Iraq’s Largest Ballot Paper Storage Facility Burns ahead of Recount

CAPITALS — A fire has hit Iraq's biggest ballot paper storage depot ahead of a recount.

Votes for the eastern district of the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, were being held in the building. It is not clear if any were destroyed or what caused the fire.

Last month's legislative elections were won by an alliance headed by the populist Shia cleric Moqtada Sadr.

Amid allegations fraud, the outgoing parliament ordered a recount of about 10 million votes. It is unclear if this may affect the outcome.

Firefighters have been attempting to control the fire at the storage site, which housed ballot boxes of the al-Rusafa district in the east of Baghdad.

An interior ministry spokesman told the Reuters news agency that the blaze had destroyed some documents and equipment, but efforts were being made to stop it from affecting ballot boxes.

He said the blaze had been confined to one of the four warehouses.

However, Baghdad province council member Mohamed Rabeei told Reuters that "all the boxes and papers have burned".

Iraqi authorities have not commented on whether they think the blaze was caused deliberately.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Haider Abadi warned that security agencies had evidence of "unprecedented" violations during the elections.

He said the main issue was with the electronic vote-counting machines that were used for the first time on 12 May.

The outgoing speaker of the Iraqi parliament has said the election should be repeated as a result of the fire.

Salim Jabouri, who lost his seat in May's election, said the fire was "a deliberate act, a planned crime, aimed at hiding instances of fraud and manipulation of votes".

Mr Sadr's nationalist grouping formed an alliance with a number of secular parties.

It won 54 of the 328 seats in parliament - making it the largest bloc in the post election landscape.

The cleric, who has ruled himself out of becoming Iraq's prime minister, once led a militia which once fought US troops.

One of Mr Sadr's aides, Dhiaa Asadi, said on Twitter (in Arabic) that he thought the fire was carried out "to cancel the election or destroy the stuffed ballots counted amongst the results".

A bloc linked to Iranian-backed paramilitaries that have battled the jihadist group ISIS over the past four years came second with 47 seats.

Mr Abadi's alliance came third with 42 seats.

The election, the first held since the government declared victory over ISIS in December, saw a turnout of 44.5 per cent - much lower than in previous polls.

(BBC)

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