We are sure it's just an unfortunate coincidence but...
Just days after the Iraqi parliament demanded a nationwide recount of votes - drawing calls for the election to be re-run - a storage facility housing over half of Baghdad's ballot boxes from the May election - that saw the bloc led by nationalist cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, a long-time adversary of the United States, win the largest number of seats - has been engulfed with fire.
Baghdad is Iraq's most populous province, accounting for 71 seats out of the Iraqi parliament's 329.
As France24 reports, an Interior Ministry spokesman said later the fire was confined to one of four warehouses at the site. State television said the ballot boxes were being moved to another location under heavy security.
Authorities did not say whether they believed the fire was deliberately set, but its timing undermined the results of an election whose validity was already in doubt.
Fewer than 45 percent of voters cast a ballot, a record low, and allegations of fraud began almost immediately after the vote; and as France24 notes, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, whose electoral alliance came third in the election, said on Tuesday that a government investigation had found serious violations and blamed Iraq's independent elections commission for most of them.
Parliament mandated a full manual recount the next day. The Independent High Elections Commission had used electronic vote-counting devices to tally the results.
A recount could undermine nationalist cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, a long-time adversary of the United States whose bloc won the largest number of seats in the election. One of Sadr's top aides expressed concerns that some parties were trying to sabotage the cleric's victory.
Salim al-Jabouri, the outgoing speaker of parliament, said the fire showed the election should be repeated.
"The crime of burning ballot box storage warehouses in the Rusafa area is a deliberate act, a planned crime, aimed at hiding instances of fraud and manipulation of votes, lying to the Iraqi people and changing their will and choices," Jabouri said in a statement.
Top Sadr aide Dhiaa al-Asadi said the fire was a plot aimed at forcing a repeat of the election and hiding fraud.
"Whoever burned the election equipment and document storage site had two goals: either cancelling the election or destroying the stuffed ballots counted amongst the results," he tweeted.
God, we hated him.
Back in 2006-07, while patrolling the streets of east Baghdad, Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army militia was our sworn enemy.
These impoverished, slum-dwelling Shiite youths hit us with sniper fire and deadly improvised explosive devices day after day. They killed and maimed American troops daily, including my boys - Alex Fuller and Mike Balsley - who died Jan. 25, 2007. We’d patch up our wounded, call in a medevac helicopter, then roll back into those city streets the very next day. As we patrolled, Sadr’s ubiquitous face would taunt us, plastered as it was on billboards, posters and flags throughout the neighborhood.
Now, in a truth stranger than fiction, Sadr’s political party has won the recent Iraqi elections. The former warlord and killer of Americans may now play kingmaker in Iraq. Of course, mine is only one - highly biased - side of the story. From Sadr’s perspective, we were occupiers, a foreign military force with no legitimacy in his country. Perhaps he had a point. Still, Sadr’s victory demonstrates just how far off the rails America’s project in Iraq has gone, and it epitomizes the unintended consequences of offensive war and regime change.
When the United States uses its impressive military machine to topple a tyrant - in this case, Saddam Hussein - it’s impossible to predict the course of the chaos that follows. Fracture a society, it seems, and the most nefarious (and well-armed) actors often rise to the top: militiamen, criminal elements, Islamists and sociopaths of various stripes. Sadr is just one example.
Still, Washington never seems to learn.