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Iraq court orders arrest of four suspects in Baghdad ballot fire

Sadr, who won the election, calls on Iraqis to unite rather than repeat the polls in the wake of the blaze
A massive fire broke out at a ballot box storage site in Baghdad on Sunday (MEE/Sebastian Castelier)

An Iraqi court on Monday ordered the arrest of four people suspected of starting a fire that tore through a Baghdad building storing ballots from last month’s elections, according to a state TV report.

Three of the suspects are policemen and one is an elections commission employee, the report said.

The blaze on Sunday came ahead of a recount ordered by the Iraqi parliament after the legislative polls faced multiple accusations of fraud.

"There is no doubt that it was a deliberate act and I am personally following up on the investigation with the criminal police and the committee tasked with probing the fire," Iraqi Interior Minister Qassem al-Araji said.

'There is no doubt that it was a deliberate act'

- Interior Minister Qassem al-Araji

Firefighters spent hours bringing the blaze in a warehouse in the capital’s Al-Russafa neighbourhood under control.

Al-Russafa is one of the largest voting districts in Baghdad, a city that holds a significant proportion of seats in the Iraqi parliament.

Some 60 percent of Baghdad’s two million voters cast their ballots in the district.

Officials have suggested that most of the ballot boxes were saved from the fire, though the true extent of the damage remains to be seen.

A sad day for Iraq

The 12 May election threw up some surprises, with Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s anti-establishment coalition of secular groups and leftists coming in first place. Baghdad is Sadr’s stronghold.

"We are in the eastern districts of Baghdad. In those districts [Shia militia leader Hadi] al-Ameri and Muqtada al-Sadr performed well at the 12 May elections. So I think it is their supporters who set fire to the ballot box. I am sure," policeman Abu Zaid, 49, told Middle East Eye at the scene on Sunday.

Local residents to whom MEE spoke expressed concern over the fire.

“I saw the fire spread. But I didn't see the person who started it. It is a very sad day for Iraq,” said Abu Sara, a 50-year-old Al-Russafa resident whose house lies at the torched warehouse’s entrance.

"Iraq keeps having problems," added Mohammed, another resident.

A military commander arrives amid the security response to the fire (MEE/Sebastian Castelier)
In an article published on Monday, Sadr urged Iraqis to unite.

"Stop fighting for seats, posts, gains, influence, power, and rulership," Sadr, who opposes both US and Iranian influence in his country, wrote.

'Is it not time to stand as one for building and reconstruction instead of burning ballet boxes or repeating elections'

- Muqtada al-Sadr

"Is it not time to stand as one for building and reconstruction instead of burning ballet boxes or repeating elections just for one seat or two?" he added.

"Is it not time to disarm and hand over weapons to the state instead of storing it in mosques so that it explodes and kills the innocent?”

The independent electoral commission used an electronic system to count votes, which a probe later found could be hacked.

The ballots in the Al-Russafa warehouse were due to be recounted manually.

- Additional reporting in Baghdad by Quentin Muller

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