Iraq: Muqtada Al-Sadr Warns of Civil War After Election Ballot Warehouse Burns Down

Followers of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, seen in the posters, celebrate in Tahrir Square in Baghdad, Iraq, early Monday, May 14, 2018. Iraq's electoral commission announces influential Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr is the current front-runner in national elections with official results in from just over half of the country's provinces. …
AP Photo/Hadi Mizban

Several Iraqi officials who suffered losses during last month’s legislative elections, including the prime minister, are claiming the fire that engulfed the country’s most massive ballot warehouse this weekend was a deliberate act intended to sabotage a vote recount prompted by allegations.

According to Interior Ministry spokesman Saad Maan, the blaze began on Sunday in one of four warehouses containing ballot boxes, documents, and equipment belonging to the Independent Higher Electoral Commission behind the May 12 vote, the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported on Sunday.

“Army vehicles arrived to transport the surviving ballot boxes to a safe location as firefighters worked to extinguish the blaze,” the Journal adds.

“Most of the ballot boxes are in the adjacent three warehouses that have not been burned,” Maan reportedly declared at the scene.

However, an unnamed member of Baghdad’s provincial council said that “all the boxes and papers have burned,” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) reported Monday.

Iraqi Interior Minister Qassem al-Araji reportedly claimed, “There is no doubt that it was a deliberate act and I am personally following up on the investigation with the criminal police and the committee tasked with probing the fire.”

WSJ noted:

The fire broke out hours after Iraq’s Supreme Judicial Council appointed a panel of judges to oversee a manual recount, replacing the electoral commission, which politicians have accused of failing in its duty to carry out a fair vote. The results took almost a week for the commission to announce after polls closed, even though electronic voting machines were introduced to speed the process. There have been widespread allegations the devices were tampered with.

The legislative elections saw a surprise victory for anti-American populist Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

Many of the 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.

“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.

“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.

Anti-Iran Shiite cleric Sadr indicated that those suggesting sabotage as the cause of the fire “are trying to drag Iraq into civil war … adding that he would not participate in one,” Turkey’s TRT World reported on Monday, adding:

Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr urged Iraqis on Monday to unite rather than squabble over a possible rerun of the election his bloc won last month, a message apparently meant to defuse political tension after a ballot box storage depot caught fire.

Parliament has mandated a manual recount of the election in which a number of parties alleged fraud. … An Iraqi court ordered the arrest of four people accused of setting fire to the storage site, state television reported. Three of them were policemen and one an employee of the Independent High Elections Commission.

Authorities have yet to release the name of the detainees

Saeed Kakei, one of the members of the elections commission who himself produced what he said was evidence of fraud, also alleged the fire appeared to be deliberate and suggested significant violations and that “some individuals don’t want a manual recount to happen,” WSJ reported.

“The extent of the fire’s damage was being assessed late Sunday. Even if most ballots survived the blaze, the damage to the equipment and documentation could also hinder a recount of some 12 million votes cast in last month’s election,” the Journal explained.

Salim al-Juboori, who lost his seat in last month’s election and lead the recount efforts, also describe the fire as deliberate, noting Iraq should repeat the election should be as a result of the fire.

He described the fire as “a deliberate act, a planned crime, aimed at hiding instances of fraud and manipulation of votes,” Radio Farda, a component of RFE/RL reported Monday.

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