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Low Voter Turnout of Iraqi Expatriates

Facts and numbers have always been a problem in the Arab World.

I thought it was an Arab cultural issue. But after following the election returns in Iraq, I wonder if the Arabs simply learned the art of exaggeration from the Americans and the West?

According to the American Military Occupation forces in Iraq, between 60 and 80 percent of registered Iraqi voters turned out to vote in Sunday’s election for the 275-member National Assembly and regional council seats.

They claim more than 90 percent of Iraqi expatriates voted at five American cities.

The military claims it will take 10 days to tally ­ which is half the time it took to tally the November 2000 presidential results in Florida.

And here’s where my concern comes in. Voter turnout is based on how many people registered. And the flaw in the system is that so few Iraqi expatriates actually registered, you have to wonder why?

We don’t have “official” tallies to work with, but here is what I found. In Iraq, voters faced the threat of violence from insurgents and the occupation. In fact, on election day, 44 people died in Iraq.

There were no such threats or deaths in the expatriate community. So, why was the registration and the turnout so low?

Iraqi expatriates were permitted to vote by absentee ballot in 14 countries under the auspices of the International Organization for Migration (IOM).
Iraqis had only one day to vote in Iraq, but expatriates had three days to vote.

According to reports, 280,303 Iraqi expatriates registered to vote worldwide out of a total of 2.5 million expatriates, half are qualified to register. That means registration was only about 7 percent.

Of the 280,303 registrations, only 85,000 actually voted, which is about 30 percent turnout worldwide.

In the United States, the number of Iraqi expatriates is about 500,000, with about 300,000 are qualified to vote. Yet, only 24,335 Iraqis reportedly voted at the five U.S. cities.

That is a turnout of between 8 and 10 percent. That’s it? With freedom banging on their door? What really gives with expatriates?

Apparently, they were not as excited about the voting process as their brethren living under the American military occupation. And that suggests the occupation may have even pumped up voter turnout in Iraq, or worse, exaggerated the numbers.

The IOM set up voting stations in five American cities where the majority of Iraqis ­ Arabs, Kurds, Assyrians, Christians, Sunni and Shi’ite ­ all live. Those cities were Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, Nashville and Los Angeles.

Now, in Chicago, the Assyrian community claims to have more than 100,000 members. Assyrians are Christians who reject to the point of belligerence any claim that they are “Arab.”

So, in addition to the Assyrians, there are about 25,000 Arab Iraqis in Chicago who are Muslim and Christian Arab.

In Detroit, the numbers of expatriates are higher. There are more than 150,000 Assyrians, Chaldeans, and Arabs — Chaldeans are Iraqi Catholics.

That’s a total of 275,000 from just two of the five cities, which I estimate ­ since no one has real numbers ­ to be about 500,000 total in the United States. Several news sources claimed the number is about 360,000 nationwide with 240,000 (born on or before December 31, 1986) are actually eligible to vote.
Most Kurds live in Los Angeles and Nashville. The smallest community is around Washington D.C.

The numbers in the different cities are not encouraging. According to media reports, only 6,351 voted in Chicago. Out of 125,000 people?

In Detroit, only 9,715 registered to vote and 8,975 voted. Out of 150,000 people?
Turnout in the remaining three cities was even lower, totaling about 9,000. In Irvine near Los Angeles, only 3,903 registered to vote with smaller numbers in Nashville and Washington D.C.

Many Assyrians immediately blamed the low 24,335 voter turnout on the IOM, which they assert is controlled by Muslim Kurds.

But in the end, it is clear that far less than 10 percent of the Iraqi expatriates in the United States who were eligible to vote, actually registered, and even fewer actually voted.

That is a pathetic endorsement of the Iraqi elections.

Worse, the low turnout might suggest Iraqi expatriates in America who fled political and religious persecution by Saddam Hussein, also do not support the American military occupation.

And that might explain why so many Democratic elections in the United States are fraught with corruption, or just stolen. Why should the new Iraq be any different?

RAY HANANIA is an award-winning nationally syndicated columnist and Palestinian American author. He is the managing editor of TheArabStreet.com.

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