Iraq arrests 4 suspects over burning warehouses storing ballot boxes

Media playback is unsupported on your device                  Media caption It is not clear if voting papers have been destroyed

A fire broke out in several warehouses in Baghdad used to store ballot boxes from last month's parliamentary elections, an Iraqi Interior Ministry official said on Sunday.

At the weekend, a ballot box storage warehouse in Baghdad was damaged by fire, resulting in the arrest of three police officers and an electoral commission employee.

"Army vehicles arrived to transport the surviving ballot boxes to a safe location as firefighters worked to extinguish the blaze", the Journal adds.

Al-Wataniya Coalition, led by Iraqi Vice-President Ayad Allawi, has called for a redo of the parliamentary elections after a fire at a voting ballot warehouse in Baghdad.

Numerous legislative election losers - including lawmakers and the outgoing PM Haider al-Abadi, whose coalition faltered in the polls by finishing in third place - are claiming foul play behind the fire the engulfed the warehouse.

"We will take all necessary measures and strike with an iron fist all who undermine the security of the nation and its citizens", Abadi said in a statement.

"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 authorities say the ballot boxes were saved and the blaze, whose cause is now under investigation, will not affect the recount.

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Outgoing parliamentary speaker Salim al-Jabouri, who lost his seat in the election and was of the more outspoken proponents of the recount before the fire, called for fresh elections.

The fire occurred almost a month after Iraq's parliamentary elections, in which the Sairoon coalition led by Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr won 54 seats out of 328.

However, the results were published with a great delay (only on May 19) due to allegations of massive fraud within the Kurdish-populated provinces of Kirkuk and Dahuk.

In ordering the recount, the court also said the election commission board must be replaced by judges.

One of Sadr's top aides had said on Sunday that the ballot box fire was intended either to force a rerun of the election or to hide fraud.

On Wednesday, Iraq's parliament ordered a manual recount at all polling stations.

The election, the first since the defeat of the Islamic State group that seized a third of Iraq in 2014, raised hopes that Iraqis could put aside long-standing communal and sectarian divisions to rebuild.

Earlier, Cleric Moqtada al-Sadr called on Iraqis to unite instead of burning ballot boxes and seeking to repeat an election held on May 12 that his bloc won. Two legal experts and an official source at the elections commission confirmed that every vote has been stored electronically. One of Sadr's top aides expressed concerns that some parties were trying to sabotage the cleric's victory.

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