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A general framework for the bit error rate (BER) analysis of quadrature amplitude modulation (QAM) systems is presented. This analysis is valid for any QAM system with independent bit mapping for in-phase and quadrature components and includes previous analyses in the literature as particular cases. We use this methodology to analyze BER in maximal ratio combining (MRC) systems with channel estimation errors in Ricean fading channels with Ricean-faded interference. An exact closed-form expression for the BER is obtained in this scenario, as well as an accurate simplified expression when perfect channel estimation is assumed, for the common case of Rayleigh-faded interference.