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1 Million Overseas Iraqis May Vote

Up to 1 million overseas Iraqis - including an estimated 234,000 in the United States - may cast absentee ballots in their homeland's elections later this month, the program director said.

But in the United States, enthusiasm for the absentee balloting has given way to frustration among Iraqi expatriates who are uncertain where they will vote and whether they will even be eligible to vote in the Jan. 30 election.

The United States is one of 14 countries where the absentee ballots may be cast, said Peter Erben of the International Organization for Migration. Iraqis living in other nations can travel to vote in any of the 14 countries, he said.

The Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq in Baghdad authorized an out-of-country vote in November and enlisted the International Organization of Migration to organize it. The Geneva-based group chose 14 nations with large Iraqi populations to host the Jan. 30 ballot for an assembly that will draft a constitution.

Beside the United States, votes may be cast in Australia, Britain, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Iran, Jordan, the Netherlands, Sweden, Syria, Turkey, and United Arab Emirates.

"We believe that in these 14 countries we are looking at an approximate eligible voter population of around a million," he said.

U.S. organizers say they have not decided on the exact locations of up to 25 polling places in the five cities selected to host the vote: Detroit, Chicago, Washington, Nashville and Los Angeles.

Those who live in New York, Phoenix and Dallas - other cities with large Iraqi populations - will have to travel hundreds of miles to appear in person at polling centers twice in two weeks. Registration is Jan. 17-23, and voting is Jan. 28-30.

"Iraqis are aware of the elections, but they might not be aware of the process and registering," said Sayed Mostafa Al Qazwini, imam of the Islamic Educational Center in Los Angeles' Orange County. "They don't have enough information and there's not much time left."

There are about 90,000 foreign-born Iraqis in the United States, plus an untold number of second-generation Iraqi Americans. In all about 234,000 are eligible to vote.

Votes will be counted in each country and sent to Amman, Jordan, which will serve as the headquarters for out-of-country voting. Amman is to send the results to Baghdad within days of the vote.

"We are prepared to have a very flexible approach to this operation and deal with the voters that may arrive to participate in the election," Erben said.

Voters will be required to show documents demonstrating that they are eligible for Iraqi citizenship and are at least 18.

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