Baghdad Iraq’s military clamped a vehicle ban Monday on the Sunni-dominated province of Anbar after tribal sheiks sent gunmen into the streets claiming Sunni rivals linked to the Shiite-led government stole votes in last weekend’s elections.
The brewing crisis threatens to trigger new violence in Anbar, the vast, mostly desert territory that had been center-stage in the Sunni insurgency until tribes there turned against al-Qaida in Iraq two years ago.
Anbar was one of 14 of the country’s 18 provinces in which Iraqis chose members of ruling councils, which in turn select governors. Saturday’s elections took place without major violence and were hailed by President Barack Obama as a major achievement on the country’s path to stability after nearly six years of war.
But U.S. officials had said before the balloting that the ultimate test of the election was whether the Iraqi public perceived the outcome as fair.
Although there were allegations of election irregularities in many provinces, the complaints seemed more serious in Anbar, an area where most families own guns and where tribes maintain their own armed forces.
Tribal groups, known as Awakening Councils, had hoped to win power in Anbar, believing they were entitled because of their contribution to routing al-Qaida.
Election officials have not released official figures from the balloting. Nevertheless, the Iraqi Islamic Party, a Sunni group that is part of the national government, said unofficial tallies showed it would retain control of the province.
The sheiks cried foul.
“The preliminary results were indicating that the Awakening was ahead. But then a strange thing happened after the polls closed. There was a jump in favor of the Islamic Party,” said Sheik Ahmed Abu Risha, leader of the tribal alliance.
Abu Risha said the Awakening Councils’ own surveys at polling stations showed the Islamic Party was trailing.
Salim Abdullah, a lawmaker from the Iraqi Islamic Party, dismissed the charges.
“These charges are made by political groups who did not fare as well as they had hoped. They are a form of pressure designed to change the real results of the vote,” he said.