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Iraqi-Americans Prepare to Vote

Preparations for the Iraqi elections January 30th have begun in Iraq and around the world. Iraqi-Americans have become increasingly active in the political life and future of their native country. Many of them will be able to vote at special polling places in Washington, DC, Los Angeles and Dearborn, Michigan. VOA producer Zulima Palacio is in Dearborn.

These days in Dearborn Michigan, about the only topic of conversation are the upcoming elections in Iraq. Dearborn, part of the major midwestern city of Detroit, has one of the highest concentrations of Iraqi-Americans in the U.S.

Imam Husham Al-Husainy is the director of the Karbalaa Islamic Education Center in Dearborn. He is actively promoting the political participation of his community. For him, democracy is the only way Iraq could return to peace.

"Democracy is a natural way to govern society, democracy doesn't contradict with the spiritual faith whether it is Judaism or Christianity, Islam, we all believe in electing our representatives," he said.

But not every body feels so positively about the Iraqi election. Imad Hamad, regional director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, says he does not anticipate widespread participation of people in Iraq, given the current concerns about safety and stability, and what he sees as the suspect nature of the election. "The outcome of the election is already known which is the master list that is agreed on politically by the parties of concern in Iraq and in particular the U.S. People see this election as a U.S. product election, regardless if I like it or not."

But optimism, active involvement and hope are more common among the Iraqi-American community. A team of volunteers formed the Iraqi Expatriates Election Support Group in Dearborn to promote the election.

Engineer Afthal Alshami says no Iraqi should miss this opportunity to vote.

"We are expecting about 150,000 people living in Michigan approximately. Based on our contact with them through meetings, Web, radio, we have noticed that Iraqis in general are coming forward looking for that day," he said.

The Expatriates Election Group has a website and has held town hall meetings and education seminars. Dr. Alaa Owainati says the goals are to help Iraqis understand what this election is about, and the importance of their participation. The group provides information on registration and the voting process, the parties and the candidates.

Dr. Owainati expressed a concerned shared by many here. "If Americans leave Iraq I bet you the Baathist will be back in power within one week because the apparatus is still there operating. It has the money, the structure, the weapons, the support it needs, internationally as well as inside Iraq," he said.

Although many in Dearborn hold U.S. citizenship and have no plans to go back to Iraq to live, they all plan to participate actively in the first open election in Iraq in more than a century.