ALEXANDRIA, Va. – More than 100 Iraqi expatriates gathered at a hotel outside Washington to hear details of the voting process in the United States for the Iraqi election.
Participants posed questions to members of the Iraq Out-of-Country Voting Program (search), a joint effort of the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq (search) and the International Organization for Migration (search).
Some of the major concerns raised by people in the audience included the limited number of places available to register and vote; the lack of information regarding the candidates and parties; and the possibility that non-Iraqis could pose as citizens while legitimate Iraqis lacking adequate documentation would be barred from participating.
Ahmed Dhia, who was born in Baghdad and moved to the United States in 1981, cited marriage licenses and college degrees as examples of documents he believes are falsely accepted as proof of nationality.
"The fact that you went to college there that doesn't mean you are Iraqi," Dhia said. "If I went to college here does it mean I am American?" Still, he said, he intends to vote.
Iraqis in the United States will be able to vote in Detroit, Chicago, Washington, Los Angeles and Nashville, Tenn. Those who wish to register must appear in person at polling centers twice in two weeks. Registration is Jan. 17-23, and voting is Jan. 28-30.
Roger Bryant of the voting program said that while he realized that some Iraqis living in America will not be able to travel long distances for registration and voting, the fact that five locations exist will at least give a significant amount of people the opportunity to become involved in Iraq's election.
Calling it a "historic event," Bryant urged the crowd to "exercise your democratic right" and asked them to "spread the word through your communities."
There are an estimated 90,000 foreign-born Iraqis in the United States and about 30,000 Iraqis living in Canada. Three voting centers are planned for the Toronto area, as well as one in Ottawa and another in Calgary, Alberta.