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Iraq Transition

First Iraqis cast their vote

Election security tightened


story.iraq.womanvoter.sydneyap.jpg
An Iraqi expatriate woman is checked before voting Friday in Sydney, Australia.
more videoVIDEO
Days before Iraqi elections, insurgents targeted polling stations.

How Iraqis will vote when they head to the polls on Sunday.

Pressure increases to find an "exit strategy" in Iraq.

SPECIAL REPORT
• Interactive: Who's who in Iraq
• Interactive: Sectarian divide
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Iraq
Elections
U.S. HELICOPTER CRASHES
Deadliest of Iraq war
  • January 26, 2005: 31 killed
  • November 15, 2003: 17 killed
  • November 2, 2003: 16 killed
  • March 21, 2003: 12 killed (8 Britons, 4 Americans)
  • January 8, 2004: 9 killed
  • November 7, 2003: 6 killed
  • April 2, 2003: 6 killed

    Source: U.S. military
  • (CNN) -- As insurgent attacks continue at home, Iraqi expatriates in Australia have begun the global voting process for Iraq's first democratic elections in almost 50 years, turning out in their hundreds Friday morning.

    Shimon Haddad, who told CNN on Friday he was the first person anywhere in the world to vote, said it was a "very happy and exciting day" for Iraqis in Australia.

    The ability of about 11,000 registered Iraqis to vote in safety in Australia contrasts with the situation in Iraq, where Iraqi and U.S. forces are further tightening security to ensure the insurgents' violence does not keep people from the polls on Sunday.

    Insurgents are targeting police stations and warning candidates and would-be voters that their lives will be at risk if they cast ballots to choose a 275-seat transitional national assembly.

    Although the voting in Iraq doesn't start until Sunday, more than 280,000 Iraqi expatriates in 14 countries -- many of whom fled Iraq during Saddam Hussein's regime -- began voting over a three-day period beginning Friday.

    The largest single contingent of expatriate voters is in Iran, with more than 50,000 registered.

    In Sydney, Haddad, manager of the city's biggest temporary polling station, said he took the opportunity to vote just before the polls opened at 7 a.m. (2000 GMT Thursday) because he knew he would be busy for the rest of the day.

    Haddad, who has lived in Australia for 33 years, said it was not difficult to determine how to vote for the candidates on offer. He said the various Iraqi political parties had distributed brochures and had held meetings in Sydney ahead of the vote.

    In Iraq, tighter restrictions will be imposed for the period before and after the elections, Kasim Daoud, the country's minister of state for national security, said on Thursday.

    Daoud told reporters via a satellite news conference that from Friday through Monday curfews will be extended and vehicle movement restricted.

    "We are not going to allow vehicles to reach directly to these polls, Daoud said. "Vehicles will stay away a certain -- in such a distance from the polls."

    Civilians will also be prevented from moving from province to province, and voters will not be allowed to carry weapons, even if they have a license to do so, the minister said.

    National security adviser Mowaffak al Rubaie said the first line of defense to protect voters will be the country's military and security forces, with support from U.S.-led multinational troops.

    "The terrorists and the [Abu Musab al-] Zarqawi people and Saddam loyalists are going to try their level best to do a lot of what they call 'spectacular attacks' on our security forces or on our political process," al Rubaie said.

    "The main aim is to delay the election, is to cancel the election, is to derail the political process," he said.

    "This is not going to happen."

    U.S. Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Hammond said American forces are ready.

    "Over the last 30 days we have pressed the insurgents hard -- ruthlessly," he said.

    "In fact, we've conducted over 270 combat operations. And in doing so, we've detained over 800 insurgents and captured over 100 weapon caches," he said.

    "Now, you can imagine that should, obviously, put some sort of dent in the insurgents' resources and his ability to continue to wage this fight. We believe it has. We truly believe it has."

    But Hammond emphasized American troops will play only a supporting role to Iraqi security forces in the elections.

    Hammond predicted there would be some insurgent violence, but said he believed most Iraqis would brave the prospect of danger to cast their ballots.

    Hot spots for insurgents

    Daoud said insurgents are mainly active in two of Iraq's 18 provinces, Anbar and Nineveh.

    "There are a couple of hot areas in Salahuddin province and in Diyala province," Daoud said. "Otherwise, the whole country is more or less a safe country."

    He described the insurgents as being mainly of two groups: "the Saddamists, which they are loyal to Saddam regime; and the Islamic fundamentalists."

    Daoud blamed neighbors Syria and Iran -- which he compared to "naughty boys" -- for not doing enough to stop insurgents from using their countries as pathways to Iraq.

    He said the Iraqi government has formed a trilateral committee with Syria and the United States to combat the problem.

    "Until now, we didn't get any good response from the Syrians, although our intelligence information, with very solid documents, shows the involvement of some of the Syrian security forces authorities ... in these activities," Daoud said.

    In the long term, the minister said, there are several factors that could help weaken the insurgency: "improvement of the economy; getting the families regular income ... good health services, social security, jobs ... a good educational system."

    Daoud said part of the next step after the elections is to get even more security and military personnel trained.

    He estimated that about 90,000 Iraqi police officers and 55,000 members of the military are trained as of now, and said the goal is to have 150,000 members of the Iraqi army by 2006, he said.

    New attacks

    Northeast of the capital in Baquba, an Iraqi police lieutenant was killed and three others wounded in a suicide car bombing Thursday outside the Diyala provincial governor's office, authorities said.

    With a large Sunni Muslim population, Diyala is believed to be the only Iraqi province in which religious leaders have given Sunnis dispensation to vote.

    The minority Sunnis dominated under Saddam Hussein's rule but fear the election will benefit the majority Shiites.

    In Babil province, one U.S. Marine was killed and four others wounded Thursday, the coalition press office said, bringing the U.S. death toll in the war to 1,420, according to the U.S. military.

    CNN's Jane Arraf, Kianne Sadeq and Mohammed Tawfeeq, and journalist Anthony Clark contributed to this report


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