SYDNEY, Australia — Iraqi expatriates began casting ballots today in Sydney, with about two dozen jostling to be among the earliest to vote in Iraq's first free election in more than 50 years.
Amid tight security at a converted furniture warehouse, young children mingled with elderly Kurdish women wearing head-to-toe black robes.
"This is a long dream that now comes true," said 56-year-old Karim Jari before casting his vote. "We hope this is a new beginning."
The election is Sunday in Iraq. Australia is one of 14 nations where Iraqis living outside their country can vote at polls open today through Sunday. Because of the time difference, Australia is the first country to begin collecting ballots.
Rebwar Aziz, who has lived in Australia since 1992, got the honor of being first.
"This is freedom for Iraqi people," the 38-year-old bus driver said.
He said the wave of attacks by insurgents in Iraq should not disrupt the vote there.
"The point is if you need freedom, you have to fight for it," he said.
"I feel great. I can't express my happiness."
Many historians consider the last free election in Iraq to have taken place in 1954, when the opposition won seats in balloting held under British colonial influence. Iraq was a constitutional monarchy at the time.
Nearly 12,000 Iraqi exiles registered to vote in Australia, about 15% of the estimated 80,000 eligible Iraqi nationals living there.