Fire breaks out in Baghdad's largest ballot box storage site

Parliament had ordered a nationwide recount of the May 12 votes

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A fire tore through one of Baghdad’s main ballot storage sites on Sunday, days after parliament ordered a manual recount of the May 12 vote.

Thick black smoke was seen across the capital as firefighters brought 10 fire engines to bear against the blaze. The cause of the fire, in Baghdad's eastern Al Russafa district, was not immediately clear.

Interior ministry spokesman General Saad Maan visited the scene and told reporters that "most of the ballot boxes were stored in another building and have been preserved."

General Maan said that efforts were being made to stop the blaze from affecting ballot boxes in the three other sites.

A spokesman for the fire brigade said that the fire had been contained away from the "warehouses holding the majority of the votes."

Videos shared on social media showed civil firefighters removing ballot boxes from the site.

Locals living in the neighbourhood described the fire as a sad day for Iraq and shared a widely held suspicion that the fire was deliberately lit. "Corrupt elected politicians set the ballot box fire to preserve their political interests," said a 53-year-old policeman who gave his name as Abu Zeinab.

The fire occurred on the same day that Iraq's Supreme Judicial Council nominated judges to take over the country's electoral commission after allegations of voter irregularities in last month's parliamentary election.

"The Supreme Judicial Council's meeting saw the naming of the judges nominated to take over the duties of the board of commissioners of the Independent High Elections Commission," Judge Abdul-Sattar al-Birqdar said in a statement.


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Parliament on Wednesday ordered a nationwide recount of the May 12 votes and suspended the Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) that oversaw the polls. The move could further delay the formation of a new government as well as cast a shadow over Iraq's fledgling democracy.

More than 170 MPs voted in an emergency parliamentary session on Wednesday to amend the law, which will also nullify votes cast overseas and from displacement camps in four Sunni-majority provinces.

"The recount is bound to undermine faith in these elections," Fanar Haddad, senior research fellow at Singapore University, told The National. That faith was already low, he suggested, given a low turn out of 43 per cent. The recount will also "leave long term question marks about the credibility of the final results," he added.

The turn out rate for Iraq's 24.5 million registered voters was the lowest since the first multi-party elections was held in 2005.

The electoral alliance led by Mr Al Sadr won the largest number of seats in the elections, besting other establishment figures, including encumbent Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi.

But the results have been marred by lingering allegations of voter fraud.

According to intelligence services, tests of electronic voting machines that were used for the first time in the elections produced varied results, appearing to give credence to the fraud claims.

Last Tuesday, Prime Minister Al Abadi banned some members of the country's electoral commission from travelling after “serious violations” were reported in the elections.

He said that a commission looking in to alleged irregularities in the elections found "widespread manipulation" and faulted election authorities for "not taking the needed measures" to eliminate these issues.

The speaker of parliament Salim Al Jabouri has demanded fresh elections. Mr Al Jabouri was not reelected during the May 12 vote.

With additional reporting in Baghdad by Quentin Muller