Iraqi expats begin voting

Iraqi expatriates living in 14 countries selected as polling centres outside Iraq have begun voting, but figures have shown less than 25% of the large exiled community is taking part in the elections.

    More than 11,000 Iraqis in Australia have started voting

    The Geneva-based International Organisation for Migration (IOM), the body handling voter registration outside Iraq says 1.2 million Iraqi expatriates are eligible to vote in the 14 selected countries, but only 280,303 have signed up for the ballot.

    A nine-day registration process from 17 January began with optimistic estimates that up to a million expatriates might register to take part.

    In the end, only 280,303 signed up, more than 60,000 of these in neighbouring Iran, around half the country's large exiled Iraqi population.

    Other nations saw less interest. In Britain, of a 150,000-strong Iraqi community estimated to be allowed to vote, less than 31,000 registered, local vote organisers said.


    In the United Arab Emirates, fewer than 12,600 Iraqi expatriates of the estimated 65,000 eligible will be casting ballots, while in Jordan home to 360,000 with 180,000 potential voters the registration figure was around 20%.


    Travelling voters


    Iraqi exiles in Australia are the
    first to vote in the Iraq elections

    The first voting came in Australia, where less than 12,000 Iraqis have registered.


    Exiles have been driving from all around the country and flying in from New Zealand to register at three centres, in Sydney, Melbourne and the remote community of Shepparton in Victoria state.


    Aljazeera's Australia correspondent Salih al-Saqqaf said although polling centres had been set up in the main cities, thousands of Iraqis living in other states with no voting centres had to travel to cast their votes.


    A senior adviser to the out-of-country voting programme, Kassim Abood, said it had been an exciting morning at the polling station in the Sydney suburb of Fairfield, centre of a large émigré Iraqi community.


    "I think a lot of Iraqis are very proud today," Kassim said. "People coming to me, shake hand, hug me, kissing me and tell me 'congratulations', it's wonderful."


    Al-Saqqaf suggests media reports have exaggerated the number of Iraqis living in the country.


    He said even Iraqis living in Australia are uncertain of their own population. Estimates vary between 40,000 to 50,000, although the IOM puts the figure at 75,000, with 56,000 eligible to vote.


    Middle East voters


    On Sunday Iraqis living in Iraq
    will have their chance to vote 

    In the Middle East the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Iran and Syria followed in opening their doors to voters.


    The 12,581 Iraqis who registered to vote in the UAE are among an estimated 100,000 Iraqis living in the Gulf country, of whom up to 65,000 were thought to be eligible to vote, the IOM said.


    Iraqi exiles in Iran began casting ballots for their country's election with close to 61,000 people registered to vote.


    Iran, which was at war with Iraq for eight years during the 1980s, has the largest number of Iraqi expatriates registering for the election out of a total of just 280,000 across the globe.


    "The polling centres are open," IOM's head of external relations for Jordan, Astrid Meister announced at 7.00am (0500 GMT) on Friday, speaking from one of the 12 centres available in Jordan, eight of them in the capital Amman.


    Yasir Abu Hilala, Aljazeera's correspondent in Jordan reported only 20% of Iraqis living in Jordan, almost 200,000, registered to vote.


    He suggested of those registered not all of them will turn up to vote.


    Despite this, security measures on the first day of voting have been good, making it safe and easy for voters to reach electoral centres.


    Three day voting


    Iraqis will be lodging their ballots in Australia, Britain, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Iran, the Netherlands, Sweden, Syria, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, the United States and Jordan.


    The process will run until Sunday, election day in Iraq itself.


    The polls will stay open for 10 hours from 7.00 am local time on each of the three days in the 36 cities and 14 countries involved, with foreign observers monitoring the process.


    Some 253 observers have been accredited to monitor the election in the 14 countries.


    According to IOM officials, the results from overseas ballots will be sent to Baghdad to be announced on February 5.

    SOURCE: Aljazeera + Agencies


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