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Nashville - one of 5 cities to hold Iraqi Election


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Iraqis to cast votes in Nashville

By IAN DEMSKY / Staff Writer

and OSCAR AVILA / Chicago Tribune

It's 1 of 5 U.S. cities where expatriates can take part in January election

Nashville is one of five U.S. cities where expatriate Iraqis will get to vote next month in their country's election, international organizers announced yesterday.

The International Organization for Migration said it will organize registration and election facilities in Nashville as well as Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles and Washington as part of an ambitious, last-minute effort to let expatriates vote Jan. 28-30 in at least 11 countries, according to a report in today's editions of the Chicago Tribune.

Election organizers said they focused on the largest Iraqi population centers abroad by consulting U.S. Census data and meeting with immigrant leaders. Nashville is home to the largest community of Kurds in the United States, with 5,000-8,000 families, and is referred to by some as ''Little Kurdistan.''

Some of Nashville's Iraqi citizens lauded the opportunity as an important step in the country's move toward democracy. But others said they won't vote because they feel the voice of the Kurdish minority will still be ignored.

''We are all going to try to work hard here and make it successful,'' said Ali Mahmoud, former executive director of the Nashville Iraqi House. ''This will be a good experience, even though most people really don't know who the candidates are or who is who. Even the people in Iraq don't know who they are. But the procedure is very important.''

Isa Chalky, a member of Nashville's Kurdish community, which makes up the majority of the local Iraqi population, said he will not be voting.

''I'm not very excited, personally. I don't see it as something positive toward the Kurdish cause.''

The larger issue of Kurdish sovereignty is being ignored, he said.

Both men said they didn't think holding elections in Nashville would create much of an increased risk of terrorism here.

''We still need to open our eyes to any strange things,'' Mahmoud said, noting that community-based organizations would be able to help supervise the already tightly knit group.

Chalky said the Kurdish community is not likely to turn to violence, but would remain vigilant.

''After 9/11, you can't predict anything.''

To participate in the election, which will select representatives to Iraq's National Assembly, residents must be at least 18 and be eligible for Iraqi citizenship. That includes naturalized U.S. citizens and the U.S.-born children of Iraqi citizens, said Jeremy Copeland, spokesman for Iraq's Out-of-Country Voting Program. Copeland estimates that up to 240,000 U.S. residents might be eligible.

Because no voter lists exist for the Iraq election, U.S. residents will have to register between Jan. 17 and Jan. 23 at any of the five U.S. voting sites.

Voters then will have the chance to challenge names on the registration lists if they believe aspiring voters are not eligible.

Copeland expects each city to have multiple voting locations, but organizers have not finalized sites yet. The ballots will be offered in Arabic, Kurdish and English.

While some Iraqis in the United States had hoped to vote by mail or the Internet, Copeland said, organizers did not have enough time to set up a system that would work.

Eric Bjornlund, a principal with Democracy International, a Washington-based election consulting firm, said overseas balloting often is flawed. But because of the relatively small number of expatriates, any exclusions should not compromise the legitimacy of the Iraq election, he said.

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