Fire engulfs Baghdad ballot storage warehouse ahead of vote re-count

Fire engulfs Baghdad ballot storage warehouse ahead of vote re-count
A fire has ripped through a Baghdad warehouse containing over 3 million ballot papers as Iraq prepares for a manual recount of its general election vote.
3 min read
10 June, 2018
Clouds of smoke were seen above the capital [al-Araby al-Jadeed]

A fire tore through Iraq's biggest ballot warehouse on Sunday where votes for the al-Rusafa district in eastern Baghdad were stored, before a recount ordered by parliament was scheduled to take place prompted by allegations of electoral fraud.

The fire was started intentionally, said a security official, however the exact cause of the blaze was not immediately known.

A spokesman for Iraq's interior ministry Brigadier Saad Maan told The New Arab that fire brigades were "trying" to control the fire and save the ballot boxes from the flames.

Two hours after the blaze erupted firefighters, backed by 10 trucks, were still struggling to put out the fire as warehouse staff ran out of the building carrying blue and white plastic ballot boxes, an AFP reporter said.

"Election material, including maybe ballot boxes, were burned but most of the ballot boxes were stored in another building and have been preserved," Maan told reporters.

Around 60 percent of Baghdad's two million eligible voters had cast their ballots in the May election in Al-Rusafa district. Sources told The New Arab that the ballot warehouse, which usually houses foodstuffs, contains more than 3 million voting papers.

Meanwhile a member of Baghdad's municipal council Mohammed al-Rubaie told Iraqi media that the entire contents of the warehouse, which belongs to the Ministry of Commerce, had burned.

Fire brigades attempt to tackle the enormous blaze
[al-Araby al-Jadeed]

The blaze comes just days before Iraq will carry out a manual recount of around 10 million votes following allegations of fraud during the May 12 legislative election that saw a surprise victory for populist Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr in alliance with the communist party, among other secular factions, as voters shunned the usual political elites in favour of change.

However the result was contested following allegations of fraud namely by the veteran politicians led by parliamentary speaker Salim al-Jabouri, who lost his seat in the election.

In the wake of the blaze, Jabouri has called for elections to be re-run.

"The crime of burning ballot box storage warehouses in the Rusafa area is a deliberate act, a planned crime, aimed at hiding instances of fraud and manipulation of votes, lying to the Iraqi people and changing their will and choices," Jabouri said in a statement.

"We call for the election to be repeated," added the veteran politician, calling for those responsible to be brought to justice by the authorities.

Last month's election saw a record number of abstentions as Iraqis snubbed the corruption-tainted elite who have dominated the country since the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.

Less than half of Iraq's 24-million electorate took part, dumping the old guard in favour of Sadr's alliance followed by a list of former fighters of the Hashed al-Shaabi alliance that last year played a key role in the defeat of the Islamic State group.

But the old guard, dumped by Iraqi voters, have clamoured for a recount, although experts say it is unlikely to produce a major change in the number of seats won by their rival lists.

On Wednesday, Iraq's outgoing parliament also sacked the nine-member independent commission which oversaw the polls, and on Sunday they were replaced by nine judges who would supervise the recount.

The previous week parliament had already voted to annul the ballots of displaced Iraqis and those living abroad, although they accounted for only a small fraction of the overall vote.

Agencies contributed to this report.