- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 26, 2005

More than one-quarter of an estimated 1 million Iraqi expatriates, including nearly 26,000 in the United States, met yesterday’s deadline to register to vote in Iraq’s parliamentary elections.

“With no registration data available in advance, this was a base-line exercise to establish the level of interest for an out-of-country vote,” said Peter Erben, head of the Geneva-based International Organization for Migration (IOM).

“Registration ran effectively in all countries, and we extended opening hours and the registration period itself to ensure that everyone who wished to participate would be able to,” said Mr. Erben, whose group organized the overseas vote at the behest of Iraq’s interim government.

Those who managed to register at the 36 sites selected in 14 countries — including five cities in the United States — can cast ballots tomorrow through Sunday.

On Sunday, 14 million voters inside Iraq will have the opportunity to cast ballots for a 275-seat national assembly.

The registration period for overseas Iraqis had been extended by two days to boost voter turnout.

The official out-of-country voting Web site (www.iraqocv.org) reports that 280,303 Iraqis have registered worldwide, including 25,946 in the United States.

Iraq’s government has estimated that about 1 million Iraqis living overseas are eligible to vote.

Jeremy Copeland, who works with the temporary-voter-registration office in Washington, said this was the largest undertaking of its kind for the IOM.

The IOM has organized similar programs for Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, East Timor and Afghanistan.

Iraqi officials chose locations for the two-step process of registering and voting.

The five U.S. cities — Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, Nashville, Tenn., and Washington — were selected using 2000 U.S. census data, with input from the Iraqi Embassy and Iraqi community groups.

Critics say having just five U.S. locations, including only one site west of the Mississippi River, has prevented many Iraqis from registering. It is estimated that 200,000 Iraqis live in the United States.

Mr. Copeland said the overall response of Iraqi expatriates has been enthusiastic.

He cited a man who drove 3 hours from Pennsylvania to Washington. When asked whether he minded the trip, the Iraqi said, “I would have walked from Alaska.”

Erik Gustafson, executive director of the advocacy group Education for Peace in Iraq, said he had hoped for a larger turnout in the United States.

“Not all refugees — especially the newer ones — have the economic means [to travel],” he said.

To spread information about the program, the vote organizers used the Internet and radio and newspaper ads, but said word of mouth proved the most effective.

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