With tension rising, Iraq will recount ballots in Anbar

BAGHDAD — Iraqi officials moved Wednesday to quell rising tensions between rival Sunni Muslim factions in once restive Anbar province, by recounting some of the votes cast in last weekend's provincial elections — even before offcial results are known.

The Independent High Electoral Commission sent a committee from Baghdad Wednesday to recount ballot boxes from some polling stations in the province after tribal leaders accused the Iraqi Islamic Party, IIP, which currently controls the provincial council, of rigging the vote.

The accusations of vote rigging came from an especially important source, Ahmed Abu Risha, the head of the province's Awakening Council, which is widely credited with bringing calm to Anbar.

At a news conference in the provincial capital, Ramadi, Abu Risha brandished polling center result forms that he said had been altered.

"We will not fight with weapons, we will fight with these documents," he said.

Also at the news conference were two other prominent Iraqi politicians, Deputy Prime Minister Rafaa al Issawi and Saleh al Mutlaq, both members of the Gathering of the Iraqi National Projects. Issawi is a former member of the IIP.

Complaints about the election have been gathering force since Monday, when tribal gunmen took to the streets in what security officials said was a protest of fraudulent voting results. Security officials imposed a curfew.

On Wednesday, Abu Risha said the gunmen were not protesting, but celebrating what they believed was a win for their movement.

Saturday's election was the first for most Sunni Arabs in Anbar who boycotted Iraq's national elections in 2005. Current provincial council members are largely seen as corrupt and unrepresentative of the population. Anbar province was among the lowest in voter turnout with about 40 percent of people going to the polls, well below the 51 percent nationwide.

Mutlaq said tribal leader voiced rage on Wednesday at the idea that the IIP, which they view as corrupt, would continue to rule in the province.

"Unless the electoral commission treats the complaints fairly, conflict is coming to Anbar," he said. "They cheated and the tribal leaders will not allow them to govern them."

Security officials in Anbar braced for possible violence.

"We will not allow the province to return to square one," said Gen. Tariq Yousef, Anbar's police chief. "We will not be merciful. We will not be merciful with those who violate the law no matter who they are."

(McClatchy Special Correspondents Jamal Naji and Mahdi al Dulaimy contributed from Anbar.)