Iraqis living in the United States cast ballots in Iraq's election at several polling locations across the U.S. over the last few days. Reports say more than 186,000 of two-thirds of eligible Iraqis living in the U.S. and other countries participated in the historic election.
Across the United States enthusiastic Iraqi expatriates voted in their nation's first democratic election in decades. People like Sieed Hussein and his family drove 10 hours from their home in Pennsylvania to Michigan to cast ballots. He says the election represents a symbolic victory for his brother who was killed in Baghdad by troops loyal to Saddam Hussein.
"I am very happy today," he said. "I have been waiting now 35 years for this day, my family and me and we got it.
With a mix of emotions eligible Iraqi Americans began voting Friday through Sunday at five polling stations across the country from California in the west to the suburbs of Washington, D.C. in the east.
In some places they came by the bus load, waiting in long lines to go through heavy security. These voters are helping to choose Iraq's new parliament. Iraqi-American Tonya Gillee from Maryland was overcome with joy after casting her ballot. "My father is running for the selection so this means a lot to me," she said.
For the first time there are women on the ballot in Iraq. In the United States women like Wafen Najeem, who worked as an election monitor in Michigan, were skeptical about the outcome but voted anyway. She says it is a new era for Iraqi women. "I said if there was really a one percent chance that this is going to be a genuine free election and a genuine government that the people are really going to choose then let's go for it,” she said.
For the first time since he fled Iraq 25 years ago Alfael Al-shami says he can dream about the future in his homeland. " I feel like a bird coming out of the cage and trying to fly again and so many years of oppression,” he said.
Sarkan Kurdee, a Kurd from Northern Iraq now lives with his family outside Washington, D.C. He says the election will have long-term benefits for all Iraqis.
"It is a very important moment for all of the Iraqi citizens," he said. "It does not matter what group you belong to or what part of Iraq you live or what religion you are following. The most important thing about the voting is that the people who you are voting for will be the people writing the new constitution of Iraq which is going to affect the lives of all Iraqis.”
For the thousands of Iraqis who cast ballots here in the United States, Sunday's vote is seen as the beginning of a new future for Iraq.