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Iraqis Abroad Petition Iraq OCV Program

Iraqis Abroad Petition Iraq OCV Program


By Sonia Nettnin

Some expatriate Iraqis, in coordination with the Assyrian International News Agency, petitioned the Iraq Out-of-Country Voting Program.

Some of the members of the Christian, Chaldo-Assyrian community contend a lack of polling stations exists in cities throughout the world.

The cities in question are: San Diego, CA; Modesto/Turlock; Phoenix, AZ; San Francisco Bay Area/San Jose, CA; Beirut, Lebanon; Fairfield, Australia; and Damascus, Syria.

The Iraq OCV web site lists Damascus, Syria as a host country-city location.

The petition calls for registration and voting centers in these cities, along with media education for potential voters also. Educational campaign materials are in Arabic, English and Kurdish. The petition states literature for the voting program excludes the Syriac language used by Chaldo-Assyrians, who are an integral part of Iraq’s Diaspora.

The U.S. has five, city locations with registration and voting stations: Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, Nashville, and Washington D.C. Out of the fourteen host countries, Iran has the most locations, which are Ahvaz, Kermanshah, Mashdad, Orumiyeh, Qom, and Tehran.

“The seemingly arbitrary allocation of polling stations is seen as an outright act of discrimination against non-Kurdish Iraqis, especially the Chaldo-Assyrians who comprise some 85 per cent to 90 per cent of all Iraqi Americans,” is a statement from the petition.

The Iraqi Transitional National Assembly election is January 30th. The International Organization of Migration (IOM) implements the Iraq OCV Program.

For Iraqis abroad, voter registration is from January 17th through January 23rd in host countries and locations listed on the web site. They recommend people check for updates regularly.

The Iraq OCV Program estimates as many as one million eligible voters abroad will participate in January’s elections. It explains demographic limitations are in the data.

This information determined electorate locations. If potential voter populations are unknown, how did the IOM designate cities for registration and voter accessibility? During the decision process, what population statistics were available?

I interviewed Steven Lennon, an IOM officer in Washington D.C. He stated information from the U.S. Census Bureau and immigration databases provided the information regarding the cities with the greatest number of Iraqi Americans.

“The IOM is in charge of the logistic operations of registration and polling places,” Lennon said. “The Independent Election Commission approved the sites.”

There are no plans for additional, city locations.

With regards to the languages used on voter campaign materials, the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq (IECI) made the decision. Lennon explained that there are election laws. In place is the Law of Administration for the State of Iraq for the Transitional Period (TAL). The Independent Election Commission of Iraq is the mandated authority that supervises the elections in Iraq.

Some of IOM’s logistical operations include training staff, coordinating with local and state officials and creating conditions commensurate with security requirements.

Lennon stated IOM does not have any say in the decisions of the IECI. He expressed that IOM was happy with the cooperation and the success of IOM’s operation.

A member of the Assyrian National Council of Illinois stated that Chicago’s Iraqis having registration and voting centers, so they do not have complaints. However, some community members expressed they are comfortable with the absence of the Syrian language on voter campaign material, since the majority of Chicago’s Iraqi community speaks Assyrian.

“They feel they have been ignored,” she said.

Nina Shea, the director of Freedom House’s Center for Religious Freedom; and James Y. Rayis, vice chair of the Chaldo-Assyrian American Advocacy Council published an article about the mass exodus of Iraq’s Chaldo-Assyrian community.

They explain that the Christian minority “…find themselves marginalized and pushed aside in the electoral process – not only they their tormentors but, perhaps inadvertently by the U.S. Government (January 6, 2005, Zinda Magazine).

January’s elections determine the members of the Iraqi National Assembly, who will write a draft of Iraq’s permanent constitution and shape Iraq’s future government.

Shea and Rayis explain that these Iraqi Christians “…are eager to see individual rights to religious freedom and all fundamental freedoms carried over from the interim constitution into the permanent government” (Z.M.).

Without government representation, Iraqi Christians will have no voice in Iraq’s future parliament. Thus far, there are no seats designated for Iraq’s Chaldo-Assyrians in the future assembly.

Any Iraqi-American who does not live near one of the five, designated cities will travel long distances for participation in January’s elections. Iraqis in other countries who do not live near cities with polling stations will travel long distances as well. Most of people will make two, separate trips for registration week and election weekend.

Voter eligibility requirements for January’s elections are on the web site www.iraqocv.org

*************

Sonia Nettnin is a freelance writer. Her articles and reviews demonstrate civic journalism, with a focus on international social, economic, humanitarian, gender, and political issues. Media coverage of conflicts from these perspectives develops awareness in public opinion.

Nettnin received her bachelor's degree in English literature and writing. She did master's work in journalism. Moreover, Nettnin approaches her writing from a working woman's perspective, since working began for her at an early age.

She is a poet, a violinist and she studied professional dance. As a writer, the arts are an integral part of her sensibility. Her work has been published in the Palestine Chronicle, Scoop Media and the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs. She lives in Chicago.


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