The elections in Iraq this past Saturday, where voters took to the polls in 14 of the 18 provinces to select ruling provincial councils, have been acknowledged as the most peaceful since Saddam Hussein was deposed by U.S. forces in 2003.
And yet Reuters reported on Monday that what had been one of the best success stories for U.S. troops in Iraq — the transition of Anbar province from al-Qaeda insurgent stronghold to the most peaceful province in the country — threatens to unravel and possibly plunge the country back into civil war as the Iraqi Islamic Party (IIP) faces charges by Anbar Awakening tribal leaders that it rigged the elections in Anbar to their favor.
The IIP is the Muslim Brotherhood affiliate in Iraq, ruling as part of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s governing coalition and currently holding 36 of the 41 seats on the Anbar council. While many of the Awakening leaders did not participate in the previous 2005 elections, they actively campaigned this time around, forming an Anbar tribes list of candidates. And yet when many of their supporters ventured to the polls this weekend, they discovered that their names were not on the voting registration lists. In an effort to head off any possible violence, a curfew has been instituted along with a ban on nighttime vehicle traffic.
Tensions have been brewing between the tribal sheikhs and the IIP for a while. As Time magazine reported a few months ago, the Awakening leadership had wanted U.S. troops to remain in Anbar until after the elections to ensure a free and fair vote. However, the handover to the Iraqi government took place back in September. Ever since, the Iraqi government has arrested a number of the Anbar tribal leaders, with some taking refuge with U.S. troops for fear of being detained.
Even then tribal leaders admitted that these measures could push many of their fighters back into the arms of the al-Qaeda-led insurgency. Now finding that their participation in the Iraqi elections was thwarted by possible voter fraud at the hands of the IIP, which proclaimed itself the winner, Anbar stands at the brink of civil war. “We said we will transform from a political entity to an armed wing against the electoral commission and the IIP because we discovered fraud,” one leader told Reuters.
If the claims of voter fraud by the IIP are proved true, or even if many perceive them to be true, the resulting conflict will no doubt be exploited by al-Qaeda and possibly inspire renewed attacks against Iraqi civilians and American troops, potentially plunging the country back into chaos. Thus, all the gains achieved by American troops in Anbar during the past two years and purchased at the expense of the lives of many American soldiers could be quickly undone.