Metro Detroit Iraqis cast votes for elections in native country

Detroit Free Press
Sun, Apr 27, 2014

by Zlati Meyer

Ayad Altaee proudly held up his purple fingertip.

The 45-year-old driver from Dearborn Heights was one of thousands of Iraqis who’d cast their ballots today in Dearborn and Warren for elections in Iraq.

The ballots cast are for an estimated 9,000 candidates running for 328 seats in Parliament. Those elected then will vote for a president and a prime minister. The last national election was in 2010.

“We look for change,” said Altaee, who brought three of his four children, ages 9, 8 and 7, to witness democracy in action. “I want them to see the good things, why we work very hard to change things.”

The mood at the Greenfield Manor banquet hall in Dearborn was festive. People, some of whom had driven for five hours to get to the closest voting site, snapped pictures and shot cell phone video of one another voting. A handful of young men draped scarves of the Iraqi flag around their necks. Peach and white flowers decorated some polling stations. A number of women wore fancy, colorful outfits, including a handful of Kurds in sequined traditional clothing.

“I am more important than my finger, but today, my finger represents me. My finger represents Iraq. With this finger, I’m building a new Iraq,” said Imam Husham Al-Husainy of the Karbalaa Islamic Education Center in Dearborn. “We used to have a lot of suffering and pain, as students 30 years ago. Today, we are free. We vote. We are here and Saddam is gone.”

Both polling sites are to be open Monday 9 a.m.-7 p.m., too. Current residents of Iraq will go to the polls on Wednesday.

People who want to vote — Iraqi natives and their foreign-born children — presented two types of identification at one of the voting stations running along the perimeter of Greenfield Manor’s large hall, according to Mohammad Ahmad, one of several representatives from the country’s various political parties who are overseeing the voting process. One was proof of Iraqi citizenship and the other was a personal ID.

Once approved, voters collected a large, purple-trimmed piece of paper to take behind a cardboard-screened voting station to mark the ballots. After filling it out, they put it into a larger envelope, seal it and drop it into the top slot of a big white plastic tub, which was sealed with orange plastic tags and marked with the ballot box location. Finally, they dipped one finger into a bottle of ink that would stain their finger for three days, to show they’d voted. The tubs will be sent to the Iraqi Embassy in Washington.

Ahmad, a 50-year-old engineering manager from Canton, missed his daughter, Jenan’s, commencement at Eastern Michigan University on Sunday — at her urging.

“ ‘You’ve got to go and cast your vote. It’s really more important than my graduation,’ ” he recalled her telling him. “We want to see Iraq renewed and be a beacon of democracy. We want the kids of Iraq to have a better future.”

Jenan is planning to vote today.

Sarmed Alobeidi, 23, of Dearborn, was voting in his first Iraqi election.

“I’m excited,” said the Henry Ford Community College student and auto parts factory worker, who’s been in the United States for two years. “I want the future to be better, so we can go back to our country.”

Added Layla Saeed who drove for four hours from Columbus with her two sons in order to vote, “We want to change my country’s everything.”

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