Muqtada al Sadr whose bloc won last month's election said certain parties are trying to drag the country into civil war. Meanwhile, an Iraqi court has ordered the arrest of four suspects accused of setting fire to the ballot boxes storage site.

Security forces carry ballot boxes as smoke rises from a storage site in Baghdad, housing the boxes from Iraq's May parliamentary election, Iraq on June 10, 2018.
Security forces carry ballot boxes as smoke rises from a storage site in Baghdad, housing the boxes from Iraq's May parliamentary election, Iraq on June 10, 2018. ( Reuters )

 Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr urged Iraqis on Monday to unite rather than squabble over a possible rerun of the election his bloc won last month, a message apparently meant to defuse political tension after a ballot box storage depot caught fire.

Certain parties are trying to drag Iraq into civil war, Sadr said, adding that he would not participate in one.

Parliament has mandated a manual recount of the election in which a number of parties alleged fraud. 

A storage site holding half of Baghdad's ballot boxes went up in flames on Sunday in what Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi denounced as a "plot to harm the nation and its democracy".

Court orders arrest

An Iraqi court ordered the arrest of four people accused of setting fire to the storage site, state television reported. Three of them were policemen and one an employee of the Independent High Elections Commission.

Iraqi authorities said the ballot boxes were saved but the fire has added to fears of violence.

"What Muqtada said about (Iraq) being close to some sort of armed conflict is concerning. The situation is tense and it seems to be on the brink of conflict," said Renad Mansour, research fellow at Chatham House in London.

Sadr, who once led violent campaigns against the US occupation that ended in 2011, has emerged as a nationalist opponent of powerful Shia parties allied with neighbouring Iran.

"Stop fighting for seats, posts, gains, influence, power, and rulership," he wrote in an article published by his office.

"Is it not time to stand as one for building and reconstruction, instead of burning ballot boxes or repeating elections just for one seat or two?"

Sadr has in the past mobilised tens of thousands of followers to protest government policies he opposed.

The election, which was the first since the defeat of Daesh militants who seized a third of Iraq in 2014, raised hopes that Iraqis could put aside sectarian divisions to rebuild.

One of Sadr's top aides said on Sunday the fire was intended either to force a rerun of the election or to conceal fraud.

Election re-run unlikely

But a repeat of the election is unlikely, analysts say, as none of the top parties have endorsed this step, and many incumbent lawmakers have lost their seats and thus lack legitimacy in the eyes of the public.

The Supreme Federal Court is the only entity that has the right to decide on a repeat, not the government or parliament, Abadi's spokesman said on Monday.

A spokesman for Hadi al-Amiri, whose Fatih alliance of groups linked to pro-Iran Shia militias came second in the election behind Sadr's bloc, said he did not favour a repeat.

"The middle of the road solution is a manual recount," said Karim al-Nuri, referring to the fraud allegations.

Some of Iran's other supporters, such as former prime minister Nuri al-Maliki, whose bloc performed below expectations in the election, would benefit.

At the same time, a recount might harm Iran in other ways. Tehran is accused by some parties in two provinces of helping a Kurdish party allied with it commit election fraud.

"Iran would have preferred if Fatih and (Maliki's) State of Law (list) had done better than Sadr so any kind of redo where a different scenario comes out is better for Iran," said Mansour.

"It is not an ideal situation for Iran and they might support a redo, but actually a recount might implicate them if the allegations in the north are correct."

Source: Reuters