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Iraqi cleric Sadr rejects election rerun, warns of civil war after ballots burned

Iraqi cleric Muqtada al-Sadr

Iraqi cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr, whose coalition won the largest number of seats in the country's recent parliamentary elections, has rejected calls for an election rerun, warning Iraqis about breaking out of a possible “civil war” just a day after a storage site in Baghdad, which housed ballot boxes, was purportedly torched ahead of a recount.

“Stop fighting for seats, posts, gains, influence, power, and rulership,” the 44-year-old cleric addressed the entire Iraqi nation in a statement published by his office on Monday, adding, “Is it now time to stand as one for building and reconstruction instead of burning ballot boxes or repeating elections just for one seat or two?”

Sadr’s plea made a day after a big fire broke out in a warehouse located in Russafa, one of the largest voting districts in eastern Baghdad, sending a thick column of black smoke to the sky that could be seen across the capital. Several hours after the blaze erupted, firefighters, backed by 10 trucks, managed to extinguish the raging fire at the storage site, holding half of the ballot boxes from Baghdad.

Shortly after the news of the fire spread across the Arab country, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi described the incident as a “plot to harm the nation and its democracy.”

Smoke rises from a storage site housing ballot boxes from Iraq's May parliamentary election, Baghdad, Iraq, on June 10, 2018. (Photo by Reuters)

Outgoing speaker of parliament, Salim al-Jabouri, also said on Sunday the incident proved that the recent parliamentary elections should be repeated.

The authorities say the ballot boxes were saved and the blaze, whose cause is currently under investigation, will not affect the recount. However, it has added to fears that disputes over the elections’ result could turn violent, prompting Sadr on Monday to warn about breaking out of a possible “civil war” in the crisis-hit country if growing disputes over the vote are not settled.

“I will not sell the nation for seats and will not sell the people for power. Iraq is my concern, positions for me do not mean much,” Sadr further said in the statement, urging the Iraqi nation not to pursue a recount.

On Wednesday, the Iraqi parliament voted in favor of a manual recount of votes in the country's May 12 parliamentary elections, in which a number of political parties alleged fraud. The announcement came a few days after Abadi ordered the creation of a high-powered commission to look into the alleged irregularities in the parliamentary elections.  

Earlier in the day, top aide to Sadr, Dhiaa al-Asadi, said the blaze had been a plot aimed at forcing a repeat of the election and hiding fraud.

“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.

Meanwhile, Saad al-Hadithi, Abadi’s spokesman, said only Iraq's Supreme Federal Court had the right to decide if the vote needed to be repeated.

“This is a matter for the Federal Court and not for the executive branch or any other entity,” he said at a press conference when asked whether the premier had a comment on Jabouri’s call for another election.

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