Sydney, Australia Iraqi expatriates began casting ballots today in Sydney, several jostling to be among the first to vote in Iraq's first independent elections in more than 50 years.
Amid tight security at a converted furniture warehouse, young children mingled with elderly Kurdish women in head-to-toe black robes.
"This is a long dream that now comes true," said 56-year-old Karim Jari before casting his vote. "We hope this is a new beginning."
Australia is one of 14 nations where Iraqis living outside their country can vote -- and the first country in the world to begin collecting ballots because of its time zone. In Iraq, the vote is Sunday; elsewhere, it runs today through Sunday.
About two dozen people jostled to be among the first to vote. Rebwar Aziz, who was lived in Australia since 1992, got the honor.
"This is freedom for Iraqi people," the 38-year-old bus driver said.
He rejected the wave of attacks by insurgents in Iraq aimed at disrupting the vote there.
"The point is if you need freedom, you have to fight for it," he said. "I feel great. I can't express my happiness."
Many historians consider the last free elections in Iraq to have taken place in 1953, when opposition won seats in an election held under British colonial influence. Iraq was a constitutional monarchy at the time.
Nearly 12,000 Iraqi exiles registered to vote in Australia, about 15 percent of the estimated 80,000 eligible Iraqi nationals.
Organizers originally hoped that as many as 50,000 Iraqis would join the electoral rolls in Australia, but downgraded their expectations after a poor showing at polling stations last week, saying fear and apathy were keeping many Iraqis away from the polls.
That trend was reflected in the other countries and less than a quarter of the 1.2 million eligible expatriate Iraqis had registered by Tuesday's deadline.
Organizers of the overseas vote twice extended the timeframe for voter registration to help boost turnout.