- The Washington Times - Monday, January 31, 2005

“One in four Iraq expats to vote,” states the BBC, as registration for expatriates closed overseas. The insinuation is clear: not enough Iraqis have registered to vote therefore the show of votes will be less representatives. The BBC report adds: “Fewer than a quarter of eligible Iraqis have signed up to vote abroad in Sunday’s election, officials said on the last day for registration.” But perception is everything in media reporting. It all depends on how you want to report and in which context. The same editor could have written: “Despite years of oppression in Iraq and immense technical difficulties, more than 60 percent of exiles registered.”

Reports about Iraqi expatriates eligible to vote around the world missed few crucial elements. The rush to conclude that Iraqis overseas were not very hot to cast their ballots because “these were not the right elections,” is built on the fact that the overall registration in 14 countries was low. Voila.

But one should not rush to conclusions before studying the sociology of Iraqi communities worldwide.

First, the list of eligible voters was established out of all documents available of all Iraqis who have left the country decades ago. Therefore, the community of Iraqis overseas is as diverse in ethnicities as in immigration ages and final destinations.

Second, one would distinguish between the older Iraqi diaspora and the most recent waves of men and women fleeing Saddam’s regime. Most eligible Iraqis are now second- and third-generation people who have integrated their new societies. Many among the descendants of Iraqi emigrants have lost the tie to politics to the mother country, in the same way second- and third-generation of Irish, Italians, Jews or Lebanese have. Not every single American, Australian or French citizen from Iraqi origin is still an expatriate. The lists of eligibility have included much higher numbers than the actual expatriate population. So, the score of voter registration should be analyzed within the smaller circle of exiles, not the larger scale of diaspora. Many Assyrians, Chaldeans, Syriacs, (Christians) and some Iraqis from other backgrounds have lost the organic link to Iraq. They suddenly saw their “nationality” being re-established.

Third, one should take a look at the regimes and governments under which the Iraqi communities live on different continents. It is a fact that the freer these countries are, the more likely Iraqi exiles would be likely to express themselves. The opposite equation is true as well.

Finally, the real world of technicalities and economics must be factored. Not every “excited” registered voter can and is willing to sacrifice beyond capabilities to “travel” to vote.

• Syria: 16,581 Iraqis registered, defying the Ba’athist regime, which opposes the election process in Iraq.

• Jordan: 20,166 registered, despite the pressure applied by the exiled Ba’athist network within the mostly Sunni Iraqi community.

• US: 25,946 Assyrian, Chaldean, Shi’ite, Sunni, Zaidis and Mandean registered. The figure may sound poor numerically, but most American Iraqis are second generation. In addition, long distance and economic reasons played a role. By these parameters, the 26,000 figure therefore is high.

• UK: The 30,961 registered, mostly Shi’ites, but also from all other communities, are a large group.

• Iran: 60,908 — 45 percent of the 134,137.This is the highest worldwide, since all of them are Shi’ite, mostly followers of Sistani.

• UAE: 12,581 registered. That is 13 percent of the mostly Sunni Iraqi community. In view of the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood, the numbers are significant.

• Sweden: As many as 31,045 registered. That is 34 percent of the 91,600. By immigration standards, it is high

• Germany: 26,416 out of 75,000 - 35 percent- made the efforts to vote despite economic hardship.

• Australia: 11,806 registered despite distance and the active Sunni radical networks

• Netherlands: The 14,725 who registered are 33 percent of the community. In view of the influence of the radical Salafi in the Netherlands, the numbers are encouraging

• Turkey: The 4,187 who registered out of 40,000 are Iraqis who bypassed Turkish negative attitude towards Iraqi Kurds, and decided to vote.

• Canada: The 10,957 registered are 30 percent of the community. In the current circumstances, this number is high.

• Denmark: The highest rate in Europe with 12,983 registered out of 26,000. Almost half of the community.

• France: 1,041 registered out of 8,000 — The 13 percent is low, but if you factor the high Salafi factors, the results are realistic.

The numbers make sense when you place them in their political context. The mere fact that about 300,000 exiled Iraqis registered to vote is impressive, even if the eligible number is a million. At least they share common ground: They are not Zarqawi followers and they did not vote for al Qaeda.

Walid Phares is the Middle East/terrorism expert for FamilySecurityMatters.com, a senior fellow with the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and a professor of Middle East Studies.

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