Iraqi expatriates to vote in Iraq's historic parliamentary elections

Iraqi expatriates living in the U.S. prepared to cast absentee ballots Tuesday in Iraq's historic parliamentary elections, hoping the nation's new leaders can curb the violence in their homeland. Organizers said they expect tens of thousands of Iraqis to vote Tuesday through Thursday at polling sites around the country, including in Pomona, California; Nashville, Tennessee, and areas outside San Francisco, Chicago and Washington D.C. Election Day in Iraq is set for Thursday.

Some were planning on traveling hundreds of miles (kilometers) to cast a vote. "We'll drive 250 miles (400 kilometers) and be happy about it," said 35-year-old Albert Rasho, who plans to travel with three friends from Las Vegas to Pomona. He left Iraq 15 years ago to avoid mandatory military service under Saddam Hussein. "I want to see my country free after all Saddam did."

Voters are electing the 275-member National Assembly, which will rule the country over the next four years. Voters can choose from more than 200 political parties that represent some 7,000 candidates.

Eligible expatriate voters may be U.S. citizens, but must be 18 years old or older, born in Iraq and hold citizenship there. Iraqis born in the United States who can prove their father is Iraqi also may vote. Like Rasho, many of the expatriates have not been home since fleeing Iraq. When the U.S. military toppled Saddam in 2003, many thought they could soon return and visit family still in the country. But insurgents and suicide bombers have since led daily attacks that have claimed thousands of Iraqi and U.S. lives.

"My family told me not to come because of the situation," said Ridiya Al-Marayati, 62, a Shiite housewife in Pomona who canceled a trip to visit her sister and elderly mother in Baghdad last year.

Only about 10 percent of the estimated 240,000 eligible Iraqi voters in the United States cast ballots last January for an interim assembly, Iraq's first free elections in decades, reports the AP. I.L.

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