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

Ten fire lorries arrived to battle the flames

The site housed ballot boxes of the Al-Rusafa district, where around 60 percent of Baghdad's 2 million eligible voters had cast their ballots in last month's parliamentary elections.

A fire has been brought under control at Iraq's biggest ballot paper storage depot days after an election recount was ordered.

"Burning election warehouses ... is a plot to harm the nation and its democracy", Abadi proclaimed Sunday, marking the most high-profile remarks to date suggesting the fire was intentional, Al Jazeera reported Sunday.

An interior ministry spokesman told Reuters news agency the blaze had been confined to one of four warehouses.

Mohamed al-Rabeei, a member of Baghdad province council, said, "The storage spaces housing all the ballot boxes from Russafa belonging to the election commission are now on fire".

The fire occurred almost a month after Iraq's parliamentary elections, in which the Sairoon coalition led by Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr won 54 seats out of 328.

A fire engulfed a depot on Sunday where ballots from Iraq's national elections were being stored ahead of a full manual recount, the latest setback for a process that had already been mired in accusations of fraud and other violations.

The call comes one day after a huge fire broke out in the largest storage space of ballot boxes in the capital, Baghdad, notably, before the start of the manual recount, which was expected to begin later this week.

Staff rushed to save ballot boxes from the warehouse
Image Staff rushed to save ballot boxes from the warehouse

Mr Al Abadi's statement comes as Iraq's United Nations envoy has called for an investigation into allegations of fraud and voter rigging.

The destruction of ballot boxes may serve those who lost in the last elections and desperately demanded a recount and, as a last resort, a new elections round for parliament.

The election should be re-run, he said.

The outgoing parliament's decision for recount of the votes also called for the Independent High Elections Commission's leadership to be replaced by nine judges.

Hours after the fire, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, also the Commander-in-Chief of Iraqi forces, pledged to pursue the "terrorist gangs", and issued instructions to tighten security measures at the electoral commission warehouses across the country. State television said ballot boxes were moved to another location under heavy security.

Coupled with the historically low turnout of about 45 percent, the allegations of violations cast an unflattering spotlight on the election - Iraq's first since ISIL took over and subsequently lost almost one-third of the country's territory. One of Sadr's top aides expressed concerns that some parties were trying to sabotage the cleric's victory.

Abadi, whose electoral alliance came third in the election, had said on Tuesday that a government investigation had found serious violations and blamed Iraq's independent elections commission for majority.

"Is it not time to stand in one row for building and reconstruction instead of burning the ballot boxes or repeat elections just for one or two seats?" Two legal experts and an official source at the elections commission confirmed that every vote has been stored electronically.

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