was a logical time ... After the election would be another logical time."

Asked whether a decision to dismiss the elections chief would send the wrong message to the Iraqi people, Dujarric said the United Nations has had a senior U.N. official in Iraq dealing with the election since the referendum in October.

In August, the United Nations formally accused Perelli of harassing her staff after a four-month review into the claims of an abusive and sexually offensive environment in her division.

Perelli, an Uruguayan, won wide praise for her work in helping organize elections in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Palestinian territories.

But she had been under investigation since April, after a U.N.-commissioned management review quoted staff as saying "sexual innuendo is part of the 'fabric'" of the Electoral Assistance Division which she headed.

The review never named Perelli or anyone else in her office, but it said staff claimed they were subject to shouting and screaming by superiors, while some junior staff were saddled with work they were not qualified to do.

Perelli can appeal her dismissal.