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U.K. Iraqis in the grip of election fever

By Hasan Suroor

LONDON, JAN. 26. Britain's 150,000-strong Iraqi community is in the grip of an election fever as it awaits this Sunday's poll in their country with a mixture of anxiety and hope, and "thousands'' are claimed to have registered to vote at special centres, set up in London, Manchester and Glasgow.

The International Organisation for Migration (IOM), which has organised the overseas vote campaign in 14 countries, claimed that more than 20,000 Iraqi expatriates had registered in Britain at the last count and more were waiting to sign up.

"They had been waiting for this for a long time. It gives so many a stake, for the first time, in their country,'' an IOM spokesperson said claiming that "busloads'' of Iraqis from different parts of the country had travelled to London to register.

Initially, registration was slow and the deadline was extended by two days to encourage prospective voters. Observers said Iraqi authorities, fearing a low turnout at home because of threats of boycott and violence, were keen on wider participation of overseas voters to boost the overall voting tally.

"It is easier to mobilise voters here than in Iraq where security concerns are likely to force many to stay home,'' noted one Iraq-watcher. Most Iraqis said they welcomed the opportunity to exercise their franchise but were not sure whether the new regime would be truly representative if, as it is feared, the turnout was low.

"If the turnout is very poor there are going to be question marks over the legitimacy of the new government,'' said one young Iraqi echoing a widespread sense of anxiety in the community.

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