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Iraqi Expatriates Cast Ballots in Parliamentary Elections

Iraqi expatriates living in the United States cast absentee ballots Tuesday to elect a new parliament in Iraq. VOA's Kay Maddux reports on Iraqis who voted in northern Virginia.

The mood was decidedly upbeat as Iraqi expatriates voted at a polling station in an area known as Tyson's Corner, Virginia, for Iraq's 275-member National Assembly.

Mohamed Mustafa, who says he has lived in the U.S. for 10 years, says he came here to help Iraq:

"To help her stand on her own feet," he said. "We want a new government - doesn't matter which government: Sunni, Shia, Kurdish, Turkish. We don't know and we don't care. We want someone to bring us safety. The safety is the number one important thing right now."

This 21-year-old Kurdish woman, Hevidar, drove six hours from New York City to Virginia to cast her ballot - one she says is for peace.

"Its a big day for us," she said. "You can't really describe it. This is really, really exciting. We missed school and work just to come here and vote."

Thousands of expatriate Iraqis lined up at polling stations around the United States - including, besides Virginia, several cities in California; Tennessee, Michigan and Illinois.

Expat Iraqis in 15 countries are voted Tuesday, two days polls open in Iraq on Thursday. Early voting was also held on Monday in Iraq, for security forces, hospital patients and prisoners.

Eligible to vote in the United States are Iraqi nationals even if they hold American citizenship. They have to be at least 18 years old and either be born in Iraq or, if born in the United States, have an Iraqi father.

Voters are choosing from more than 200 political parties, representing some 7,000 candidates.

A permanent government, its first since the U.S.-led war began in 2003, will be formed by the newly elected parliament, ruling the post-war nation for the next four years.