Fire, fraud and recounts: The grim reality of Iraq’s dirty politics

A fire erupted in a Baghdad warehouse storing ballots from Iraq’s 12 May elections right before a manual recount was to be conducted. The fire happened at an inopportune time when electoral fraud allegations had undermined the integrity of the process.

Al-Sairoun, or “The Marchers”, a coalition between the followers of Shia religious leader Muqtada al-Sadr and the Iraqi Communist party, saw the fire as a setback and an attempt to delay their ascension to power as victors of the elections.

On Tuesday, al-Sairoun announced that they will form a parliamentary bloc with Fatah, the coalition of Shia militias, who came in second in the election. This is a clear indication that al-Sadr will proceed to forge a government in spite of the delays.

Who was behind the fire and who stands to lose and gain from this incident remains in question. What is not in doubt is this series of affairs will delay the formation of a new Iraqi government as has happened in the past. For example, after the 2010 elections, the negotiations over a new government took nine months.

This delay would occur at a time when voters expressed – through the ballot box – their dissatisfaction with the incumbent political elites. The recent crisis is a desperate attempt to only prolong their tenure. Both Al-Sairoun and Fatah represented new faces on the ballot, featuring candidates who were untainted by previous political involvement.

The Election Recount

On Monday, Iraqi police arrested four men, three fellow police officers and an election committee employee in connection with the fire. Their rationale remains unknown. The fire erupted after the Iraqi parliament fired the nine-member independent commission that supervised the election and replaced it with nine judges to oversee a manual vote recount.

The vote recount had been loudly called for by the losers of the election, while the victors, like al-Sairoun, have urged their supporters to show patience while hinting that this recount is a delaying tactic by the losing side.

Al-Sairoun coalition won 54 of 329 seats in parliament, Fatah, the coalition of Shi’a militias, came in second with 47 seats, and incumbent Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi’s coalition third, with 42 seats.

By 6 June a call for a recount had passed in Iraq’s parliament, lodged primarily by its members who had lost their seats. Iraq’s Independent Higher Election Committee insisted there was no need for a recount, only to be dismissed by parliament. Just hours after parliament called for the recount an explosion killed 18 people in Sadr City, the bastion of Sadr’s support.

By 10 June,…

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