By PETER PRENGAMAN - Associated Press Writer
LOS ANGELES - (AP) Expatriates living in the U.S. prepared to
cast absentee ballots Tuesday in Iraq's historic parliamentary elections,
hoping the nation's new leaders can curb the violence in their homeland.
Organizers said they expect tens of thousands of Iraqis to vote
Tuesday through Thursday at polling sites around the country, including in
Pomona; Nashville, Tenn., and areas outside San Francisco, Chicago and
Washington D.C. Election Day in Iraq is set for Thursday.
Some were planning on traveling hundreds of miles to cast a vote.
"We'll drive 250 miles and be happy about it," said 35-year-old
Albert Rasho, who plans to travel with three friends from Las Vegas to
Pomona. He left Iraq 15 years ago to avoid mandatory military service under
Saddam Hussein. "I want to see my country free after all Saddam did."
Voters will elect the 275-member National Assembly, which will rule
the country over the next four years. Voters can choose from more than 200
political parties that represent some 7,000 candidates.
Eligible expatriate voters may be U.S. citizens, but must be 18
years old or older, born in Iraq and hold citizenship there. Iraqis born in
the United States who can prove their father is Iraqi also may vote.
Like Rasho, many expatriates have not been home since fleeing Iraq.
When the U.S. military toppled Hussein in 2003, many thought they could soon
return and visit family still in the country. But insurgents and suicide
bombers have since led daily attacks that have claimed thousands of Iraqi
and U.S. lives.
"My family told me not to come because of the situation," said
Ridiya Al-Marayati, 62, a Shiite housewife in Pomona who canceled a trip to
visit her sister and elderly mother in Baghdad last year.
Only about 10 percent of the estimated 240,000 eligible Iraqi voters
in the United States cast ballots last January for a constitutional
assembly, Iraq's first free elections in decades.
Organizers expect the numbers will be much higher this time because
at stake is a permanent government and expatriates can register and vote on
the same day. Last time they had to make two trips.
"We've got people calling from as far away as Canada, saying they
plan on coming to vote," said Mosadek Alattar, who is in charge of
California voting sites. "This is becoming like a celebration for us."