Iraqi Kingmaker Forges Alliance With pro-Iran Coalition After Ballot Box Fire 'Plot'

The move comes largely as a surprise, as Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has been touting himself as a nationalist leader who opposes Tehran's influence on Baghdad

Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr with Leader of the Conquest Coalition Hadi al-Amiri, in Najaf, Iraq June 12, 2018

Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, whose coalition won the largest number of seats in last month's parliamentary elections, announced on Tuesday an alliance with an Iran-backed coalition ahead of marathon negotiations to form a new government.

The move, which was announced by al-Sadr and Hadi al-Amiri of the Leader of the Conquest coalition on Tuesday, came largely as a surprise as al-Sadr has been touting himself as a nationalist leader who opposes Iranian influence in Iraq.

>> What Can We Expect From Muqtada al-Sadr, Iraq’s New Kingmaker? |  Analysis

The new alliance controls 101 seats, still far from the 165 required for a majority. At a news conference, both leaders underscored that their alliance is aimed at expediting the formation of a new government, calling on others to join.

Iraq's May 12 elections, the fourth since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein, has been marred by allegations of fraud and irregularities. Fewer than 45 percent of voters cast a ballot, a record low, and allegations of fraud began almost immediately after the vote.

On Sunday, a fire erupted in a warehouse storing most of the ballot boxes used in the elections. The blaze came just a few days after the outgoing parliament called for a recount of the votes.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi described the fire as a “plot” aimed at Iraq’s democracy.

“Burning election warehouses ... is a plot to harm the nation and its democracy. We will take all necessary measures and strike with an iron fist all who undermine the security of the nation and its citizens,” Abadi said in a statement.

Also on Wednesday, Iraq's Supreme Judicial Council has issued arrest warrants for 20 people accused of involvement in a blast that killed 18 people in the Baghdad stronghold of al-Sadr, state TV reported.