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Iraq Sunni Group Accuses Tribes Of Vote Incitement

BAGHDAD (Reuters) -- Iraq's biggest Sunni Arab political party on Tuesday accused tribal groups of inciting violence after the tribes threatened to take up arms because of perceived voter fraud in the west of the country.

Iraq held provincial elections on January 31 without a major attack, the most peaceful vote since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003. But tension has emerged in Al-Anbar, where many Sunni Arabs boycotted the last provincial poll in 2005 as the province fell under the sway of Al-Qaeda.

Tribal groups, who set up guard units known as awakening councils that drove out the militants in 2006-07, contested the election in the hope of taking power from the Iraqi Islamic Party (IIP), which has run the province since 2005.

Awakening leaders in Al-Anbar threatened armed action because of early tallies that showed the IIP in the lead, which they said was a result of fraud.

Omar Abd al-Sattar, an IIP member of parliament, said the threat amounted to "an insult to the voter's will."

"These statements express a method of terror to achieve political goals," he told journalists in Baghdad.

"Suggesting the use of arms to change the tally and election results in Anbar and other provinces is unacceptable and totally rejected," he said. "It is uncivilized and illegal. It brings the province back to the middle ages."

The province, once the most violent in Iraq and heartland of the Sunni Arab insurgency against U.S. forces, has become among the quietest parts of the country.

Al-Anbar was largely quiet on February 3 after the authorities imposed an overnight curfew. Late on February 1, IIP and awakening supporters had fired rifles into the air for hours at rival victory celebrations in the regional capital, Al-Ramadi.

On February 2, Hamid al-Hais, head of the Al-Anbar Tribes list in the election, told Reuters his followers would "set the streets of Al-Ramadi ablaze if the Islamic Party is declared the winners of the election."

"We will make Al-Anbar a grave for the Islamic Party and its agents. We will start a tribal war against them and those who cooperate with them," he said.

Official initial election results are not due for some days, and final results could take weeks. The electoral authorities say they are investigating all reports of fraud.