Iraqi ballot box storage site catches fire before recount in 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.

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 parliament voted in favor of a nationwide manual recount last Wednesday after Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi, whose coalition came third in the voting, said the recount was necessary considering the reported violations.

Videos shared on social media showed civil firefighters removing ballot boxes from the site.

It was not immediately clear how the damage would affect the results of the election, which have been called into question amid persistent claims of significant irregularities and mismanagement.

The blaze comes as the country prepares for a parliamentary election recount.

However, Baghdad province council member Mohamed al-Rabeei told Reuters that "all the boxes and papers have burned".

The bloc of Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, which won the most seats in the election, boycotted the vote.

Salim al-Jubouri, the outgoing speaker of parliament, who lost his seat in the election, called for an entire redo of the vote because of the fire.

The political system is created to ensure that no one person or party can dominate, which leads to post-election discussions, a move that has not been interrupted by parliament's decision to recount.

Intelligence services say that tests of electronic voting machines produced varied results, implying the tools may be unreliable.

Abadi, whose electoral alliance came third in the election, had said on Tuesday that a government investigation had found serious violations and blamed Iraq's independent elections commission for majority. One of Sadr's top aides expressed concern that some parties were trying to sabotage the cleric's victory.

Opponents of the recount, mostly those whose blocs did well in the election, point out that many who voted for it were lawmakers who lost their seat.

Sadr's move, while unable to generate a majority in the 329 seat parliament, emboldens the party by almost 100 seats.

The site was divided into four warehouses, said Interior Ministry spokesman Major General Saad Maan.

Before the parliament had acted, the electoral commission said it was voiding 1,021 ballot boxes from around the country, along with votes cast by Iraqis overseas and Iraqis still living in displacement camps that were set up during the battles against the Islamic State.

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.