Iraqi expatriates vote for parliamentary elections in 16 countries

12:25, March 07, 2010      

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Iraqis abroad started voting for their homeland's new parliament in their residence countries ahead of the general voting, electing a 325-seat legislature the majority of which will form a government.

The expatriates' voting will be held for three days starting from Friday. The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees estimated that about 1.5 million Iraqis live abroad, most of them fleeing away after the 2003 Iraqi War.

The Out of Country Voting Administration Office under Iraq's Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) set 119 polling stations in 16 countries around the world, mostly in the Middle East, especially the neighboring Syria and Jordan which have the largest numbers of Iraqi expatriates with populations of 800,000 and 500,000 respectively.

The other countries which have started to vote include Lebanon, United States, Canada, Australia, Austria, Sweden, Germany, Britain, Denmark, Holland, Iran, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Turkey.

In Syria, Iraqis were waiting in queues at the polling station, some of them bringing their family members. Some disabled persons also cast their ballots into the boxes.

Young Iraqis were patrolling around the polling stations, cloaked with Iraqi national flags. Some of the flags were still the old ones, on which "Allahu akbar" -- "God is the greatest" was Saddam Hussein's handwriting.

At the polling station in Al-sayda Zeinab Iraqi refugee camp in Damascus outskirts, an old woman said with tears, "I am from Najaf, I support Maliki. Today is a big day for Iraq and the whole world. "

Syria has the largest number of out-of-country polling stations. In order to prevent potential attacks, Syrian government dispatched a large number of armed policies at the polling stations. While in Lebanon, heavily-armed soldiers and Hummers from Lebanese Armed Force guarded the four polling stations around the country.

Among the 800,000 Iraqis in Syria, with a large part of Sunni, only "G type" Iraqi passport holders with UNHCR registered documents can vote, an official of Damascus office of the IHEC said.

The Iraqi government in 2007 issued a new "G series" passport to replace the "S series" passport which some Western countries no longer accepted. However, many expatriates especially refugees could not go back. Some analysts said tight security in polling stations can prevent those who have no rights to vote from making trouble.

The early vote in Iraq triggered a series of explosions that killed 17 people in Baghdad, while outside the country, no attack has occurred so far.

In the busy commercial street Hamra in central Beirut, the 35- year-old Hewa Hamid in a Kurdish cloak just finished his voting, showing his inked finger under an Iraqi national flag. Coming from north Iraq, he is in Lebanon studying for a master's degree of law.

"I haven't seen anything abnormal about the election, it's well organized," said Hamid, "Of course it will bring democracy to my country, and I wish the parliament will represent our Kurdish interest."

"I voted for Iraqiya, because I support the former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi," said the 53-year-old Assyrian Christian Andrese Khoshaba in Hamra's polling station.

The Iraqiya includes both Shiites and Sunnis, among its leaders are Sunni Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi and Ayad Allawi, a secular Shiite.

"The present government led by Al-Maliki have talked too much for two years, but they did little. Many people still have no homes, no electricity, no health care, school systems are poor too. "

The IHEC asked a non-governmental organization, the Lebanon Association for Democracy Election (LADE) to be observers of the elections, while in Syria, Arab League officials went to the polling stations.

Lebanon has only about 40,000 Iraqis, but the IHEC officials cannot estimate how many of them will come to vote.

Compared to Syria, Lebanon's polling turnout remained low on Friday and Saturday. However, in Beirut's southern suburb Dahieh polling station, an observer from LADE who declined to give his name attributed it to the fact that some Iraqis living abroad still believe the elections start on Sunday.

Dahieh is a Shiite community and also a stronghold of Lebanese Shiite armed group Hezbollah. It was heavily bombed by Israel during 2006 war between Hezbollah and the Jewish state.

"Although it's a long way ahead, but it is a starting point for democracy. We come here to vote, trying to do something for the country," said Maha Houssein, who voted together with her husband in Dahieh.

"The new parliament and government will have a lot of things to do," said Houssein, "of course most importantly about the security situation," said Houssein.

Source: Xinhua
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