"I welcome the invitation of the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq to international monitors and experts to observe and review the December 15 elections, including the complaints settlement process," Rice said in a statement.

 

Her comments came after the International Mission for Iraqi Elections announced that it was sending a team of independent experts to issue a follow-up report on alleged irregularities in the vote.

 

Sunni representatives have claimed that the elections were tainted by widespread fraud and led street demonstrations demanding a new election. Iraq's electoral commission has ruled out rerunning the election but it may reject ballots found to have been tainted by fraud.

 

Rice said she welcomed statements from Iraqi parties that had issued complaints supporting the electoral commission's decision to invite international monitors back for a review.

 

"The Electoral Commission has once again demonstrated its commitment to fair and credible elections that meet international standards," Rice said. "The United States strongly supports the election review process."

 

Fair hearing

 

The vote and the electoral commission's work showed that "the Iraqi people are committed to democracy and the peaceful resolution of political differences", the statement said. "We look forward to final results that represent the will of the Iraqi people and are accepted by them."

 

Final results of the vote are expected next week.

 

Kofi Annan, the UN secretary-general, also welcomed the planned assessment by the international monitors, saying it was crucial that those who had complaints could receive a fair hearing.