Iraqi citizens residing in the United States began registering to vote Monday in order to participate in their nation's first democratic election later this month. The interest is especially high in the Midwestern state of Michigan, which has a large Arab population.
In spite of the bitter cold, many Iraqis in the Detroit area came to a designated building in a suburb called Southgate to register. Registration will continue until Saturday and then the same building will be used for the voting process starting on January 28 and continuing until the day of the voting in Iraq, January 30.
Most Iraqis living in the area around Detroit/Dearborn are expected to participate, according to Osama Siblani, publisher of the Dearborn-based Arab-American News. "You know, for these people, it is the first time they have this opportunity and, of course, they are excited. They want to vote," he said.
Mr. Siblani said it will be hardship for many Iraqis to vote in the United States because they will have to travel to the voting sites. Even in Michigan, he notes, the site chosen was not anywhere near the main Arab-American communities, but in a suburb more than an hour's drive from the Arab neighborhoods. This, he says, was because local officials made security a top priority. "Southgate does not have any Iraqis whatsoever. But this building and the reason they found this building in Southgate and used it for the registration and voting is that it is safe. They can secure it," he said.
Mr. Siblani said interest in the election is lower among Chaldean Iraqis, Christians who, for the most part, left Iraq decades ago. Interest is higher, he says, among more recent immigrants, who tend to be Shia Muslims, and whose memories of the homeland are much fresher. "These are the people who are still very heavily involved in Iraqi politics and they are the ones who will be more participating in this kind of election," he said.
Around one million Iraqis living outside their country are being allowed to vote in foreign countries under the International Organization for Migration's Iraq Out-of-Country Voting Program. Voters must be 18 years of age or older and have proof of their identity and Iraqi nationality.
The site in Southgate, Michigan, is one of five places in the United States where Iraqis will be able to vote. The other sites are near Los Angeles, California, Chicago, Illinois, Nashville, Tennessee, and Washington, D.C. Other nations hosting Iraqi expatriate voting include Australia, Canada, Iran, Jordan, Turkey and several west European countries.