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Iraqi expats will play major role in election

Up to 1 million Iraqis outside the country are expected to cast ballots in the most extensive expatriate vote ever organized.

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After many of them left their country to flee a repressive political system, Iraqis around the world will now have a say in the direction Iraq takes by voting in this month's national elections.

In what is being called the most extensive, complex - and rushed - expatriate vote ever organized, up to 1 million Iraqis are expected to cast a ballot in their country's first democratic elections at voting sites in Amman, Damascus, and Tehran - as well as in Sydney, Copenhagen, Detroit, and Nashville.

In all, 14 countries will have voting stations in an exercise that is creating excitement and mustering patriotic fervor among thousands of expatriate Iraqis - but which is also reviving old worries about the expatriate community's influence in postwar Iraq.

"It's been extremely challenging for us to put this together in 70 days, but it's also heartening that the biggest complaint we've had so far [from expatriate Iraqis] is that we don't have enough polling locations," says Sarah Tosh of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Amman, Jordan. Voter registration takes place this week in 36 cities around the world, with Iraqis wishing to vote required to appear in person. Expatriate voting will then begin Jan. 28 and run through Jan. 30, the day of national elections in Iraq. That mean "the first vote in Iraq's elections will actually be cast in Australia because of the time difference," says Ms. Tosh.

That distinction may thrill expatriate Iraqis in Australia, but points up the concern that some Iraqis, especially in the minority Sunni population, are expressing about the influence of a large outside-the-country vote. Election officials say they expect between 7 and 8 million of Iraq's estimated 14 million eligible voters to cast ballots - a result that would give extraordinary weight to the expatriates if 1 million turn out.

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