Iraq begins hand recount of May ballots from city of Kirkuk

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BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraqi officials began a hand recount of ballots from May's parliamentary elections on Tuesday, starting in the disputed northern city of Kirkuk, state television said, a move expected to further prolong the process of forming a new government.

Iraq's May 12 vote — the fourth elections since the fall of Saddam Hussein in the 2003 U.S.-led invasion — saw the lowest voter turnout in 15 years due to widespread anger at the country's dysfunctional political class.

State TV showed dozens of ballot boxes lined up on the ground at a covered sports hall as election workers counted paper ballots. It says the process is monitored by cameras and counterterrorism forces are protecting the hall.

The election commission has said the recount will extend to six other provinces in the coming days.

Oil-rich, ethnically-mixed Kirkuk is home to Arabs, Kurds, Turkmen and Christians. Both Turkmen and Arabs have accused the Kurdish Patriotic Union of Kurdistan of fraud, allegations the party has denied.

The vote was marred by allegations of fraud and irregularities, largely blamed on electronic voting machines meant to tabulate results speedily.

Iraq's Supreme Court last month approved a partial recount of paper ballots from inside and outside Iraq, contrary to the recount of all ballots requested by parliament. No deadline has been set for the recount.

The initial election results gave a bloc organized by populist Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr the largest share, with 54 seats in the 329-seat parliament. It was followed by an Iran-backed bloc — made up of Shiite militias — which won 47 seats, and Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi's alliance, with 42 seats.

On Sunday, a suicide car bomb struck near a ballot box storage facility, killing one person and wounding up to 20. Police and local officials said there was no damage to the warehouse.

Last month a fire ripped through a storage site for ballot boxes from eastern Baghdad. The Interior Ministry said the June 10 blaze was confined to a storage unit holding electronic machinery and insisted the ballots were secure. But eyewitness reports said some ballots were charred and others soaked as firefighters battled the blaze.

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