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International team to review Iraqi elections

Arab League representatives will join the group

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(CNN) -- An international team will review the work of Iraqi election officials, the International Mission for Iraqi Elections said Thursday.

Two Arab League representatives will join a member of the Canadian Association of Former Parliamentarians and a European academic, the group said in a statement.

The team will study "post-election complaints, political entity participation and post-election audits conducted by the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq," said the International Mission for Iraqi Elections, or IMIE.

Formed in December 2004 at an Ottawa forum, the Canada-based group has been working out of Jordan and monitoring vote-counting, "assisted by monitors from countries of the European Union working under IMIE's umbrella," the group said.

The team will conduct a follow-up assessment to an interim report that said the election "generally met international standards."

The findings will be sent to the group's steering committee, which later will issue a statement.

The group's announcement comes amid protests by Sunni Arabs, secular Shiites and others who allege the December 15 parliamentary election was fraught with irregularities, fraud and intimidation. (Read about Thursday's protests)

The Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq, which has been in charge of the electoral process, has defended its work and invited international observers to assess its performance. Commission members said they are methodically investigating reports of election irregularities.

Preliminary results show the Shiite-led United Iraqi Alliance taking a commanding lead.

Ashraf Qazi, the special representative of U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan for Iraq, welcomed the commission's invitation but said he hoped all political entities agree to final results.

"It is important that the convening of the elected Council of Representatives [parliament] is not unduly delayed and that an inclusive process of government formation commences as soon as possible," he said in a statement.

The U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, also welcomed the arrival of international experts, saying, "We are ready to assist them, if needed."

Khalilzad said, "It is also important for all political parties participating in the election to recognize that the final vote tallies will determine the ultimate outcome. Elections, including the complaint process, pull people apart in support of rival groups.

"However, once the final election results are announced..., Iraq's political parties and their leaders must come together to reinforce their commitment to democratic principles and national unity."

On Wednesday, a U.N. election official in Iraq said the elections met international standards and a new vote is not necessary. (Full story)

In an interview with CNN, one of the top critics of the electoral process -- former interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi -- also said a nationwide revote would not be practical.

Allawi and his political allies have filed complaints alleging fraud and intimidation against members of his political bloc and want them to be investigated.

CNN's Mohammed Tawfeeq contributed to this report.

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