Fire at ballot box warehouse leads to more rumors of voter fraud in Iraq

BAGHDAD: A mysterious fire at a ballot-box storage warehouse in Baghdad was another attempt to rig Iraq’s May 12 parliamentary election, leading politicians said on Sunday.

“It was 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,” said outgoing Parliament Speaker Salim Al-Jabouri. The election should be re-run, he said.

Parliament has already ordered a recount of votes from the May election, in which the influential cleric Moqtada Al-Sadr was the biggest winner, after widespread allegations of voter fraud.

Sunday’s fire broke out at a Trade Ministry site in Baghdad where the election commission stored the ballot boxes from Al-Rusafa, the half of Baghdad on the eastern side of the Tigris river.

The site was divided into four warehouses, said Interior Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Saad Maan. Only one, housing electronic equipment and documents, had burnt down.

“It is possible there were also some ballot boxes in the warehouse that caught fire, but most of the important boxes are in the three warehouses, where the fire has been controlled,” he said.

Thick black smoke billowed over central Baghdad as firefighters fought to control the blaze, and some suffered the effects of smoke inhalation. The fire lasted for at least five hours, and the full extent of the damage is still not known.

However, any attempt to manipulate the election recount is likely to have failed, experts told Arab News. Two legal experts and an official source at the elections commission confirmed that every vote has been stored electronically.

“The fire was a stupid move,” said Ahmad Assadi, a senior leader of Fattah, one of the successful blocs in the election.

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