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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 22 June 2018

Iraqi politicians demand election re-run after fire at ballot centre adds to chaos after vote 

Shiite cleric Moqtada Al Sadr urges for unity as chaos hits Iraq's electoral process

Some of Iraq's top politicians demanded new elections on Monday after a warehouse meant for storing ballot papers caught fire, an act described as a "plot" against democracy by the country's prime minister.

The latest setback follows weeks of rancour over the May 12 vote, which delivered a surprise win for allies of Shiite cleric Moqtada Al Sadr.

The fire at a ballot storage site in Baghdad's eastern district of Al Russafa added to allegations of fraud and vote rigging and a poor turnout of less than 45 percent of eligible voters.

"Burning election warehouses... is a plot to harm the nation and its democracy," said Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi, whose allies placed a disappointing third in the election.

"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.

The storage site went up in flames on Sunday afternoon ahead of a planned recount prompted by alleged irregularities.

Mr Al Abadi's apparent claim of arson – he ordered investigators to prepare a detailed report on how the blaze started – was supported by the country's Interior Minister Qassem Al Araji.

"There is no doubt that it was a deliberate act and I am personally following up on the investigation with the police and the committee tasked with probing the fire," Mr Al Araji said.

State television later reported that a court had ordered the arrest of four people accused of setting fire to the storage site - three policemen and an employee of the Independent High Election Commission (IHEC).

It is still unclear whether the voting papers have been destroyed.

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Comment: Confusion threatens post-election hopes for stability in Iraq

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Interior Ministry spokesman General Saad Maan said the site was divided into four warehouses and only one – housing electronic equipment and documents – had burned down, he said.

Mr Al Abadi said that a government investigation had found serious violations of fraud in the election. He has also blamed IHEC for most of the errors.

The outgoing parliamentary speaker, Salim Al Jubouri, who was not re-elected in last month's poll, has demanded fresh elections.

"The crime of burning ballot-box storage warehouses in the Rusafa area is a deliberate act, a planned crime, aimed at hiding instances of fraud and manipulation of votes, lying to the Iraqi people and changing their will and choices," Mr Al Jubouri said in a statement.

His call was supported by Vice President Ayad Allawi, the leader of the electoral alliance that Mr Jubouri ran under.

"Based on what happened yesterday and the low voter turn out, a new process must be found to restore the confidence of the Iraqi people in the political and electoral process and to involve them in the country's decision making procedure," the spokesman of the Al Wataniya bloc, led by Mr Allawi, told The National.

In this photo provided by the Iraqi government, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, right, and Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr hold a press conference in the heavily fortified Green Zone in Baghdad on May 20, 2018.
In this photo provided by the Iraqi government, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, right, and Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr hold a press conference in the heavily fortified Green Zone in Baghdad on May 20, 2018.

In contrast, election victor Mr Al Sadr urged against any new polls, urging Iraqis to unite.

"Is it not time to stand as one for building and reconstruction instead of burning ballet boxes or repeating elections just for one seat or two?" Mr Al Sadr said, adding that individuals must "stop fighting for seats, posts, gains, influence, power and ruler ship."

One of Mr Al Sadr's close aides, Dhiaa Al Asadi, said the fire "was carried out to cancel the election or destroy the stuffed ballots counted among the results."

Mr Al Sadr, who has ruled himself out of becoming prime minister, once led a militia that fought against American troops.

The election chaos follows the appointment of nine judges to supervise a manual vote recount which had been ordered by Iraq's outgoing parliament.

The Supreme Council of Justice on Monday appointed a chairman and deputy to take over the country's electoral commission, following the allegations of fraud.

The electoral board of commissioners has said it will appeal against the law forcing the recount.