- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 30, 2005

Iraqis smiled, laughed, shook hands and hugged as they cast ballots yesterday in New Carrollton for a new government in their homeland.

“I love it. It’s wonderful,” said Ranzeen Albarzanchi, of Chantilly, who came to the United States with her parents in 1996. “My mother, when she came to America, she was praying and praying that Iraq would be like this.”

Miss Albarzanchi was one of an estimated 250,000 Iraqi exiles — 90 percent of those who had registered — who cast ballots in 14 countries in their homeland’s first free multiparty elections in 50 years.

With Prince George’s County selected as one of five voting sites in the United States, Iraqis came from as far away as Florida and New York City to cast ballots for a 275-member Iraqi national assembly.

Other votes were collected in Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles and Nashville, Tenn. About 26,000 Iraqis were registered to vote in the United States.

When polls closed at 5 p.m. in the underground hall of the Ramada Inn Conference and Exhibition Center in New Carrollton, about 1,850 of the 2,048 who were registered had cast their 4-by-11-inch ballots on Friday, Saturday and yesterday. By then, election day had ended in Iraq, where about 60 percent of eligible voters had braved threats and attacks by terrorists.

Security was tight in New Carrollton, with officers from several jurisdictions operating under the command of Prince George’s County Deputy Police Chief Vernon R. Herron.

Everyone entering the voting site had to empty their pockets and submit to a pat-down search in a tent 50 yards from the hall entry. No one objected as they entered the hall and presented official voting cards.

“We’re in the land of the free,” said sculptor Oded Halahny, 67, of New York City, who immigrated 35 years ago. “I’m voting for the first time in my life,” he said, adding that he “definitely” will return to Iraq to visit after the elections.

“We couldn’t find any peace in our country,” said Miss Albarzanchi, who has a degree in chemistry and is employed as an administrative assistant. Her family chose its candidates after watching satellite newscasts from Iraq and checking with two sisters in Iraq, she said.

“This is the first act for democracy,” said Carole Basri, an adjutant professor of law at the University of Pennsylvania.

“It’s all because of President Bush,” Miss Albarzanchi said. “He’s a great man. I love him.”

“I hope Iraq [becomes like] America, where there is democracy,” said Raz Abdulqadir, 19, translating for her mother, Saadia. “No more rulers, kingship and dictators. We don’t want that anymore. We want the ‘people’ in government.”

The two women, both Kurds who immigrated to the United States five years ago, came with their family to vote. Although they are voting for Kurds, they say the Iraqis need to be like Americans and come together.

For Hardi and Shaelair Nuri, the chance to vote meant bringing their 9-year-old son to the polling station. All were dressed in traditional Kurdish wear.

“He says, ‘Mummy, I want to go to see what you’re doing over there,’” said Shaelair Nuri, adding that she doesn’t remember voting in her homeland. “I’m very happy,” she said.

In Nashville, Kamel al-Abes sang as he pushed the wheelchair of his 74-year-old mother, Ghabia al-Abes. They had arrived in a bus from Memphis, Tenn., with four other Iraqi families to vote.

In Skokie, Ill., Andriyous Youkhana, 61, voted Friday but returned to the polling site yesterday with his three adult children so they could vote. “I wanted them to share this historic moment, so that maybe one day they’ll go and visit newly elected Iraq,” said Mr. Youkhana, who moved from Iraq to Chicago in 1968. “This is a beautiful day.”

In Irvine, Calif., Kurdish women in colorful traditional dresses and men in loose tunics feasted on meat and vegetables in the polling center’s parking lot and cheered as Kurdish music blasted from a car stereo.

Some had traveled more than 1,000 miles to vote.

Faye Kassab, an Assyrian Catholic Iraqi from Rochester Hills, Mich., who left her homeland in 1968, said it was important to vote so that Iraq’s tiny Christian minority will have a voice. She could not read the ballot, which was written in Arabic, but she carried a card showing the symbol and number for the Rafidain National List, an Assyrian Christian group.

“I have no family left in Iraq, but I know what my ancestors went through,” the 45-year-old said.

Meanwhile, almost 100 Iraqis queued patiently in subzero temperatures in Stockholm to cast ballots.

“It will show the whole world that people do not want this kind of violence. We want a different kind of Iraq than the one [the insurgents] want,” said Saman Rashid, a 42-year-old Kurd from Sulaymaniyah who has lived in Sweden for 17 years.

Among the voters in Amman, Jordan, were two Israeli reporters with Iraqi roots. Both had produced documents proving their descent from Iraqi Jews who moved to Israel after its creation in 1948.

In Melbourne, Australia, 54-year-old Daniel Toma Markhael said he was delighted to be able to vote without fear but worried about family members and friends in Iraq. “This is the first time we can vote in a democratic way, and we have been waiting for this moment for a long time,” he said.

In Tehran, voters crowded the two polling stations in the final minutes before they closed.

“We expect whoever takes the seats after this election to be just to all Iraqis and to give back the rights we have been stripped of for so long,” said Hashemieh Forouqi-Monazzah, a woman in a traditional black chador.

In the United Arab Emirates, some voters saw the elections as a step toward ridding Iraq of U.S.-led multinational forces.

Hussein Nasser, a 27-year-old bank worker, said he hoped his vote would “hasten the departure of foreign forces from Iraq.”

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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