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Iraq Braces for Possible Violence as Poll Results Due

U.S. and Iraqi officials are warning of possible violence in Iraq, after preliminary results from provincial elections are released Thursday.

In the western province of Anbar, local tribal leaders accuse the ruling Iraqi Islamic Party of rigging Saturday's vote. Deputy Prime Minister Rafi al-Issawi was among the politicians who demanded a recount in Anbar on Wednesday.

The stakes are high in the Sunni-dominated province. Many Iraqis, especially Sunnis, boycotted the last elections in 2005, and U.S. and Iraqi officials promoted Saturday's vote as a way to redistribute power more equitably across Iraq's ethnic and sectarian groups.

On Wednesday, the No. 2 U.S. officer in Iraq, Lieutenant General Lloyd Austin, warned that Iraqis who were unhappy with the results may resort to violence.

Despite allegations of fraud, the international community has praised the provincial elections as an example of a peaceful, democratic political process.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki also expressed confidence in the election process during a briefing Wednesday with the country's top Shi'ite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.

Iraqi media are reporting that Mr. Maliki's coalition appears to be the major winner in the polls.

Reports say many voters rewarded the prime minister for taking forceful action against extremist militias, and that they favor his secular agenda over more religious parties.

Fourteen of Iraq's 18 provinces voted in the elections. The disputed oil-rich province of Kirkuk and the three provinces of the semi-autonomous Kurdish region delayed the vote because of local issues.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP.