Fire hits Iraq's biggest ballot warehouse before recount

Iraq election: Fire hits Baghdad recount warehouse

Fire engulfs warehouse storing Iraq election ballots in latest setback for troubled vote

The fire took place at a Trade Ministry site in Baghdad where the election commission stored the ballot boxes from al-Rusafa, the half of Baghdad on the eastern side of the Tigris river.

Shortly after the news of the fire spread across the Arab country, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi described the incident as a "plot to harm the nation and its democracy".

Numerous legislative election losers - including lawmakers and the outgoing PM Haider al-Abadi, whose coalition faltered in the polls by finishing in third place - are claiming foul play behind the fire the engulfed the warehouse.

An electoral commission official and a spokesman for the interior ministry suggested Sunday's fire did not damage ballot boxes.

An Iraqi judge has ordered the arrest of four people accused of setting fire to a storage facility holding ballot boxes from the disputed election in May.

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

A ticket backed by the Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, a long-time opponent of American influence in Iraq, won the most seats in the initial count, with 54 out of 329 - placing him in prime position to select the nation's next leader.

A fire ripped through Iraq's biggest ballot warehouse on Sunday ahead of a vote recount prompted by allegations of fraud during legislative elections that saw a surprise victory for a populist cleric.

However, Baghdad province officials said that the boxes were part of a manual vote recount and had all been scorched.

Parliament mandated a full manual recount the next day.

He further said, "It is possible there were also some ballot boxes in the warehouse that caught fire, but most of the important boxes are in the three warehouses where the fire has been controlled".

On June 6, the Iraqi Parliament chose 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.

It is this old guard clamouring for a recount: the outgoing parliament also voted to annul ballots of displaced Iraqis and sacked the nine-member independent commission that oversaw the vote.

The depot housed ballot boxes from the city's al-Rusafa district. The Independent High Elections Commission had used electronic vote-counting devices to tally the results.

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. Some parties condemned the measure, saying it was spearheaded by groups of lawmakers who had lost their seats.

Over 170 lawmakers had made a decision to suspend Article 38 of the electoral law, which stipulates that vote counting shall be done electronically, while members of the Supreme Electoral Committee are to be replaced by nine judges to oversee the vote recount.

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