Vol. 5 Num 568 Sat. December 31, 2005  

Int'l team to review Iraqi polls results
Opposition, US, UN welcome move

An international team agreed Thursday to review Iraq's parliamentary elections, a decision lauded by Sunni Arab and secular Shia groups who have staged repeated protests around Iraq complaining of widespread fraud and intimidation.

Meanwhile, The New York Times reported Friday that American commanders are planning to boost the number of soldiers advising Iraqi police commando units. The report, which cited an unidentified senior commander in Iraq, said the aim was to curtail abuse that Iraqi units are suspected of inflicting on Sunni Arabs.

Under the plan the number of advisers working with the Iraqi units would be greatly expanded. The advisers themselves would be under the command of American officers.

Gunmen killed 12 members of an extended Shia family near Latifiyah, a Sunni Arab-dominated town about 30km south of Baghdad. Police said the men were taken from their homes, packed into a minivan and shot.

The decision by the Intern-ational Mission for Iraqi Elections to send a team of assessors should help placate opposition complaints of ballot box rigging and mollify those groups who felt their views were not being heard, especially among hardline Sunni Arab parties.

"It is important that the Iraqi people have confidence in the election results and that the voting process, including the process for vote counting, is free and fair,' US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said.

He added that "these experts will be arriving immediately and we are ready to assist them, if needed."

The team was coming despite a UN observer's endorsement of the Dec. 15 vote, which gave the Shia religious bloc a big lead in preliminary returns. The observer, Craig Jenness, said Wednesday that his team which helped the Iraqi election commission organise and oversee the poll found the elections to be credible and transparent.

Sunni Arabs and secular Shias rejected Jenness' findings, saying their concerns which included political assassinations before the elections were not addressed.

There have been about 1,500 complaints lodged against the elections, including about 50 serious enough to alter the results in some districts. The overall result, however, was not expected to change.

On Thursday, the United Nations said it had encouraged Iraq's electoral commission to get more outside observers involved in the process, and Secretary-General Kofi Annan welcomed the participation of the International Mission for Iraqi Elections, his spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.