Iraq: Four arrested over fire at ballot storage site

June 12 (UPI) — Following a court order, Iraqi authorities arrested four people accused of setting fire to a warehouse containing half of Baghdad’s ballot boxes from last month’s election.

Three suspects are members of the police force and one is an employee of the country’s Independent High Electoral Commission, said Judge Abdul-Sattar al-Birqdar, a spokesman for Iraq’s Judicial Council.

“The Rusafa Court of Inquiry decided to arrest four accused of the crime of burning the Electoral Commission warehouse in the al-Rufasa district of Baghdad,” Birqdar said in a statement late Monday.

“On this occasion, the Supreme Judicial Council reiterates its warning to anyone who begs himself to manipulate documents related to the elections,” the spokesman added, vowing to “take the maximum punishment against them.”

The blaze broke out Sunday at a Baghdad warehouse that was storing ballots from Iraq’s May 12 parliamentary elections. It was one of four warehouses storing ballot boxes. The cause of the fire is still unknown, although it is believed to be arson.

Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said the blaze was part of a plot to sabotage the elections. He said the burnt warehouse hurt his country’s democracy.

In last month’s election, the Sairoon coalition led by Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr won 54 seats out of 328. Abadi’s alliance finished third, with 42 seats.

The election marked the first time Iraqi ballots were counted electronically and not by hand. Iraq’s parliament agreed last week to manually recount ballots amid accusations of voter fraud.

A manual recount of the ballots is expected to start later this week and at least 10,000 employees are needed to recount more than 52,000 ballot boxes. The full recount is expected to take three weeks.

The United Nations Special Representative for Iraq, Ján Kubiš, urged the Iraqi government to secure all election materials.

The U.N. “calls upon Iraq’s election management bodies expeditiously to investigate and adjudicate all complaints of electoral fraud and violations, in a fully transparent way that promotes the integrity of the electoral process and the legitimacy of its results, in line with the laws and Constitution of Iraq,” Kubiš said in a statement.

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