Some Iraqis in Australia question the legitimacy of the election, saying their homeland is under occupation and jeering at voters who cast absentee ballots.

Fights broke out on Saturday and on Sunday in a western Sydney neighbourhood dominated by Iraqi Shia, police said on Monday. 

Sunday's fight resulted in several shotgun blasts, damaging several cars and a shop in the Auburn neighbourhood and leaving four people with minor ricochet wounds, said New South Wales state police Superintendent Allen Harding.

No charges

No charges were immediately filed, police said. "The past weekend has seen an escalation in tension between members of the Iraqi community here in Auburn," Harding said.

About 95% of Australia's Iraqis 
who registered, voted

Voting hours were extended at the Auburn polling centre, one of five in Sydney, on Saturday and Sunday after a brawl and a bomb scare halted voting for an hour.

Despite the disruptions, officials said 94.6% of the 11,806 voters registered in Australia cast their ballots over three days.

Saturday's clash involving about 50 people erupted when about 20 protesters yelled insults at voters. The protesters were identified by ballot organisers as Wahhabis - followers of an austere brand of Sunni Islam.

Pictures taken

Police were called but there were no arrests and no reports of injuries. A backpack found near the polling centre after the fighting ended sparked a bomb scare and the place was closed, but no bomb was found.

Thair Wali, an Iraqi adviser to the International Organisation for Migration, said the fight broke out on Saturday after the protesters began taking pictures of voters leaving the station.

"This is scary for the people, taking photos of the voting," he said. Many of Australia's estimated 80,000 Iraqis declined to register for the election, fearing that their votes would prompt armed groups to target their relatives in Iraq.

Australia is one of 14 countries where Iraqi exiles were able to vote by absentee ballot.

Troops to stay

Meanwhile, Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said on Monday his country would keep troops in Iraq if Iraq's newly elected government wanted them.

Australia has almost 900 military
personnel in and around Iraq

With Iraqi officials confident voter turnout at the weekend's democratic elections had exceeded the predicted 57%, Downer said the election result could be described as a genuine success.

The government that will be formed next month will have credibility and democratic legitimacy, Downer said in London, where he met his British counterpart Jack Straw over the weekend.

Australia sent 2000 elite troops for the invasion of Iraq and still has almost 900 military personnel in and around the country.

"We will be very influenced by the views of the incoming democratically elected Iraqi government," he said, when asked when Australian troops would leave.

"If they want us to stay for some time, we would be prepared to do that to make sure the Iraqi security forces are trained up to be able to provide security for the Iraqis themselves," he added.