Vast majority of qualified Iraqi exiles cast absentee ballots

An Iraqi woman accompanied by her daughter casts her ballot at a polling station in Amman, Jordan, on Sunday.
An Iraqi woman accompanied by her daughter casts her ballot at a polling station in Amman, Jordan, on Sunday.Hussein Malla / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

About 93 percent of the 280,000 Iraqi voters registered abroad cast absentee ballots in the country's election, the international agency that organized the vote said Monday.

The Geneva-based International Organization for Migration said that 265,148 Iraqi expatriate voters went to the special polls over three days in 14 countries.

“This is a clear and loud message that Iraqis inside and outside are united in defeating terrorism,” Mansour Ibrahim said on Sunday as he entered a voting center amid tight security in the upscale Suwfiya neighborhood in the Jordanian capital, Amman.

On the last day of expatriate voting, scuffles broke out between voters and anti-U.S. protesters at a polling station in Britain and voting was extended at one site in Australia to make up for lost time after a similar skirmish the day before.

Low registration
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.

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.

Many Iraqis in the United States had to drive hundreds of miles to reach the five cities with polling places: Nashville, Detroit, Chicago, Los Angeles and Washington.

Fistfights in Britain
On Sunday, fistfights broke out at a polling station in Manchester, northern England, between mostly Kurdish-Iraqi voters and dozens of protesters who claimed the elections legitimize the U.S.-led coalition’s presence in Iraq, Sky News TV reported.

Sky News showed footage of police breaking up the fights, but reported no arrests and no serious injuries. A spokesman for Greater Manchester Police described the skirmish as “a minor incident,” which officers had brought under control.

Jubilant voters at a voting center in Wembley, northwest London, danced and held up Kurdish flags.

But police said they arrested one person for threatening behavior and about 50 demonstrators protesting the elections waved banners and shouted slogans in Arabic.

“This process isn’t going to deliver a representative government,” said Qasim Khawaja, one of the protesters and a spokesman for radical Muslim group Hizb Ut Tahrir.

  • In Berlin hundreds of Iraqi expatriates arrived by the busload to take part in the voting. “It is the first time we’ve been allowed to vote. For us, for our lives, it is very important,” said Rana Al-Mudhaffar, 52, who left Iraq in 1980. She and her 24-year-old daughter, Sana, traveled three hours from the eastern state of Thuringia to cast ballots. “We’re hoping a democratic government will bring peace and stability to Iraq.”
  • In Australia, voting was extended by a half hour on Saturday and Sunday at a polling station after skirmishes pitting largely Shiite Iraqi voters against protesters identified as fundamentalists and a bomb scare closed it for an hour on Saturday.
  • In Iran, Ala Nariman, 33, cast her vote to help ensure Iraq’s Shiite majority would be well represented in the new government — which is widely expected to be the case. But she said Shiite clerics should not intervene in politics, as fears have been raised in the West and in the Arab world that Iraq will ally itself with Iran’s Shiite theocracy.