PROOF: Salim al-Jabouri shows his finger after casting his vote in Baghdad last month.Picture: Ahmed Jadallah/Reuters/File Photo
BAGHDAD: Cleric Moqtada al-Sadr has called for Iraqis to show unity rather than squabble over a possible rerun of the election his bloc won last month, in remarks that seemed aimed at defusing political tension after a storage site holding ballot boxes caught fire.

Parliament has mandated a manual re-count 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 would not affect the re-count. Nevertheless it has added to fears that disputes over the vote result could turn violent.

Sadr, a Shia cleric who once led violent campaigns against a US occupation, has emerged as a nationalist opponent of powerful Shia 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.

“Stop fighting for seats, posts, gains, influence, power and ruler- ship,” he said. “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?"

The election, the first since the defeat of the Islamic State group that seized a third of Iraq in 2014, raised hopes that Iraqis could put aside long-standing communal and sectarian divisions to rebuild. Sadr’s followers campaigned in an unlikely alliance with the communists and other secular groups.

One of Sadr’s top aides had said on Sunday that the ballot box fire was intended either to force a rerun of the election or to conceal fraud.

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.

Miru Systems, the Korean company that provided the electronic equipment, 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 or its system,” said a spokesperson.

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. - Reuters