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Sunni leader alleges fraud in Iraqi vote in key province

An Iraqi election worker moved ballot boxes at a ballot counting center in Baghdad yesterday. An Iraqi election worker moved ballot boxes at a ballot counting center in Baghdad yesterday. (Thaier al-Sudani/ Reuters)
By Kim Gamel
Associated Press / February 5, 2009
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BAGHDAD - A senior Sunni tribal leader claimed yesterday to have hundreds of documents proving fraud in weekend elections in Anbar province, escalating a crisis that has threatened to reignite violence in the former insurgent stronghold.

Iraq's electoral commission, which is overseeing the process, promised it was taking the complaints seriously and warned the findings from an investigation could affect election results for the province.

Signaling the high stakes involved, a prominent national Sunni lawmaker traveled to Anbar province to try to mediate the dispute, which has pitted the tribal leaders against a rival Sunni party that is part of the national government.

"We came to Anbar province to ease the situation because there is a lot of tension," said Saleh al-Mutlaq. "There was a lot of fraud. Its effects will be great unless it is resolved."

Official early returns are due today. But complaints about irregularities based on projections by political parties already have marred the outcome.

Anbar, once the heart of the insurgency before a decision by Sunni tribal leaders to turn against Al Qaeda in Iraq, was one of 14 of the country's 18 provinces holding elections for local councils on Saturday.

The overall vote took place without major violence and was hailed by President Obama as a major achievement on the country's path to stability after nearly six years of war. It was being watched as a measure of stability as US forces begin to draw down.

Awakening Council leader Sheik Ahmed Abu Risha told Al-Arabiya television station that his group had "hundreds of documents" to prove the number of votes was inflated in Anbar.

Local electoral commission officials in Anbar could not immediately be reached for comment, and there was no way to independently verify the claims.

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