Confusion as expat Iraqis try to vote in UAE

Dozens of Iraqis in Abu Dhabi and Dubai were turned away from voting on Sunday amid confusion over documentation, as Iraq’s federal elections began for expatriates.

Iraqi nationals residing in the UAE cast their ballots for Iraq’s parliamentary elections at a polling station in Dubai. Confusion over documentation has frustrated many would-be voters. Karim Sahib / AFP
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Dozens of Iraqis in Abu Dhabi and Dubai were turned away from voting yesterday amid confusion over documentation, as Iraq’s federal elections began for expatriates.

Those in the UAE were required to present their official Iraqi documents along with an Emirates ID that lists “Iraq” under nationality.

Iraqis with dual citizenship, in which their Emirates ID card is registered with a foreign passport, were barred from casting their votes.

“They changed the rules overnight and turned away dozens of people who were obviously really upset,” said Safwan Amin, an Iraqi lawyer based in Dubai who was barred from voting.

“The rule is if you have all the documents in the world that proves you are Iraqi – that’s not good enough. You have to have an Emirates ID that says you are Iraqi. Otherwise you are disqualified from voting.”

The instruction was reportedly made by UAE authorities, according to statements by Iraq’s Independent High Electoral Commission and the Iraqi embassy in Abu Dhabi.

By midday, however, the ban was lifted and UAE residents could vote as long as they had Iraqi documents to prove their citizenship.

“We clarified the picture with them that Iraqis with dual citizenship can vote as long as they have the right documents,” said the Iraq ambassador, Muafaq Mahdi Abood.

Iraq’s Independent High Electoral Commission pointed the finger at the Iraqi embassy for the confusion.

“I blame the Iraqi embassy for its lack of coordination and efforts to liaise with the respective government entities here,” said Ayad Fakhri, the UAE-based official spokesman for Iraq’s Independent High Electoral Comission.

“You know, the UAE is the electoral base for all Iraqis in the GCC. There’re hundreds of Iraqis coming from Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar and Bahrain and we don’t know what to tell them.

“No one is being let in. The UAE security officials are at the door. Only till they show the UAE ID can they go inside,” he added.

Polling stations outside Iraq opened yesterday, just weeks after the country’s electoral commission board threatened to quit because of “political interference”. Federal elections inside Iraq take place on Wednesday and Thursday.

The dispute stemmed from conflicting legal interpretations about which candidates could take part. Critics of the prime minister, Nouri Al Maliki, have claimed that he has used this clause to remove political rivals and pave the way for a third term in office.

Iraqis casting their ballots in Abu Dhabi were hopeful that their votes would cause a shake-up in the status quo and reduce violence and corruption in their homeland.

“It’s my right as an Iraqi to remove these oppressors running the country out of Iraq,” said Ahmed Mahmoud, from New Zealand.

“They didn’t do anything in the last term. It’s all been just destruction. What did they do for us?”

More than 2,900 Iraqis have died this year and 6,800 last year, according to figures from the news agency Agence France-Presse, amid a surge of violent attacks and bombings across the country.

“Iraq is in a transitionary phase, from dictatorship to a nascent democracy,” Mr Abood said. “And this election is very important for Iraqi people’s lives [with] the increased violence in the country, which I’d hope would calm once a new government is in place.”

halsayegh@thenational.ae