Iraqi expatriates register to vote

Nashville is a long way from Iraq. But Monday, thousands from that country began registering to vote here and in four other U.S. cities.

Why Nashville?

This Southern city has the largest Kurdish population in the United States. Still fresh on their minds is Saddam Hussein's brutal gassing of thousands of Kurds in 1988.

"This vote means that something like that will never happen again," says one potential voter.

From Maryland to Michigan and from Illinois to California, Iraqi nationals — and those of Iraqi descent — began their roles in this first-ever democratic election.

But not all are happy. In San Diego, home to one of the largest Christian Iraqi populations, potential voters complain the last-minute voting plan is unreasonable, citing no absentee ballots and only five registration sites nationwide.

"Those who live in the United States and love the United States would like to see the best for the country they came from, yet they're being disenfranchised," says Iraqi American Auday Arabo.

Hussein al-Jobory lives in Albuquerque, N.M., 12 hours from the nearest registration site.

"I hope that maybe the next time that they could do it the right way," says al-Jobory.

In Michigan — home to more than 90,000 Iraqi nationals — religious leaders insist voting is a duty. But Monday in Detroit saw a disappointing turnout — organizers announced polling locations only three days ago.

"The election process reflects a lot of the sort of ignorance and incompetence that you see more generally in the Bush administration's policy toward Iraq," says Mike Amitay, executive director of the Washington Kurdish Institute.

Organizers blame extensive security requirements.

"We've done the best we can to set up very quickly," says Jeremy Copeland of the International Organization for Migration. "In just over two months we're going to be operating what is arguably the largest and most far-reaching out-of-country voting program ever."

The cost for Iraqis to vote outside of their country?

$92 million — the majority paid for by U.S. taxpayers.