Atul Aneja

Findings of global panel could help ease Sunni-Shia tensions

DUBAI: Amid a spate of protests from Sunni groups, the Iraqi Election Commission has invited international monitors to review the December 15 parliamentary poll where a Shia grouping is expected to secure the maximum number of seats.

The International Mission for Iraqi Elections team would be "arriving immediately," said U.S. ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad.

Impact on results unlikely

The review is unlikely to alter results in any major way, analysts say. Nevertheless, their findings could help ease Sunni-Shia tensions which have surged after early results showed that the Shia United Iraqi Alliance (UIA) was likely to dominate Parliament. The team has been invited despite a declaration by United Nations representative Craig Jenness that the elections were "transparent and credible." He also stressed that there was no justification for fresh elections, thereby negating the Sunni demand for it in some areas.

The move follows U.S. efforts to contain the influence of the pro-Iran Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), which has been in charge of the Interior Ministry in the Government of Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari, which came to power for a year after the January 2005 parliamentary elections. The New York Times reported on Friday that there was a proposal to post more American military advisers to the Interior Ministry to curb Iraqi units that are suspected of targeting Sunnis.

A large number of fighters from the Badr Corp - SCIRI's armed wing, have been inducted in the new Iraqi army, as part of an earlier effort to remove personnel associated with the former President, Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath party.

Sectarian killings

There has been no let up in sectarian killings, as gunmen on Thursday killed 14 Shia members of an extended family. According to an AFP report, the family was living in the midst of a Sunni neighbourhood. While final results are still awaited, SCIRI's top leader Abdulaziz Al Hakim has been holding talks in northern Iraq to forge an alliance with Kurdish groups.

Mr. Hakim praised the "strategic alliance" between Shias and Kurds following his meeting with Kurdish leader and Iraqi President Jalal Talabani.