Moqtada al-Sadr calls for Iraqi unity as fears of election fraud grow
Baghdad — Cleric Moqtada al-Sadr called for Iraqis to show unity rather than squabble over a possible rerun of the election his bloc won last month.
The remarks seemed aimed at defusing political tension after a storage site holding ballot boxes caught fire.
Parliament has mandated a manual recount of the election in which a number of political parties alleged fraud.
A storage site holding half of the ballot boxes from the capital caught fire on Sunday in what Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi called a "plot to harm the nation and its democracy".
The authorities say the ballot boxes were saved and the fire will not affect the recount. Nevertheless it has added to fears that disputes over the vote result could turn violent.
Sadr, a Shi’ite cleric who once led violent campaigns against a US occupation, has emerged as nationalist opponent of powerful Shi’ite religious parties allied to Iran. He scored a surprise victory in the election, with his followers emerging as the largest political bloc in a highly fractured parliament.
'Burning ballot boxes'
"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 wrote.
The election, the first since the defeat of the Islamic State group, which seized a third of Iraq in 2014, raised hopes that Iraqis could put aside long-standing communal and sectarian divisions to rebuild.
Sadr said there were attempts by some to cause a civil war but promised he would not participate in one. "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," wrote Sadr.
Outgoing parliament speaker Salim al-Jabouri, who lost his seat, called for the election to be repeated after the fire, which he said proved fraud had taken place. In the election, Iraq used an electronic vote-counting system for the first time. Some Iraqi politicians had argued that the manual recount was necessary to make sure that the electronic system did not hide fraud.
Miru Systems, the Korean company that provided the electronic equipment under a $135m contract, said there was nothing wrong with its system.
"We have checked our election device provided to Iraq after the fraud allegation erupted and found out that there have been no malfunction in the device nor its system," said a spokesman.
Sadr led uprisings against US occupation troops, prompting the Pentagon to call his Mehdi Army the biggest threat to Iraq’s security at the time.