Absentee Voting Extended

Registration for overseas absentee voting in Iraq's national election has been extended by two days because the turnout so far in the weeklong campaign has run far behind expectations, organizers said Saturday.

As of Thursday, fewer than one in 10 of the estimated 1.2 million eligible Iraqis living abroad in 14 countries had registered.

The International Organization for Migration (search), which is organizing the overseas vote, decided to continue registrations through Monday and Tuesday.

"The extra days will apply to each of the 74 registration centers in all 14 countries where Iraqis are able to register and vote, pending the approval of the host governments," the organization said in a statement.

"We are extending our operation in an effort to provide Iraqi voters with as much access to our centers as possible," said Peter Erben (search), director of the project. "We would urge Iraqis to register now to avoid being caught in lengthy queues on the final day."

Niurka Pineiro (search), spokeswoman for the Geneva-based organization, said that "in some places" the turnout has been less than anticipated. She noted that in Australia only one in eight of the estimated eligible voters had signed up as of Thursday.

"We don't know exactly why," Pineiro said. "It could be a number of things. It could be procrastination, it could be apathy, they don't have the right documents. There are many Iraqis who have been out for a long time."

She said some speculated that a Muslim holiday this week may have been a factor.

"It's a mixture of apathy and apprehension," said Bernie Hogan, the head of the voting effort in Australia, explaining the lack of response from Iraqis living in that country.

Despite predictions that as many as 50,000 Iraqis living in Australia could join the electoral rolls, only 6,500 have done so. Hogan on Saturday revised his registration target to 10,000 Iraqis and expressed disappointment with the response.

"The apathy comes from people who say nothing's going to happen, it's a sham, I'm comfortable here in Australia and I'm not going to get involved," Hogan said.

But a larger section of the community is simply suspicious of the process, he said, afraid of adding their names to a government-sponsored list they fear could be used against them.

"They're very distrusting," Hogan said. "After decades and decades of tyranny and government abuse, they're not confident about the future of government and they're not confident about the use of registration material."

Hogan said registration turnout had been lowest in the Shiite and Kurdish communities, while members of Australia's thriving Assyrian community have embraced the election with open arms.

The absentee voting itself will still be held over three days, Jan. 28-30, with the final day coinciding with the election day in Iraq, the agency said.

To register, Iraqis have to document their identity, Iraqi nationality and birth on or before Dec. 31, 1986. They must then return to the same location to vote.

As of Thursday, 93,847 overseas Iraqis had registered, the agency said.

The national breakdown of registrations through the first four days is 5,158 in Australia; 8,506 in Britain; 3,473 in Canada; 5,084 in Denmark; 267 in France; 6,448 in Germany; 20,805 in Iran; 5,019 in Jordan; 4,882 in the Netherlands; 10,773 in Sweden; 6,236 in Syria; 2,144 in Turkey; 6,086 in the United Arab Emirates; and 8,966 in the United States.

Iraqis who live outside the host countries may travel at their own expense to a participating country to register and vote.