U student votes in historic Iraqi elections from the U.S.

Alia Aladawi had to travel to Chicago to register and vote by absentee ballot for the Iraqi elections.

Lacey Crisp

The world watched as Iraq had its first democratic elections Jan. 30, and University first-year student Alia Aladawi was able to participate in the process.

Aladawi voted through an absentee ballot Jan. 30 in Chicago. She had to travel to Chicago once to register, approximately a month before elections, and then went back to vote.

The Associated Press reported Sunday that the Shiites, under the party name United Iraqi Alliance, received approximately 48 percent of the votes.

The Kurdistan Alliance, a coalition of two main Kurdish factions, came in second with 26 percent, and the Iraqi List, headed by U.S.-backed Ayad Allawi, finished third with approximately 14 percent of the vote.

Aladawi was born in Iraq and moved to the United States when she was 7 years old. She said her parents decided to move because of the Gulf War.

“We also moved because of religious freedom,” Aladawi said. “We had to move to get a better life and education.”

Most of her family still lives in southern Iraq, she said.

“They say the situation is bad, but it doesn’t really affect them, because they are in the south,” Aladawi said. “But when they travel, they have to take extra precautions.”

She said her family in Iraq did vote.

“There were a lot of soldiers to ensure their safety,” Aladawi said. “After a few voted, more saw it was safe and voted.”

Specialist Mark Kriens, of the 153rd Engineer Battalion of South Dakota, was stationed in Iraq until three days before the elections.

“Days before the election, it was surprisingly quiet, not much action,” Kriens wrote in an e-mail. “It sounds like stuff is starting to cool off a little, but that doesn’t mean it can’t start back up again.”

Aladawi said voting was one of the most important things she has done in her life.

“It is very important; this is the first time I have ever voted,” Aladawi said. “You think it can make a difference; it is your country, and I want to go back to a better place.”

Aladawi said she would like to return to Iraq someday.

“Iraq is a part of who I am,” Aladawi said.

She said she hopes the elections will stop the bombings and ensure safety so children can play in the streets without being shot at.

“I hope that we finally have a good leader and have freedoms,” Aladawi said. “I hope other countries look at Iraq with more respect.”

The elections took place to elect delegates to a 275-member transitional National Assembly that will be drafting the constitution and is expected to convene in mid-February.

The AP reported approximately 94,305 votes were declared invalid, and voter turnout was approximately 58 percent of the 14 million eligible voters.

The AP also reported several polling stations ran out of ballots, and some never opened. The electoral commission has received more than 100 complaints of irregularities. Many election workers quit their jobs after they received threats.

The transitional National Assembly will be set up similar to the German coalition style of governing. Parties will join together to elect officials and push through common issues. The AP reported the Shiites and Kurds are expected to work together. The two groups were oppressed under the Saddam Hussein regime.

Ragui Assaad, a Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs professor, said he expected the Shiite coalition to have more of a majority.

“The Shiite coalition has slightly more than 50 percent of the seats,” Assaad said. “They will need to have another group or a coalition partner to get to the two-thirds vote needed to elect the president.”

Assaad said he was not surprised the Sunnis only received 1 percent of the seats, because they largely boycotted the election. The Sunnis represent approximately 20 percent of the Iraqi population.

“There is going to be a lot of haggling and negotiations going on,” Assaad said. “It is better that the Shiites have just half the seats, because it will moderate religion in the constitution.”