GENEVA – About 93 percent of the 280,000 Iraqi voters registered abroad cast absentee ballots in the country's election, the agency that organized the vote said Monday.
The Geneva-based International Organization for Migration (search) said that 265,148 Iraqi expatriate voters went to the special polls over three days in 14 countries.
While participation of the registered voters was unusually high, those who registered in a special nine-day campaign that ended Jan. 25 represented only 23 percent of the estimated 1.2 million Iraqi expatriates eligible to vote.
The low registration figure was attributed partly to fears of violence and retribution from insurgents but also the fact that not all countries with large numbers of Iraqis, including Egypt, participated and many voters had to travel abroad to register and then again to vote.
"I have worked on many post-conflict out-of-country elections, but this is honestly the first time I have seen this level of emotion and excitement among voters," said Peter Erben (search), who directed the project for IOM. Most recently he worked on the Afghanistan election (search).
Erben said IOM was "delighted" that the three days of polling outside Iraq went smoothly "and that so many expatriate Iraqis took this historic opportunity to vote."
He noted that Iraqis had turned out to vote in traditional dress and were dancing in the street.
"Many, many people [were] proudly holding up their inked finger as a sign of their freedom to choose their future leaders," Erben said.
The agency marked the voter's index finger with ink meant to avert any repeat voting.
Countries hosting the vote were Australia, the United States, Britain, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Iran, Jordan, the Netherlands, Sweden, Syria, Turkey and United Arab Emirates. Those countries chosen to host the project because they are where the largest concentrations of Iraqis were believed to be living, according to the IOM.
In Germany, organizers said that about 95 percent of Iraqis who had registered to take part cast their ballots. Some 26,000 Iraqis — many of them Kurds (search) — had registered in Germany.
Iraqi election officials have yet to determine the voter turnout in their homeland, but it is believed to be higher than expected.
Counting of the overseas vote has already begun in many of the 14 countries, IOM said. The agency will send the final results of the out-of-country count electronically to the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq in Baghdad by Saturday. The commission alone will release the election results in Baghdad, IOM said.