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The Iraqi Election

Expatriates Flock to Polls for Second Day

'For the first time, they taste the freedom of this country,' says a voter at one of the U.S. stations as he watches other Iraqi immigrants celebrate.

January 30, 2005|From Times Staff and Wire Reports

SKOKIE, Ill. — On the second day of voting in the U.S. for Iraq's election, scores of expatriates continued to arrive Saturday at polling stations across the country to cast their ballots.

In Skokie and in nearby Rosemont, voters chatted as they waited in line, bundled against the cold and eager to participate in their native country's first competitive election in 50 years.

About 1,000 people showed up to vote in suburban Chicago on Friday, election officials said. More than 5,600 voters turned out in the United States, including at polling stations in suburban Detroit; Nashville; New Carrollton, Md.; and in Irvine in Orange County

Immigrants also are able to vote in 13 other countries outside Iraq, where polls open today.

Throngs of people representing every corner of Iraq gathered Saturday in a parking lot adjacent to the Irvine polling place to sing, dance and embrace each other in celebration under a sunny sky.

Supporters waved banners and placards promoting the candidates or coalition they were backing. One group supporting Coalition 169 on the ballot was comprised of Sunnis, Shiites and Christians.

"This is how Iraq was before Saddam. Everyone was the same," said Husain Asadi, 40, who lives in Salinas.

Salam Shaya, an Assyrian Christian who lives in San Diego, looked at the dancers and singers and called the gathering "an Iraqi carnival."

"All of this really means something, even if an Islamic candidate ends up running the country," Shaya said. "Because our vote will count. It will mean something."

In Nashville, which has the largest Kurdish community in the United States, voters waved flags in the rain while teenage boys painted their faces in the colors of the Iraqi banner.

"For the first time, they taste the freedom of this country," George Khamou of Little Rock, Ark., told Associated Press as he watched the dancers. "This is really a big celebration for all of us here -- the Kurdish, the Arabs, the Christians, everybody.

"All we say now is all of us are Iraqis, because we are all the same."

Times staff writers H.G. Reza in Irvine and P.J. Huffstutter in Skokie contributed to this report.

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