Iraqi-Americans ready for polls
By Jui Chakravorty
Mon Dec 12, 2005
DETROIT (Reuters) - "It is my chance to make up for the
killing of my wife, my son and for the reason I had to leave
my own country," said a weeping Fadl al-Robiae, who plans
to vote on Tuesday in Iraq's first election for a full-term
parliament since the fall of Saddam Hussein.
Robiae, 45, is one of the estimated 240,000 Iraqi-Americans
eligible to vote in Iraq's elections even though they live in
the United States. There are two polling places in Detroit, where
an estimated 150,000 people are eligible to vote, and one each
in six other American cities.
Polling begins on Tuesday.
Robiae was a Shi'ite spiritual leader in Iraq, whose family
was killed on Saddam Hussein's orders. He fled Iraq 15 years
ago to avoid further persecution, and is now a spiritual leader
for Iraqi Shi'ites in Dearborn.
"Now is the time to make up for all that we have missed,"
Robiae told Reuters at the Karbala Islamic Education Center in
Dearborn. "Now is the time to make life better for our families
over there," he said, referring to 7 siblings who still
live in Iraq.
"This election is very important, because we get to choose
who will run our country for the next four years," said
Imam Husham al-Husainy, a Shi'ite cleric in Dearborn for 25 years.
"I voted for Bush to liberate Iraq, not occupy Iraq,"
said Husainy, who, like most Iraqis in the Detroit area, holds
dual Iraqi-U.S. citizenship. "So I am looking forward to
this vote because there are too many countries running Iraq right
now. It is time to have Iraq run Iraq."
The Iraqi Muslims in Detroit consist almost entirely of Shi'ites,
who were repressed under Saddam. The most popular party among
them is the United Iraqi Alliance, or the 555.
But most of Iraqis in the Detroit area are Chaldean and Assyrian
Christians, many of whom live in West Bloomfield about 30 miles
from Dearborn. They form tiny minorities in Iraq, but there are
about 120,000 of them in Detroit alone.
"The most important issue in the vote is electing a representative
government that will protect the rights of minorities,"
said Sam Yono, a Chaldean who left Iraq 38 years ago.
THE STRUGGLE FOR TURNOUT
Despite the large populations in the Detroit area, the turnout
in the January elections for an interim government was less than
9,000. But election organizers and local Iraqis predict a much
larger turnout this week.
"We are electing a permanent government, so more people
will be interested," said Michael Youash, spokesman for
the Out-of-Country Voting program which is administering the
Iraqi elections in the United States.
"Also, it is the second election, so people are more
confident in the process. There were some problems in January
which we fixed this time around," Youash said.
Citizens of Iraq and people whose fathers are citizens of
Iraq are eligible to vote.
"The two main problems were that you had to go to the
station and register weeks in advance and then go back and vote,"
said Majid Shammami, a Chaldean who fled Iraq in 1982 and now
owns an accounting firm in West Bloomfield. Voters are not required
to register in advance this year.
"We are actively working to get more people to the polls
this year," Yono said. "We are hoping to have a turnout
of 30,000 to 40,000."
Laith Khadim, a 36-year-old doctor, was so determined to vote
that he drove eight hours from upstate New York to vote in Dearborn.
"We have been waiting for this for a long time,"
he said. "I drove down here to cast my ballot. So that I
can go back to Iraq one day, to a country where my children will
not have to go through what I went through.