DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Debbie Elliott.
The government of Iraq is mounting a huge security operation for Thursday's election. Authorities will close all borders and airports and extend existing curfews. Iraqis will be voting for a full-term parliament that will form a new government to replace the interim administration now in power. Members of the Iraqi community abroad will begin casting absentee ballots on Tuesday. If they vote in substantial numbers, they could have some impact on the outcome. To find out how Iraqis in this country view the election, we invited in four voters of different ethnic and sectarian backgrounds living in the Washington area: Bilal Wahab, a Fulbright Scholar at American University; Babylonia Marcus who works for an international development company; Yasir Shallal, an engineer who owns a company in the DC area; and Ali Al-Attar, a physician from Falls Church, Virginia.
I asked Dr. Al-Attar, a Shiite, whether his sectarian identity would affect his vote.
Dr. ALI AL-ATTAR: I hope not. And I hope Iraqis will learn their lesson because they did that last elections. I hope this election, they are going to vote with their political platforms instead of their sectarian and ethnic background. This election is another milestone that the Iraqis are going through the path of democracy.
ELLIOTT: Do you think it's easier for you being removed from Iraq, being in this country, to not vote along sectarian lines?
Dr. AL-ATTAR: I have no doubt about that. This is why I think, and I hope, we will start with the expats who are going to vote out of the country to vote according to the political platforms. Maybe inside Iraq, the people are going to vote along their sectarian and ethnic lines, but I hope we should lead the way and change that. And hopefully for the coming elections--not this one, maybe in four years or in eight years--people will vote according to their political platforms.
ELLIOTT: Bilal Wahab, I understand you're a Kurd and helped organize the elections last January. Has the time that you've now spent in America helped you rethink the way you look at the elections this time? You've been here--What?--since May?
Mr. BILAL WAHAB: Yes, I arrived in May as a Fulbright Scholar. Well, yes, I have changed my mind from voting to the platform I voted to last time in January to another platform that--I agree with Dr. Attar, that I'm voting to another platform that is still Kurdish, but it's a Kurdish with a platform of fighting corruption and providing services.
ELLIOTT: How is that different from what you voted for before?
Mr. WAHAB: In the January elections, there was only one Kurdish slate, so it was more of a referendum to maximize the Kurdish members in the Iraqi parliament. For the December 15th elections now in Kurdistan, there are more than one list; there is a Kurdish coalition list and another list called the Kurdistan Islamic Union. The latter is advocating fighting corruption, providing services. Meaning, it's time to do some housekeeping, like making sure that people make best of the security and stability that we enjoy in Kurdistan.
ELLIOTT: Babylonia Marcus, you were born in Chicago and have never been to Iraq. Why is it that you want to vote?
Ms. BABYLONIA MARCUS: Thank you, Debbie.
I want to vote because it was not really my choice to be born outside of Iraq, whereas voting is my choice. And that is one of the few ways that I can stay connected to a country I've never been to or lived in.
ELLIOTT: Why do you say it wasn't your choice? What were the circumstances of your family coming here?
Ms. MARCUS: My parents came to the US initially as students, and it was after Saddam's takeover that they couldn't return.
ELLIOTT: Your family was Assyrian Christian.
Ms. MARCUS: Is, yes.
ELLIOTT: I'm curious. Do you have any qualms given that you really are not a citizen of that country in the sense that we think about a citizen of a country? Do you have any qualms voting?
Ms. MARCUS: No, certainly not. Whether or not my vote should count more or less than other Iraqi voters, I can't decide that. I mean, that's up to the electoral commission, but it is something that's important to me and my community, and for that reason, I don't even think twice.
ELLIOTT: Yasir Shallal, you are a Sunni Arab. You've been in the United States since the 1960s. It's taken a lot of convincing to get Sunni Arabs participating in the political process back in Iraq. Why are you voting?
Mr. YASIR SHALLAL: Well, it didn't take much convincing for me to be voting. I voted on the previous election and I certainly am looking forward to this election as well. I think it was, in fact, a strategic mistake for not getting involved in the elections in the first go-around. Clearly, I can't speak for somebody living in Fallujah or in other places, whether they'd be Shia or Sunni.
Incidentally, I want to emphasize this fact to the rest of the listeners, and that is there are Sunnis and Shia living in any and all of these areas pretty harmoniously for many, many years. And there's hardly ever an Iraqi family that doesn't have both sectarian factions as well as the different ethnicities that are represented right here on the table. So I would certainly hope that looking toward the future and the hopes and the aspirations of the people can be considered without the overemphasis on the sectarian or ethnic differences in the country.
ELLIOTT: Do you think that this election can help make that happen?
Mr. SHALLAL: Well, I certainly hope that the political parties in Iraq don't exploit and don't expand the divisions between the different communities.
ELLIOTT: Babylonia Marcus, do you expect Iraqi Christians abroad to be voting in large numbers in this election? Many have emigrated from Iraq.
Ms. MARCUS: From what I know of the last turnout, more voted abroad than did in country.
ELLIOTT: How do you decide who to vote for?
Ms. MARCUS: I would actually like to reaffirm what Bilal was saying, that I will be voting along my ethnic and sectarian lines. I don't feel that as an Assyrian minority I have the luxury to vote for a particular political ideology because it is such a small minority.
ELLIOTT: What impact do you think your voting can have?
Ms. MARCUS: Directly, I would hope that we would get more representation as a result of my and my community's voting. But as my mom says, `Every time we vote, we put a dagger in Saddam's heart and a dagger in the insurgents' hearts.' So for that reason, I think it's both an emotional impact and hopefully an actual tangible impact.
ELLIOTT: Babylonia Marcus, Bilal Wahab, Yasir Shallal and Ali Al-Attar all planning to cast absentee ballots this week in Iraq's parliamentary elections. To hear more of our conversation, go to our Web site, npr.org.