Around the world, only about 16% of eligible Iraqi expatriates have signed up to vote, registration organisers said on Sunday.

Only 9% of the Iraqis who have registered so far are from the US, but 22% are from Iran.

Registration organisers have extended the deadline until Tuesday for Iraqis to sign up to participate in the forthcoming election, which has been touted by US leaders as a means to install a recognised and legitimate Iraqi government.

At the same time, the US remains concerned about Iraqi Shia candidates aligning themselves with Iran, the home of influential Shia clerics.

Low turnout

The reason for the low overall registration ranges from fear of violence or intimidation to electoral boycotts.

Fear of violence or intimidation
is keeping people from voting

In Jordan an estimated 6% of 180,000 expatriates have registered and in Syria an estimated 4% of 250,000 Iraqis have signed up.

In the Jordanian capital, Amman, some of the Iraqis waiting in queues at registration centres refused to be photographed or give their names to reporters on Sunday. Many said they feared that Iraqis who opposed the vote may recognise them.

To assure reluctant voters, the group organising the vote - the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) - has put posters and flyers in the main squares in Amman that promise all information about voters will be confidential.

US versus Iran

In the US, just 16,794 of an estimated 234,000 Iraqi expatriates have registered - about 7% of the total in the country.

In comparison, in Iran 41,088 Iraqi expatriates have registered - an estimated 51% of the 81,000 in the country.

Electoral officials are closely
monitoring turnout figures

In Iran, more Iraqi expatriates have registered in the Shia city of Qom than in the capital of Tehran.

Absentee voter registration has been watched closely since it may indicate turnout rates for Iraqis voting in country's first election since the fall of Saddam Hussein.

On Saturday the registration deadline for expatriates was extended by two days because of low turnout.

IOM officials said an enormous public campaign was under way worldwide to inform Iraqis about the election.

At own expense

The programme has seen increased registration turnout in recent days, numbers jumped from 25,605 on Thursday to 37,970 on Friday and then 56,524 on Saturday. There are an estimated 1.2 million Iraqi expatriates worldwide.

To register, Iraqis have to document their identity, Iraqi nationality and birth before 1987. The absentee voting itself will be held between 28 and 30 January.

Iraqi expatriates who live outside the 14 countries registering voters may travel at their own expense to a participating country to register and vote.

Farid Ayar, spokesman for the Iraqi elections commission said on Sunday that the number of observers for the general elections, scheduled for 30 January, had reached 12,000, including 128 observers representing international organisations.