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Split decision for Iranians in U.S.

Contradictions abound among expatriates -- some for, some against Bush. For many, it's a matter of who will be best for their homeland.

September 07, 2004|Kelly Niknejad | Special to The Times

As further evidence that issues concerning Iran may influence votes in the presidential race, Mohammad Reza Parsi expressed fond memories of the Clinton White House years but declared he will vote for Bush.

"Iran is our No. 1 concern," said Parsi, 40, an immigration consultant. "And Bush so far, it appears, is the person who can make a difference in Iran."

The president's "axis of evil" State of the Union is a rallying cry for Firoozeh Mohtashemi, a 54-year-old Blue Cross employee who will cast her first vote in November. She said she sees Bush as the best hope for regime change in Tehran and supports that, even if it means a U.S. military invasion of her native country.

"If the blood of one innocent spills, I will grieve," she said, but not for "the deaths of mullahs and those loyal to them. I just want them out."

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday September 09, 2004 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 32 words Type of Material: Correction
Iranian Americans -- An article in Tuesday's Calendar section about Iranian American voters referred to the nonpartisan National Iranian American Council as a lobbying group. It is a nonprofit civic education association.

Potential influence

Unlike the influence of Cuban voters in Florida, Southern California's Iranian American vote is unlikely to affect the outcome of polling in the country's most populous state. Still, new voter interest runs high.

The backlash against immigrants after Sept. 11 has prompted the formation of national and local organizations determined to register Iranian American voters and get the community involved in the political process.

The Washington, D.C.-based National Iranian American Council was born in 2002 to lobby political leaders.

This year the nonpartisan agency launched a nationwide voter registration campaign. And the potential power and influence of campaign money is being channeled for the first time through the Iranian-American Political Action Committee established by Ghahary and others after Sept. 11.

In Los Angeles, the Iranian American Committee for Election 2004 was formed two months ago and uses Iranian bookstores to distribute about 5,000 voter registration forms around Southern California.

Posters saying, "Vote!" -- followed by an inscription in Farsi -- are displayed at the widely popular Westwood bookstore Ketab.

Alex Helmi, a landlord and owner of the Damoka carpet store across the street from Ketab, has donated office space on Westwood Boulevard for the committee's campaign headquarters.

"We used to be guests," Helmi said, speaking of America while seated at his desk below a carpet woven with a bald eagle clutching an American flag. "But this became our home."

For some, like Westside store clerk Minoo Javid, 57, her right to vote in the U.S. is a bittersweet freedom.

"America is like the beautiful stepmother," Javid said. "All I want is my own ugly mother back."

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