Iraqi Christians claim they were denied right to vote

While Iraq is calling Sunday's elections a success, Christians in the Mideastern country and in the United States are claiming they were denied the right to vote.

Christian Assyrians in Iraq claim that Kurdish officials in North Iraq prevented the delivery of ballot boxes to predominantly Assyrian villages.

In the United States, Iraqi Christians claim the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq chose to locate five U.S. polling locations close to expatriate Kurdish populations and not anywhere close to the larger Assyrian communities in Northern California, reported the Daily News, based on information from the Center for Religious Freedom.

Susan Patto, chief of staff to the secretary general of the Assyrian Democratic Movement in Iraq, estimates about 50,000 Assyrian were prevented from voting.

She told the Daily that officials failed to deliver ballot boxes to five towns in the Ninevah Plain of Northern Iraq, predominantly populated by Christian Assyrians.

Four boxes were finally delivered and voting was permitted to take place Monday morning. However, some polling stations were not staffed when the Christian voters arrived. At one station, voters waited patiently until noon, before they demonstrated.

The Kurdish militia squelched the demonstration, even beating an Assyrian city council member from Baghdida and breaking all his teeth, Patto told the Daily.

In the U.S., officials located one poll in Nashville, which has a Kurdish population of about 4,000. About 38,000 Assyrians live in the northern half of California, but the closest polling place was in Southern California.

A voter would have had to travel 800 miles, round trip, to a Los Angeles polling site, to register for the election, and then repeat the trip a few days later to vote. This distance prevented many of the elderly and poor Assyrians from voting.

Patto told the Daily that the lack of Christian votes is detrimental to the creation of a truly democratic Iraq.

"It is not just the number of seats (on the National Assembly). We want to establish a new country that believes in human rights and democracy, and (in which) people are equal and have the same rights," Patto was quoted as saying. "We want to build it together with all Iraqis."

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