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Germany

Voting for Iraq's Future from Abroad

Iraqis abroad believe Sunday's election will bring change and security, even if it takes some time. They're planning to match their words with votes, and officials expect at least 26,000 to cast a ballot in Germany.

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Four German cities, including Berlin, have set up polling places

Puffing on cigarette after cigarette, Iraqi journalist Omar Fadhil taps away at a keyboard, chatting online from his Berlin office to his radio correspondents in Baghdad.

For the past month, Fadhil, who lives in Baghdad, has been heading the staff of "Election Monitor Iraq," a program broadcast from Berlin via the Internet to Iraq, where it appears on local radio stations once a day, five days a week. Sponsored by a German foundation, with support from the German Foreign Office, Election Monitor Iraq is designed to give Iraqis something they don't get much of: trustworthy news about the country's first democratic election in more than 50 years.

"We want to explain to people why it's important, why they should go to vote," said Fadhil, who came up to Berlin from Baghdad to coordinate the team during the elections.

Whether Iraq is ready for Sunday's vote has been the subject of sharp debate in recent months. Violent attacks, like the chain of car bombings across the country on Wednesday that killed at least five, are the norm and Jordanian jihadist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi has promised chaos on election day.

Amimals better off than humans

Fadhil, who will stay in Germany another 20 days said that, while many people are too scared to go out and vote, just as many will head out because they see no other alternative.

"I want to have security," he said. "At the moment, we can't go out after 7 p.m. If a dog is hungry he just has to go outside and eat. Animals are better off than humans at the moment."

Registrierung irakischer Wähler in Deutschland

Registration topped 26,000 Iraqis in Germany, and 280,000 worldwide

The 27-year-old will vote in Germany, along with an estimated 26,000 other Iraqis this weekend in polling places in Mannheim, Munich, Cologne and Berlin. In all, Iraqis in 14 countries, from the US, to the Netherlands to Australia will vote from Friday to Sunday, according to the International Organization for Migration, which is coordinating the overseas vote. IOM officials say they have registered more than 280,000 registered voters.

"There certainly seems to be a great enthusiasm to take part," said Jana Kristic, an IOM organizer in Germany.

"We need to start some time"

On Wednesday, German-Iraqi election workers gathered for a last minute election organization workshop in Berlin. Though the class mostly dwelt on technical details, the importance of the moment wasn't lost on the Iraqis taking part.

"I've dreamed the whole time that there would be elections in Iraq, and now here I am, helping it along," said Zainab Hassin, 34, who fled to Cologne from Baghdad in 1994.

Hassin's family in Baghdad has stayed healthy and intact despite the chaos and danger in her homeland. The chaotic security situation is perhaps one of the most important reasons to hold elections, she said.

"We need this now," she said. "We need to start some time."

Democracy needs to win

Growing pains are part of any young democracy, said Baker Schwani, 37, a Kurd who fled Iraq in 1996. From the time he was in seventh grade, in 1980, to the time he graduated university in 1991, Schwani said he knew only war and dictatorship.

Registrierung irakischer Wähler in Köln

Polling places will be under tight security over the voting weekend

"Democracy isn't not something we can just buy, we need to fight for it," said Schwani, who will be among the election workers handling an estimated 10,000 Iraqi voters in Cologne over the weekend. In the end, he said, it isn't even important who wins. If a large percentage of the population turns out to vote, it could be a sign that the democracy, however fragile, is beginning to take root. And at the moment, that's enough for him, he said.

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