Iraqi expatriates vote for second day in landmark poll

01-29-2005, 19h10

Iraqis in 14 countries across the globe voted in the second of three days of expatriate polls that culminate in Iraq's first free election for more than half a century.

"Did we wait 30 years to get rid of Saddam (Hussein) and then not vote? If we don't vote the terrorists win," said Fathi Kayradar after casting his ballot in Dubai.

Voting in the United Arab Emirates, of which Dubai is a city state member, reached nearly 49 percent of the 12,581 registered Iraqis, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said.

That was easily the highest percentage in any of the 14 countries where the IOM is organizing the three-day vote ending Sunday for Iraqi expatriates, an IOM official said.

Organizers had hoped for a million Iraqi expats to register to vote for Iraq's 275-member Transitional National Assembly.

But in the end only 280,000 signed up in the countries where polling facilities were made available: Australia, Britain, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Iran, Jordan, the Netherlands, Sweden, Syria, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and the United States.

Voting in Iraq's neighbour Jordan was running smoothly Saturday as Iraqis cast their ballots amid heavy security, IOM officials said.

"I came specifically to Jordan to vote because I am afraid," said Ibrahim al-Durra as he cast his vote. Many other voters said they had done likewise because of insurgent threats to blow up polling stations in Iraq and kill voters.

Durra, a Sunni Muslim, said he voted for Iraq's interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi "but in fact my vote is meant for any secular Iraqi who wishes to build a new Iraq for all its factions and religious communities."

In the Netherlands, three busloads of voters arrived in Rotterdam from neighbouring Belgium. "The atmosphere is very happy, lots of people are sporting holiday gear and traditional dress," said an IOM official.

"Some have even been dancing in the parking lot," he added.

Security was high with polling stations placed in well protected areas, including a former naval barracks in Amsterdam.

On Friday, 3,745 Iraqis had voted in one of three polling stations specially set up in Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Zwolle. The figure was slightly less than a quarter of 14,725 Iraqi expatriates registered to vote in the Netherlands.

In France, 183 Iraqis out of a registered total of 1,041 had voted by Saturday morning in two polling stations in Paris.

The IOM said nearly 30 percent of Iraqi expatriates had voted Friday in the 14 countries.

A total of 84,429 voters cast their ballot on the first day, 29.8 percent of all registered to vote, it said at its Geneva headquarters.

But this registered total was about only a quarter of the number of Iraqis of voting age estimated to be living outside their homeland.

In Europe, the highest turnout rates were 32.1 percent in Sweden and 31.2 percent in Denmark. In France it was 17.6 percent, in Britain 17.3 percent, and in Britain voting seemed to speed up Saturday with busloads turning up in London, Manchester and Glasgow. "It's much more lively today," said Sarah Fradgley, representing the IOM in London.

In Turkey polling went smoothly in Istanbul and Ankara, although exiled Turkmen Iraqis were angry because thousands of Kurds based in Turkey were allowed to vote in Kirkuk, in Iraq.

"More than 60,000 Kurds have been imported into that town," complained Ahmet Muratli, of the Iraqi Turkmen Front.

In the United States Friday the turnout was 21.7 percent.

Some 240,000 Iraqis were eligible to vote in the United States. Polling stations reopened Saturday in Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, Nashville and Washington.

"It's a good day -- better than my birthday, even," enthused Aqil Ali Faraj, who rented a van, filled it with friends and drove 500 miles (800 kilometers) from Lincoln, Nebraska, to Chicago to cast his ballot on the first day of voting on Friday.

"I feel like I have done something for my family, my country, for the future."