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Sunni party's rise in Iraq signals new nationalist current

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Kurdish authorities in Nineveh have already complained to electoral officials that voter registration problems barred many supporters from voting.

Nujaifi insists that al-Hadba has won at least 50 percent of the provincial votes. Officials close to the election process say it's closer to 40 percent – still enough to dominate Nineveh's provincial council and choose the new governor. Kurds say al-Hadba is overestimating its support.

"We are satisfied with the elections," says current Deputy Gov. Khasro Goran, a member of the Kurdish Democratic Party.

A victory by al-Hadba would produce the most dramatic transition among the 14 Iraqi provinces that voted Saturday. No other majority Arab province has had a provincial council so dominated by Kurds, who have held 31 of the 41 seats in the existing provincial government.

New Sunni power center

Mosul, where more than 1,000 senior Iraqi Army officers were thrown out of work when US authorities disbanded the army, has been a center of the insurgency.

"We thought the big Sunni power would be the Awakening, but al-Hadba could be the new rising star," says one Western official monitoring the elections.

The Awakening Movement, armed tribal members who first turned against Al Qaeda in Iraq-linked insurgents in Anbar Province, were participating for the first time in elections. Now allegations of fraud in Saturday's vote and an expected strong showing by the religious Iraqi Islamic Party (IIP) have sparked warnings of violence by Awakening leaders.

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