Old passports bar Iraq's expatriate voters

ID numbers starting with an H are no longer acceptable as hundreds of disappointed Iraqis are turned away in Abu Dhabi.

For hundreds of Iraqis wanting to cast their vote at the National Exhibition Centre in Abu Dhabi to take part in their home country's general election there was disappointment yesterday. Many were turned away because they had the wrong kind of identity papers. Saddam-era passports, in which the code begins with an H, were not valid, officials said, unless supported by additional documentation. Only more recent passports, in which the code begins with a G, were valid on their own.

Many Iraqis have struggled to get the new 'G' passports, and embassies have limited supplies. Kitab Saleh Awdah, 28, a lorry driver, was one of those rejected. "We have applied for a G passport," he said, "but it has been two years and we haven't received them. My passport has been renewed by the embassy. Surely, since it's been renewed it would be recognised as valid identification." Abdullah Kareem also missed out on his vote, despite a letter from the Iraqi judicial department saying his "G" passport was certified. "They wouldn't let us go in," he said.

A spokesman for the Independent High Electoral Commission, based in Dubai, said: "We have been given orders to only allow the G passport, or any others along with the citizenship card. Most of them are coming with photocopies of the card, and that is not enough. They are losing their vote." Ghaith al Rawi, an Iraqi-American, complained of other inconsistencies. As he was born in the United States, the organisers "didn't know what to do with him", he said, as the birthplace determined which voting constituency people could vote for.

Despite the hiccups, many Iraqis showed their national pride by dressing in their best to vote. Children waved Iraqi flags, while their elders took matters more seriously. Shina Aga, of Kurdish descent, had lived in Baghdad for most of her life before moving to the UAE 30 years ago. "This election is more important than others," she said. "In previous terms there was a majority who didn't participate. They have decided to have a voice, which means they started believing in the process.

"Today the Iraqis just want someone to serve them, to serve the community and necessary needs. "For me, I think we need people who will fight corruption and think about providing to the less fortunate. We have huge problems, thousands of orphans and widows." Zuhair al Pachachi, a prominent businessman in Abu Dhabi, said: "This is our last chance for a change. If the Islamists take power, it will be disastrous."

A younger generation of Iraqi exiles was also voting. Ali Hilfi, a pharmacist based in London, was visiting his family in Abu Dhabi. "My ballot is my show of respect for the Iraqi martyrs, because they died for the day I could post the ballot in the box," he said. "These elections are very important for many reasons, this will be the first government after completing the withdrawal of foreign forces, and they will be the second formal elected government.

"The first one was kind of a trial process, we didn't know what to expect. Now we have higher expectations, the main reconstruction phase of Iraq." Baan Kattan, 24, an accountant based in Abu Dhabi, said: "Our generation who are in their 20s were either born outside of Iraq or left very young. It's the only chance for us to feel Iraqi and contribute and make a change to our families back home." @Email:halsayegh@thenational.ae