Iraq's Interior Minister Says Fire At Ballot Storage Site 'Deliberate'

Blanche Robertson
June 13, 2018

A fire ripped through Iraq's biggest ballot warehouse on Sunday where votes for the eastern Baghdad district were stored, before a recount ordered by parliament, a security official said.

An official rescues a ballot box after a fire at a storage site housing the boxes from Iraq's May parliamentary election, in Baghdad, Iraq, on June 10, 2018.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi said on Tuesday he rejects demands of fresh elections, warning that anyone who tries to sabotage the political process will be punished, as allegations of voter fraud threaten to undermine the country's democratic system.

The latest development comes after a warehouse storing ballot papers caught fire, an act described as a "plot" against democracy by Mr Al Abadi.

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

However, an unnamed member of Baghdad's provincial council said that "all the boxes and papers have burned", Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) reported Monday.

The election was won by Sadr's electoral alliance with communists, with long-time political figures pushed out by Iraqi voters who were hoping for change.

Parliament has already ordered a recount of votes from the May election, in which the influential cleric Moqtada Al-Sadr was the biggest victor, after widespread allegations of voter fraud.

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The ballots in the Al-Russafa warehouse were due to be recounted manually.

The election's votes were initially counted electronically, and parliament has since called for a full recount.

On June 6, the Iraqi Parliament made a decision to freeze the work of the IHEC, assigning nine judges to run the commission to facilitate a manual recount of votes for the entire elections process across Iraq.

The SJC had deployed a committee to the electoral commission on June 7th to "take the necessary measures to protect ballot boxes and the equipment used in the elections". Three of them were policemen and one an employee of the Independent High Elections Commission.

Less than half of Iraq's 24-million electorate took part, dumping the old guard in favour of Sadr's alliance followed by a list of former fighters of the Hashed al-Shaabi alliance that previous year played a key role in the defeat of the Islamic State group.

In an article published by his office, Sadr asked: "Is it not time to stand as one for building and reconstruction, instead of burning ballot boxes or repeating elections just for one seat or two?". However, it has added to fears that disputes over the elections' result could turn violent, prompting Sadr on Monday to warn about breaking out of a possible "civil war" in the crisis-hit country if growing disputes over the vote are not settled.

The fire broke out on the same day a panel of judges had been formed to officially take over the election recount from the ostensibly autonomous Independent High Electoral Commission, the body that administered the vote and had since come under intense criticism for its performance. Such a case is the current Speaker of Parliament, Salim al-Jabouri, who lost his seat in parliament and urged new elections.

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