Iraqi ballot box storage site catches fire in Baghdad

Evarado Alatorre
Junio 13, 2018

Smoke rises from a storage site housing ballot boxes from Iraq's May parliamentary election, Baghdad, Iraq, on June 10, 2018.

The fire was confined to one of four warehouses in Baghdad's al-Russafa district, where 60 percent of the capital's 2 million eligible voters had cast their ballots.

Facing the calamity, Iraq's Prime Minister Dr. Haidar al-Abadi (who stays in office until a new government can be formed) instructed the security forces and intelligence agencies to protect the remnants of the voting boxes in all of Iraq's regions and to investigate the cause and the perpetrators of the arson.

He said the government would "take all necessary measures and strike with an iron fist against those who undermine Iraq's security".

The site was divided into four warehouses, said Interior Ministry spokesman Maj.

Iraqi authorities said no ballot papers were destroyed in the blaze.

Outgoing speaker of parliament, Salim al-Jabouri, also said on Sunday the incident proved that the recent parliamentary elections should be repeated.

Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr urged Iraqis on Monday to unite rather than squabble over a possible rerun of the election his bloc won last month, a message apparently meant to defuse political tension after a ballot box storage depot caught fire.

The interior ministry said no ballot boxes were destroyed in the fire, which engulfed a warehouse containing vote counting machines and other election equipment.

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But the old guard, dumped by Iraqi voters, have clamored for a recount, although experts say it is unlikely to produce a major change in the number of seats won by their rival lists.

"The middle of the road solution is a manual recount", said Karim al-Nuri, referring to the fraud allegations.

Suspicions of fraud in the May 12 vote led Parliament to call for a recount during an extraordinary session on Wednesday, Efe reported.

The election, the first since the defeat of the Islamic State group that seized a third of Iraq in 2014, raised hopes that Iraqis could put aside long-standing communal and sectarian divisions to rebuild.

The Baghdad warehouse complex where ballot boxes were stored.

Mr al-Sadr, who emerged as a kingmaker in the elections, has a chequered and sometimes violent past which has included targeting both foreign troops and Sunni Iraqis with violence.

"The re-run of the elections is a judicial decision", he said.

The law mandating a manual recount also mandated the board of the election commission be replaced by judges. Abadi's coalition finished third in the polls, behind shock victor Muqtada al-Sadr, a Shiite cleric who once referred to the "the great serpent". One of Sadr's top aides expressed concerns that some parties were trying to sabotage the cleric's victory.

"Is it not time to stand in one row for building and reconstruction instead of burning the ballot boxes or repeat elections just for one or two seats?"

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