Iraq ballot warehouse fire ‘deliberate’: minister

The Iraqi interior minister has said that a fire which ripped through the country's biggest ballot warehouse ahead of a vote recount was 'deliberate'

Baghdad (AFP) – The fire that ravaged a Baghdad warehouse where votes from May’s legislative election were stored ahead of a recount was started “deliberately”, Iraqi Interior Minister Qassem al-Araji said Monday.

The fire ripped through the warehouse Sunday ahead of a vote recount prompted by allegations of fraud during the election that saw a surprise victory for a populist cleric and Iraqi voters dumping the old guard.

“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,” Araji said.

Firefighters brought the blaze under control several hours after it broke out in a warehouse located in Al-Russafa, one of the largest voting districts in eastern Baghdad. 

Around 60 percent of the two million voters in Baghdad cast their ballots in the May 12 election in that district.

The extent of the damage caused to ballot boxes was still unclear but some officials have suggested that most of them had been spared.

On Sunday an AFP reporter saw warehouse staff running out of the building as smoke billowed overhead, carrying blue and white ballot boxes to safety.

“Election material, including maybe ballot boxes, were burned but most of the ballot boxes were stored in another building and have been preserved,” interior ministry spokesman General Saad Maan told reporters on Sunday.

The fire erupted as the Supreme Council of Justice on Sunday appointed nine jugdes to supervise a manual vote recount which had been ordered by Iraq’s outgoing parliament.

The legislature on Wednesday also sacked the nine-member independent commission which oversaw the polls.

The vote was won by populist Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr’s electoral alliance with communists, as long-time political figures were pushed out by Iraqi voters hoping for change in a country mired in conflict and corruption.

But the result was contested following allegations of fraud namely by the veteran politicians led by parliamentary speaker Salim al-Juburi.