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Expatriate Iraqis Vote in 14 Countries

While millions of Iraqis went to the polls in their native land, Sunday marked the last day when Iraqi expatriates could cast ballots through an out-of-country voting program. The special polling stations opened for a total of three days to give those who live far away extra time to take part in the democratic process.

From Jordan to California, Iraqis living outside their homeland cast ballots Friday, Saturday and Sunday. In Amman, Jordan, a woman who identified herself as Fadia relished being able to vote.

"It feels free. Having a chance to make any choice you want,something Iraqis never had before, and I am one of them," she said.

About 280,000 overseas Iraqis registered to vote in 14 countries. That total was but a fraction of the more than one million Iraqis living abroad who were eligible to vote, but, according to organizers, a respectable figure given the great distances many people had to travel in order to register.

At a polling site in Manchester, England, a skirmish broke out between mostly Kurdish Iraqi voters and a group of protesters who criticized the election as legitimizing the presence of foreign troops in Iraq.

But that kind of trouble was the exception, not the rule. In London, poll worker Ziryan Ismail described the election as Iraq's first step toward self-governance.

"It really is a mark of the beginning of [a new] Iraq - hopefully a democratic Iraq, for a new beginning and for all the people who died for me to get here," he said.

The Iraq Out-of-Country Voting Program featured five polling stations in the United States, including one in Irvine, California, where Virginia Badal cast a ballot Saturday. Ms. Badal said she was acting in solidarity with Iraqis back home, especially the younger generation.

"For our children in Iraq. We are doing this for their sake. We are living here right now, but we are still thinking of our people back home. And it is a good opportunity for us to stand behind them and do whatever is good for them," she said.

Spontaneous dancing, chanting and singing erupted at many out-of-country polling stations as jubilant voters cast ballots for Iraq's first multi-party elections in half a century.

Iraqi expatriates cast ballots in Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Iran, Jordan, the Netherlands, Sweden, Syria, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, Britain and the United States.