A Visit to Little Iraq

Inside the Ramada Inn’s makeshift polling place, Ajeel Al-Saadon, from Basrah via Boston, casts his vote. Outside in the parking lot,  Kazim Warmzyary (from Kirkuk via northern Virginia), smiles and sings draped in a flag. Shrouk and Louis Daniel Al-Abbas drove all the way from Ohio to cast their vote for freedom. Isn’t her colorful sweater great?

I couldn’t resist visiting the Iraqi polling place in New Carrollton, Maryland, which is just a couple of miles from my house. I visited the site on two days, Friday afternoon, January 28, and Saturday morning, January 29, 2005. Only 25,946 Iraqis registered to vote in the US, of which 2,048 where in Maryland. On Friday, there were more journalists, police and security than voters, but on Saturday things picked up.

On Friday, I took photos and interviewed Iraqis from Boston, Ohio and northern Virginia–that’s the Ramada Inn in the background–and then went inside the polls. Voting actually took place in the hotel’s annex, not the hotel itself–probably an effort to foil any would-be bombers. Voters and journalists both had to line up to go through security, which was quick and efficient. With so few voters on hand, I quickly got inside the polls to take some pictures.

When I returned on Saturday, the lines were long. This time there were two lines–one for men and the other for women. I was curious about voter demographics, so I decided to gather some statistics. With a notepad and pen in hand, I went down both lines asking each voter where they, or their family, was from in Iraq. Many of the voters had ties to Sulayimaniya in the Kurdish north, Baghdad came in second and Basrah third. For many in their 40s, 50s and 60s, it was their first time to vote. All had purple fingers and big smiles.

Kids from northern Virginia, Mohammed, Omer, Haval, Shaima, Hana, Wana, and Heleen, posed for a picture while their parents voted. Sixty-five-year old Bakir Karim, with wife Rafia and daughters Diyari and Zheyan, voted for the first time in an election.

Iraq’s Out-of-Country Voting (OCV) Program was a project of the International Organization for Migration (www.iom.int). See, www.iraqocv.org for voting procedures and results.