ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Iraqi Shia cleric and election winner, Muqtada al-Sadr, issued a warning against a potential civil war breaking out in the country, stating Iraq remains in a fragile state.
Sadr’s warning came as a fire 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.
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.
“It is time to stand up for the reconstruction [of our nation] rather than the burning of ballot boxes or a new election for the sake of one or two seats,” Sadr said in a written statement published late Sunday.
“Iraq is in danger,” he cautioned.
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.
“This is the will of the people ... but not [of those who sold Iraq] and want to start a civil war,” Sadr said, leveling accusations against those who lost to his Sairoon coalition.
Sadr appeared to refer to former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who has been accused by many of ‘selling out’ the country during his tenure.
“I will not be a party” to any war, the Iraqi cleric said.
“I will not sell our homeland for seats, and I will not sell the people for power,” Sadr said. “Iraq is important to me.”
Sadr’s positions and post-electoral plans are not clear and have been hard to predict.
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.
“All our options remain open, and they will fall within the parameters of the constitution and Iraqi laws, but we cannot predict the reaction and choices of the masses,” the leader of Sairoon coalition said in a statement.
According to the Iraqi Interior Ministry, the fire burned down only one of four storage warehouses where ballot boxes were kept. The salvaged votes were transferred to a new location amid tight security measures.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi on Sunday claimed the fire was an “intentional plot” targeting Iraq’s democracy. He vowed to pursue “terrorist gangs” who tried to tamper with the stability of the country and its elections.
Iraqi Parliament Speaker Salim al-Jabouri in his own statement called the incident a “planned hit aimed at covering up cases of [electoral fraud] and the falsification of votes, trying to deceive the Iraqi people and alter their choice.”
Baghdad is the most populous province in Iraq, with 71 seats out of 329 in parliament.
Editing by Nadia Riva