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Iraq Announces Preliminary Results of Provincial Elections

Iraq's electoral commission has announced the preliminary results of last weekend's provincial elections, amid some accusations of irregularities and voting fraud. The Iraqi army and security forces, however, say that they will maintain order despite any challenges.

The head of Iraq's High Electoral Commission Faraj al-Haidari announced the preliminary results of Saturday's provincial election, indicating that 90 percent of the vote had been counted and that international observers were pleased with the electoral process.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's bloc won 38 percent of the vote in Baghdad, 37 percent in Basrah, and large margins in other provinces.

This is the country's first election since 2005, with fourteen of Iraq's 18 provinces having voted.

Meanwhile, a suicide bomber in Diyala province, near the Iranian border, killed at least 12 people in a restaurant in the mostly Kurdish town of Khanaqin.

On the other side of the country, in the western Anbar province, the Iraqi Army and security forces stepped up their presence, amid complaints of irregularities and voting fraud by Sunni tribal leaders. U.S. troops were also reportedly asked to step up their patrols in the province.

Brigadier General Murdah Dulaimy told Iraqi TV that his men were sent to Anbar province to keep order and will clamp down according to the army's security plan.

He says that the Iraqi Armed Forces will act decisively against anyone trying to disrupt order in Anbar province. Yesterday, he adds, we met with the elders and sheikhs in Anbar and told them that the army would maintain neutrality and clamp down against anyone disturbing the peace.

Key tribal leaders in Anbar province, including Sheikh Ahmed Abu Rishah, who heads the local Sahwah or Awakening council, has accused the rival Iraqi Islamic Party of stuffing ballot boxes to rig the vote:

He says that our dispute with the electoral commission is that we sent a large number of votes from Anbar to be counted in Baghdad and we have proof of it, from the initial count, so we know the number of votes that were sent to be tallied in Baghdad.

Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Rafah al Issawi, himself a Sunni, visited Anbar province to express support for Sheikh Abu Rishah and the Sahwah Council, insisting that a recount must take place:

He says that, today, those who won the vote are unfortunately not those who wield power, but that he doesn't think any of the sheikhs of Anbar want to return to the bad old days of violence, and will instead resort to legal means for a recount.

Political and tribal leaders met in Ramadi, Wednesday, according to the Arab daily Asharqalawsat to dissipate tensions, agreeing "not to take up arms against one another."

The paper also noted that election turnout was only 51 percent.

Prime Minister Maliki's coalition was credited by various Baghdad newspapers with winning a large margin because of his recent success in imposing law. Shi'ite religious parties, including that of firebrand cleric Muqtada al-Sadr did not do so well, but insisted they would make alliances with other parties to strengthen their hand.