WaPo, earlier today. All emphasis mine:
In a palatial house replete with guns, flags and other manifestations of tribal power, America’s key ally in once-volatile Anbar province explained what he would do if the counting of votes in Saturday’s election failed to show his party as the victor.
“We will form the government of Anbar anyway,” vowed Ahmed Abu Risha, his voice dipping to a quiet growl. The tribesmen seated in his visiting room, where photos of U.S. generals and Sunni monarchs adorn the walls, nodded in approval. “An honest dictatorship is better than a democracy won through fraud,” Abu Risha said.
Here, in the cradle of the Sunni insurgency, tribal leaders nurtured and empowered by the United States appear ready to take control the old-fashioned way — with guns and money — if their political ambitions are frustrated. Abu Risha and other leaders of the Awakening, the U.S.-backed Sunni sheiks who rose up to quell the insurgency, charge that Sunni politicians of the Iraqi Islamic Party have committed electoral fraud, which party officials deny.
Same paper, later:
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki posted significant victories in Iraq’s provincial elections, winning Baghdad and eight provinces in Iraq’s Shiite south, according to official preliminary results released Thursday.
In voting for Maliki and his allies, Iraqis appeared to be supporting a strong central government and rewarding the prime minister for sending in government forces to fight Shiite militias in the southern city of Basra and Baghdad’s Sadr City enclave. Maliki’s State of Law coalition won 38 percent of the votes in Baghdad and 37 percent in Basra.
But with the exception of these two provinces, Maliki and his allies won by close margins in the other seven provinces and will need to build coalitions with other parties. At the same time, the slim margins could also allow other parties to come together in opposition to Maliki. […]
The most surprising victory occurred in predominantly Sunni Anbar province, where a party led by Saleh Mutlaq, a secular Sunni Arab nationalist, won narrowly over a party led by American-backed tribal leaders as well as established Sunni politicians of the religious Iraqi Islamic Party.
Mutlaq’s party won 17.6 percent of the votes while the Sunni tribal leaders, known as the Awakening, and the Islamic Party won 17.1 percent and 15.7 percent, respectively, according to Iraq’s electoral commission.
I’ll be surprised if this blows over.