Iraq Probes Possible Voter Fraud
Allegations Elicit Fears Of Post-Election Violence
Wednesday, February 4, 2009; Page A13
BAGHDAD, Feb. 3 -- The head of Iraq's electoral commission said Tuesday that it is investigating "serious" allegations of electoral fraud in Anbar province that, if corroborated, could alter the outcome of Saturday's election, providing the clearest indication yet that voting irregularities occurred during provincial balloting.
A coalition of parties that competed against the Iraqi Islamic Party in Anbar submitted complaints that the commission considers grave, commission chief Faraj al-Haidari said. "We will deal with it seriously because it might change the result of the election in this province," he said.
As tensions sparked by the allegations of electoral fraud spread through Ramadi, the provincial capital, Iraqi law enforcement officials and U.S. Marines braced Tuesday for a possible outbreak of violence.
"I am afraid of the bad consequences if the results of the election will be the opposite of what the blocs and parties expect," said Maj. Gen. Murdhi al-Duleimi, the province's chief of security operations. "I am afraid that we will return to the starting point due to the increase in threats."
The Marines are merely "observing," U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. David Russell, a military spokesman, said in an e-mail, but "would be ready to assist" if needed.
The Iraqi Islamic Party, which controls the western province that was the cradle of the Sunni insurgency and has in recent months become among the safest in Iraq, competed aggressively for votes, challenging a coalition that includes tribal leaders who gained prominence because the United States employed them to fight insurgents.
The tensions surface as the American military footprint in Anbar has shrunk dramatically. The military in recent weeks closed bases in the cities of Fallujah and Ramadi, which were among its largest in Iraq.
The results of the provincial elections, Iraq's first since 2005, are expected to redraw the country's political landscape when official returns are announced in three weeks. The shortage of information about results, which began trickling out informally hours after the polls closed, has added to popular anxiety over the confrontations and coalition-building that are likely to dominate Iraqi politics in the months ahead.
Leaders of the Awakening, a tribal group that enjoyed U.S. support, have accused the Iraqi Islamic Party of committing fraud to stay in power -- an allegation the ruling party has denied. The Awakening is a network of tribal leaders who banded together to fight the Sunni insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq and other groups that gained control of large portions of Anbar in 2004.
The Iraqi Islamic Party currently has 26 of 29 seats on the provincial council.
Hameed al-Hais, the leader of the Iraqi Tribes electoral list, said members of six political blocs in Anbar who believe the Iraqi Islamic Party rigged the vote delivered a written complaint to Iraq's electoral commission Tuesday outlining their allegations.
"We will not let al-Qaeda return to Anbar through the IIP," he said. "We will fight the same as before." The Iraqi Islamic Party has long denied links to the insurgency.