Fistfights at polling station for Iraqis in Australia
Scuffles break out at Australia polling station as
Iraqis abroad line up for a second day of voting
By Ed Johnson, Associated Press, 1/29/2005 17:38
LONDON (AP) Fistfights broke out at an Australian
polling station for Iraqis abroad Saturday when a
group of Islamic extremists chanted slogans against
those casting ballots, while Iraqis around the world
voted for a second day in their homeland's election.
The scuffle was the first report of trouble to mar
polling that began a day earlier under tight security,
allowing Iraqi expatriates in 14 countries to cast
absentee ballots for Iraq's first democratic election
in half a century.
Most Iraqis were enthusiastic as they lined up at the
ballot boxes, even turning out in the hundreds in the
Jordanian town of Zarqa, the hometown of Iraq's most
feared terrorist leader, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi,
election officials said.
''I learned from my parents about past bitter days in
my homeland and I voted in the hope of replacing that
with a brighter future,'' said Ahmad Abai, 21, casting
his ballot in the Iranian capital, Tehran, where he
was born to Iraqi parents.
Some complained of low turnout after less than a
quarter of the estimated 1.2 million expatriate Iraqis
eligible to vote worldwide registered to do so, but
those who did sign up were thrilled with the
Many Iraqis drove hundreds of miles to reach the five
U.S. cities with polling places: Nashville, Tenn.,
Detroit, Chicago, Los Angeles and Washington.
The low numbers of registrants were attributed to a
shortage of registration and polling places, fears of
violence or reprisals from Iraq's violent insurgency
and lack of documentation.
''It is a shame, for me it is very depressing,'' said
Hashim Ali of the Iraqi Community Association in
Britain, where 30,961 of the estimated 150,000 Iraqis
eligible to vote had registered. ''These are great
days for Iraqi people. I feel let down by the Iraqi
community in the U.K..''
Election organizers said just under a third of
registered Iraqi expatriates cast ballots on Friday
and that number apparently had more than doubled by
Saturday. Expatriate balloting continues Sunday, the
same day as elections in Iraq.
The Geneva-based International Organization for
Migration, which is conducting the expatriate vote for
the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq, said
84,429 of the 280,303 registered Iraqis cast ballots
By late Saturday, more than two-thirds of the
registered voters had cast ballots, IOM spokeswoman
Sarah Tosh said in Amman, Jordan, but she did not have
an exact figure or breakdown for Saturday.
Underscoring security concerns, protesters in
Australia, identified by ballot organizers as Wahhabis
followers of an austere brand of Sunni Islam suspected
of having influence over militants in Iraq yelled
insults at voters.
Some 50 people scuffled after the protesters began
taking photographs of the poll, being conducted in a
neighborhood dominated by Iraqi Shiites, organizers
said, forcing the polling station to close for an
hour. No injuries were reported.
''This is scary for the people, taking photos of the
voting,'' said Thair Wali, an Iraqi adviser for the
International Organization for Migration.
IOM spokesman Jean-Philippe Chauzy said no other
violence had been reported at the international
In Norway, a fleet of buses transporting about 4,000
Iraqis left Oslo bound for polling stations in
Goteborg in southern Sweden, 200 miles away. More than
31,000 others living in Sweden also have registered to
In Denmark, the line for the polling station in the
Copenhagen suburb of Taastrup stretched for 700 yards,
despite below freezing temperatures. About 4,000
Iraqis voted in Denmark on Friday and another 5,000
cast ballots Saturday, organizers said.
Turnout also was brisk in the Jordanian capital,
Amman, where poles and building walls were plastered
with campaign posters, although that was tempered by
dozens of nostalgic Iraqis who around a downtown
kiosk, singing patriotic songs and watching video
clips of Saddam Hussein when he was in power.
Many said they longed for the security imposed by the
ousted regime, glossing over the repression and
brutality that came with it.
Thousands of Iraqis turned up at polls in Iran, which
had the highest proportion of registered voters, amid
A third of those registered in Syria voted Friday, and
the flow was even higher Saturday, officials said. But
many Iraqis turned up without having registered,
leading to arguments and disappointment.
Voters will select the 275-seat National Assembly that
will appoint a new government for Iraq and draft a
permanent constitution. To be eligible, voters must be
born in Iraq or have an Iraqi father, and have turned
18 on or before Dec. 31.
When voting concludes on Sunday, all the overseas
counts will be sent in to the operation's headquarters
in Amman, which will forward them on to Baghdad. The
results will be announced several days later.
Associated Press writers Meraiah Foley in Sydney,
Australia; Salah Nasrawi in Amman, Jordan; Sam Cage in
Geneva; Zeina Karam and Albert Aji in Damascus, Syria;
and Nasser Karimi in Tehran, Iran, contributed to this report.