"We hope this is a first step towards democracy," said Ganim Authman, 53, a Turkman who fled Iraq 35 years ago and was the first exile to register in Berlin.

An estimated one million Iraqis living abroad are eligible to take part in the 30 January poll to elect a transitional national assembly and can cast their votes from 28-30 January.

Registration began on Monday in 14 countries - Australia, Britain, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Iran, Jordan, the Netherlands, Sweden, Syria, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and the United States - and runs until 23 January.

Emotional moment

The election is being hailed as the first democratic poll since the Baath party took power in a coup nearly 40 years ago.

The party was led by Saddam Hussein for more than 20 years before he was toppled in the 2003 US-led invasion.

Registration began on Monday in
14 countries around the globe

A Kurdish widow in Australia, who fled Iraq 30 years ago along with 130,000 other Kurds, was the first exile to sign up there.

"I lost lots of friends and relatives in Saddam Hussein's regime and I have never voted before," Nassima Barzani, 68, said. "I am coming for freedom, democracy and human rights."
   
In Britain, tissues were available as emotions surfaced.

"One of the women this morning said she had been looking forward to this moment for 31 years, and couldn't stop crying," Jinan Kirwi, a volunteer official, said.

Violence fears
 
Iraq's interim government and its US allies have insisted the poll go ahead despite violence which threatens to scare away many of the potential 15 million voters in Iraq.

Violence has surged in Iraq, with
fighters trying to wreck the polls

Fighters opposed to the presence of foreign troops in Iraq have stepped up attacks recently, on Monday killing 10 Iraqis with a car bombing and shooting dead eight Iraqi soldiers.

"Without the security fears, it's easier to vote abroad... There's a risk of a skewed election if there's a low turnout in Iraq," Henner Fuertig, an analyst at the German Institute
for Middle East Studies, said.

He said exiles tended to be better educated people to whom many parties may not appeal. He added there were a disproportionate number of monarchists, communists and supporters of elder statesman Adnan Pachachi.

Tight security

Security was tight at registration centres in the 36 cities where exiles arrived on Monday.

A navy base in Amsterdam was cordoned off with metal barriers for a one-block area and guarded by police vans and at least one patrol boat on a nearby canal.

Results could be skewed by poor
voter turnout in Iraq due to fear

In a Stockholm suburb, would-be voters filed through metal detectors, outnumbered by officials, police and security guards.

Iraqis wanting to vote need to present two forms of identification, including one picture ID. They must be at least 18 and have proof that either they or their father was born in Iraq, election officials said.

Millions fled Iraq during Saddam Hussein's rule.

Worldwide electorate

Countries with the largest numbers of Iraqis are Syria, with an estimated 250,000 Iraqi voters, the US with at least 200,000, and Britain, with 150,000 voters and the biggest Iraqi population in Europe.

Despite difficulties in assessing where exiles live and setting up registration and voting centres, officials said they believed the overseas turnout would be strong.

Some exiles say the vote is too
closely connected with the US

"All the centres are ready to start today and right now Australia has had its first day of registration and everything has been smooth so far," coordinator Peter Erben said in Amman, Jordan. Erben heads the Out of Country Voting Programme run by the International Organisation for Migration.

But some exiles said they expected potential voters to stay away because the elections are too closely associated with the US.

"We have been discussing the vote for two months now and I think a majority of those I know will vote," Haidar Altayar, 33, who left the Iraqi city of Karbala some 25 years ago, said in Stockholm.

"But some people refuse because they say they are against America."