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Last Updated: Thursday, 27 January, 2005, 06:50 GMT
Iran keen for strong Shia turnout
By Frances Harrison
BBC News, Tehran

Jadid Zeinivand
Iraqi exile Jadid Zeinivand intends to cast his vote in Qom
Iran's concerns about the elections in Iraq were voiced early on by the country's spiritual leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

In a speech to Hajj pilgrims he warned of two dangers.

"The first is that of outright fraud and manipulation of the popular vote, something which is a speciality of the Americans," he said.

The second danger was the prospect of a "military coup and the imposition of another dictatorship over the destiny of the Iraqi nation".

With a Shia-led coalition, the United Iraqi Alliance set to dominate the polls if not win an outright victory there is concern in Iran that the Americans might not allow a Shia group with loyalties to Iran to take power.

A conservative website, Baztab, has complained of a "British plan to deny Shias their part in the elections".

'A 30-year wait'

It says 250,000 Iraqi Shias in Iran are being deprived of the right to vote because many towns do not have registration and polling stations and people have to travel hundreds of kilometres in very bad weather to access one.

For 30 years we put up with pain and suffering and humiliation just for this day when we can elect someone as the head of our country who can solve our problems
Jadid Zeinivand, Iraqi voter
But the International Organisation of Migration says more Iraqi exiles have registered to vote in Iran than in any of the other 13 countries where polling is taking place outside Iraq.

One reason for the much higher turnout in Iran may be the likelihood that the Shia parties will win most of the exiles in Iran are themselves Shias.

But most Iraqis here said they wanted to vote because it was their intention to return home as soon as it was safe.

"We have been waiting for this day for 30 years" says Jadid Zeinivand who is queuing to register in the city of Qom.

"For 30 years we put up with pain and suffering and humiliation just for this day when we can elect someone as the head of our country who can solve our problems," he said.

Mr Zeinivand says he wants someone to win who will welcome Iraqi exiles home with open arms.

"Shia, Sunni, Kurdish. Arab, Jewish, it doesn't make any difference to us," he says.

In a city like Qom which is Iran's theological centre for the study of Shia Islam rivalling even cities like Najaf in southern Iraq you might expect Iraqi exiles to back the religious parties exclusively.

Interference

But there seems to be a healthy debate with some Iraqi exiles even saying they want the American armed forces to stay on after the elections to fight the remnants of the Baathist regime and al-Qaeda.

Khaled Mohammediya who runs a cosmetics shop in Qom says he will vote for number 169 on the ballot paper.

Holy shrine in Qom, Iran
Iran has the largest group of Iraqi voters outside Iraq
He does not know what party 169 is but he knows it has been endorsed by Iraq's Shia leader Ayatollah Sistani who was born in Iran.

In fact it is the United Iraqi Alliance. "I would like those who come to power not to be Americans; we've seen no benefit from the Americans and the British who were hand in glove with Saddam Hussein" he says.

Iranian TV broadcasts nightly advertisements urging Iraqis to go and vote but there is no sense that all Iraqi exiles here are purely following Iranian dictates when it comes to their choice of leader.

Abroad, Iran is accused of interference in Iraq generally and in the elections in particular.

By contrast here there is a feeling that Iran is the victim of a calculated propaganda plot.

An editorial in the conservative newspaper Resalat complained that the allegations of Iranian interference were only aimed at forcing the Shiite movement in Iraq to distance itself from Iran.

It said such propaganda was to damage the Shia-led coalition, the United Iraqi Alliance, and in particular reduce the influence of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, a party which has been pro-Iranian.

In the light of repeated accusations of interference, Iran has always maintained its interests are better served by a secure and democratic neighbour.


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Why so many exiles want to take part in the vote



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