ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – A Kurdish official from the Iraqi electoral commission on Monday insisted no paper ballots from the Kurdistan Region’s polling stations were stored in the warehouse in Baghdad where a fire broke out on Sunday, damaging thousands of votes.
The blaze tore through a warehouse in the al-Rusafa district in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad, where thousands of ballot boxes from the May 12 Iraqi parliamentary election were being held. The incident came days after Iraqi Parliament ordered a manual recount.
“No Kurdistan [Region] ballot boxes were held in Baghdad’s al-Rusafa warehouse. It is not a central storage site for all of Iraq’s paper ballots, only for those of the district,” Ali Qadir, the head of Iraq’s Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) office in Erbil, told Kurdistan 24.
Firefighters were able to put out the fire, but thousands of paper ballots and some election electronic voting devices were damaged.
“Kurdistan ballot boxes are safely stored in the Baghdad International Exhibition building,” Qadir explained. “Those are paper ballots that had problems and needed to be rechecked in Baghdad to see whether they should be voided or counted.”
While it is unclear who started the fire or how it ignited, the incident coincided with the anniversary of the fall of Mosul as the Islamic State (IS) took over two-thirds of the country's territory in 2014.
Regarding an Iraqi Parliament-mandated manual recount of votes across Iraq, including the Kurdistan Region, the IHEC official stated the commission had appealed the decision but that they would implement whatever decision the court or Iraqi authorities make.
“We are an executive branch. We will execute whatever decision or order is passed on to us,” Qadir stated.
The timing of the fire could undermine the results of the election, which saw its turnout stand at less than 45 percent - the lowest in the past 15 years - and has been mired with accusations of fraud.
Qadir assured the election process in Erbil had not been tampered with, and that a manual recount would offer up the same results.
The fire renewed calls for a re-election, a high-stakes move in a country which has been struggling with democracy for 15 years and remains divided.
Many parties in the Kurdistan Region called on the IHEC to initiate a manual recount of the May 12 election vote, asserting electoral fraud and violations had taken place in the region, namely in the Sulaimani province.
Editing by Nadia Riva