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Iraqi Expatriates Vote in U.S.

Thursday (December 15th) is Election Day in Iraq, but thousands of eligible Iraqi expatriates have already cast their votes at polling centers around the world. Some drove for several hours to vote at a polling station in McLean, Virginia.

Some wore the purple stained finger like a badge of honor, a symbol of the victory many hope is within reach in war torn Iraq.

Mohamed Mustafa fled Iraq with his wife 10 years ago. He told the Voice of America that most of all, he just wants the violence to stop.

"I wish to see my country look like the United States, I wish to see it freedom, I wish to see it everything, I wish to see in my country, to walk in my country like I walk in here, free."

Mohamed is part of an estimated 1.5 million eligible Iraqi expatriates around the world who will help elect the 275-member National Assembly, and the first constitutional government in Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003.

Some came from as far south as Florida and as far north as New York state to dip their fingers in a purple ink pot.

Hevidar, a 21-year-old student, says she came to take part in history.

"I came from New York City to Virginia, that's like six hours driving. And we came here to vote to bring peace to Iraq, for everyone for the community, for the people, rich and poor."

Only about 10 percent of the 240,000 eligible voters in the United States cast their votes last January to vote for the transitional government. Dr. Hashim, from Maryland, says there is a different mood this time around.

"I feel good participation, much better than just about the beginning of this year when we came,” he said. “And all this indicates good things ahead. 'Insha' Allah,' it means 'God willing'."

Voters say this election contrasts sharply from the January 30th election when many Sunni Muslims boycotted proceedings, enabling rival Shi'ite Muslims and Kurds to win control of the interim government.

Many Sunni Arabs, including Abdul Kadir Juboori, say the difference, this time, is that all Iraqis: Sunni, Kurd, and Shia, have a stake in the future of their country.

"I didn't like it last time because they exclude some factions in Iraq, which is Sunni. They exclude them from the vote and now it sounds they are all involved, voting for all factions in Iraq," he told us.

But hope is mixed with a stark dose of reality as the killing of a prominent Sunni politician in Ramadi demonstrated this week. The insurgents, reportedly, have agreed not to attack polling places, but political analysts anticipate more violence ahead of the election.

Tuk al-Salahani expects the road to stability for Iraq will be long and dangerous. "We hope for miracles but we have to be realistic. It's gonna take more than a year. It's not just the land and the people, it's everything else. You need time and patience to rebuild."

And according to Ayad al-Saeedi - sacrifice. "Thank you, all the soldier American, thank you all Iraqi people who work this and thank you all the people who come to vote today and this my finger, I say thank you, thank you, thank you."

Fifteen countries have set up polling stations for Iraqi's living abroad. Expatriates will be able to cast ballots until Thursday.

(video production by Craig Fitzpatrick)