Iraq's parliament speaker calls for election rerun

Iraq's parliament speaker calls for election rerun

A fire has hit Iraq's biggest ballot paper warehouse that was being used to store votes ahead of a recount.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi called the fire "a plot to harm the nation and its democracy".

Around 60 percent of Baghdad's two million eligible voters had cast their ballots in the May election in Al-Russafa district.

Experts would conduct an investigation and prepare a detailed report on how the fire started, he said.

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".

Interior Minister Qasim al-Araji later told a local television channel that "not a single box was burned".

Abadi's government on Tuesday said an investigation found serious violations and blamed the elections commission for majority.

No timetable has been announced for the recount, which will take place at all polling stations.

Iraq's election, held on 12 May, was won by a coalition led by populist Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, in a surprise result that pushed out political establishment figures.

"The crime of burning ballot box storage warehouses in the Russafa 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".

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Jabouri narrowly lost his seat in May and had been one of the strongest proponents of a recount before the fire.

The commission did not say why it was nullifying those votes or detail any of the discrepancies it had apparently discovered, fueling suspicion by voters and political parties over its administration of the tightly contested election.

Images from the scene show thick plumes of smoke rising from the storage site, which contained votes from the al Rusafa district.

"Whoever burned the election equipment and document storage site had two goals: either cancelling the election or destroying the stuffed ballots counted amongst the results", he tweeted, suggesting some were trying to sabotage Sadr's gains.

Baghdad is the most populous province in Iraq, with 71 seats out of 329 in parliament. "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 ballot boxes are part of a manual recount of votes from the May parliamentary election, mandated in a law passed on Wednesday.

An official statement said a recent cabinet meeting chaired by the premier had named the Iraqi anti-graft chief as the head of the commission.

Its chairman a statement late on Sunday said all of the electronic vote counting and voter identification equipment had been lost in the fire but that ballot boxes were safe.

The fire broke out on the same day a panel of judges had been formed to officially take over the election recount from the ostensibly autonomous Independent High Electoral Commission, the body that administered the vote and had since come under intense criticism for its performance.

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