The Anbar Awakening — the collection of tribes in Iraq’s Anbar Province that in 2006 broke with Al Qaeda and embraced a U.S. partnership — had extremely high expectations for capturing the province’s government from the entrenched Iraqi Islamic Party in Saturday’s election. But it looks like that didn’t happen. And now the heavily-armed Awakening is saying they were robbed. Its leader tells the Washington Post what happens if the vote doesn’t turn out his way:

"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.

Curfews and stricter security measures have locked Anbar down as the vote count proceeds. The Iraqi Islamic Party, naturally, insists there was no vote fraud, and the national election commission is investigating. It’s foolish to try to adjudicate that dispute from Washington, so forgive the he-said-she-said aspect of this post. But, as Marc Lynch writes, we’re in a situation where the losing party in the elections will not accept the legitimacy of the outcome, and quite possibly will turn violent. The irony is that for all the expectation that this round of elections would redress the power imbalances of the 2005 national elections — where the Sunnis rejected the legitimacy of the process and boycotted — this is a comperable situation.

Remember as well that the Awakening has, since at least 2006, always wanted a seat at the governing table and distrusted both its Sunni rivals and the ruling Shiite-led government. Under Gen. David Petraeus, the U.S. military command in Iraq went to arduous lengths to convince them that participation in the process — what Petraeus and outgoing Amb. Ryan Crocker called "reconciliation" with the government — would get them what they want. This was the first test of that proposition. It may well have failed.

It’s very difficult to imagine the Awakening returning to insurgency. But it’s not difficult to imagine the Awakening fighting the Iraqi Islamic Party, or any Iraqi security forces that try to assist them. Could Anbar spark an inter-province conflict? Hey, incoming Amb. Chris Hill: welcome to Iraq. Good thing the Obama administration alienated proven warrior-diplomat Tony Zinni!

Crossposted to The Streak.

Spencer Ackerman

Spencer Ackerman