WASHINGTON – Residents of the nation's capital fought for voting rights in Iraq, and on Thursday, an Iraqi-American returned the favor.
Andy Shallal called it ironic that he can vote in Sunday's elections in his homeland, while District of Columbia veterans of the Iraq war still cannot elect a voting representative to Congress.
"I was particularly moved to speak up when I heard the three soldiers from this city step forward and ask the Congress for the same voting rights here that their service will bring to Iraqis Jan. 30," Shallal said. D.C. Iraq war veteran Emory Kosh hugged Shallal as they thanked each other.
Shallal joined Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (search), D-D.C., and Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., to introduce a bill aimed at giving District residents full voting rights.
"The voting rights in our bill are literally available to citizens of Iraq because of the service of D.C. residents and other Americans," said Norton, who can vote in committee but not on the House floor.
Lieberman said 1,000 district residents have served in Iraq or Afghanistan and three have died.
"Yet to our profound shame, these patriots do not have a say in electing representation to Congress," Lieberman said.
He warned of an uphill battle on Capitol Hill, noting resistance is strong among his Republican colleagues, who control both the House and Senate. He described that resistance as mostly "silence" because "there are not good arguments against it they would dare make in public."
Still, Lieberman plans to seek a GOP cosponsor.
"If I can get one Republican colleague to step forward on this and say, 'I want to be part of this because it's right' ... maybe we can get through this wall," Lieberman said.
He said Republican strategy is to simply not allow a vote on the bill. If legislators don't see the light, he plans to turn up the political heat -- possibly by attaching an amendment to the 1965 Voting Rights Act (search) up for reauthorization this year.