Fire catches Iraq's biggest ballot warehouse before recount

Clay Curtis
June 13, 2018

Before the parliament had acted the electoral commission said it was voiding 1,021 ballot boxes from around the country, along with votes cast by Iraqis overseas and Iraqis still living in displacement camps that were set up during the battles against ISIL.

The fire in Baghdad, at one of the ballot warehouses, has fueled even more claims of a cover-up of the results.

Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi described the fire as a "plot" aimed at undermining Iraq's democracy.

"We will take all necessary measures and strike with an iron fist all who undermine the security of the nation and its citizens", he added.

"Most of the ballot boxes are in the adjacent three warehouses that have not been burned", Maan reportedly declared at the scene.

Members of the Iraqi federal police stand outside the country's biggest ballot warehouse, where votes for the eastern Baghdad district were stored, as a column of black smoke billows from a the building, in the capital Baghdad on June 10, 2018.

But the result was contested following allegations of fraud namely by the veteran politicians led by parliamentary speaker Salim al-Juburi.

In the May 12 elections, the coalition led by nationalist populist Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr won a surprise victory, earning 54 seats in parliament, while the Al-Fath coalition chaired by Hadi al-Ameri came in second with 47 seats.

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Last week, the parliament ordered a manual recount of the ballots, after outgoing Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi-whose coalition was only third in the elections-said that there had been irregularities in the electronic voting counting.

According to Interior Ministry spokesman Saad Maan, the blaze began on Sunday in one of four warehouses containing ballot boxes, documents, and equipment belonging to the Independent Higher Electoral Commission behind the May 12 vote, the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported on Sunday.

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.

But it is unclear whether the recount would affect the outcome of the election.

Election victor Sadr on Monday called on Iraqis to unite rather than fight over the recount in a message aimed at unity following the fire.

The fire started hours after a number of judges were officially tasked with carrying out the manual process of recounting the votes from May's election. He said there were attempts by some to cause a civil war but promised he would not participate in one.

"We have checked our election device provided to Iraq after the fraud allegation erupted, and found out that there have been no malfunction in the device nor its system", said a spokesman.

Opponents of the recount, mostly those whose blocs did well in the election, point out that many who voted for it were lawmakers who lost their seat.

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