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Iraqi vote requires unprecedented sacrifices

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This month's elections in Iraq are a showdown of epic proportion. In the countdown to the Jan. 30 balloting, terrorists unleased a wave of terror this past week. Five car bombs were detonated across Baghdad in the span of 90 minutes on Wednesday; gunmen fired on the Baghdad office of a major Kurdish party; a British security officer was slain and a Japanese engineer. All of this despite stepped-up U.S. and Iraqi measures to protect this month's elections.

No question, Iraqis face grave threats at this watershed in their history. But those who intend to vote - both in Iraq and across the globe - recognize the importance of taking part in this history-making event. A free election is, in itself, a victory over terrorism and dictatorship. It's the the birth of self-rule.

Some 15.2 million Iraqis — including 1.2 million abroad — are eligible to select among 6,000 candidates for the 275-member National Assembly and regional legislatures. Iraqis who live in the Kurdish-ruled region of northern Iraq will also select a new parliament. Iraqi officials believe roughly half of the eligible voters will cast ballots.

Unlike voting in the United States, a right that is largely taken for granted, the Iraqi vote will be complicated by threats of violence in country and unprecedented inconvenience to Iraqis who will cast ballots in 14 nations abroad, including the United States, Iran, Syria, Britain and Sweden.

There are just five polling places in the United States. Voter registration was to be conducted Jan. 17-23. The vote itself will be Jan. 28-30. That means Iraqis in the United States have to make two trips to the respective polling places in order to vote. Many are determined to make the trips because voting "is a chance for us to prove to the rest of the world that we want a stable Iraq,Éa country that can live in peace with the rest of the world," Utah Iraqi Mustafa al-Hussaini told the Deseret Morning News.

Family members in Iraq have urged al-Hussaini to vote in the United States. He has, likewise, urged his relatives in Basra to take to the polls. While traveling to Irvine, Calif. is inconvenient, al-Hussaini is mindful of the perils family members in Iraq will face when they go to the polls on Jan. 30.

Wherever they may be, all Iraqis understand what is at stake. Iraq's Interim President Ghazi al-Yawer has urged all Iraqis to vote because it is their national duty and their right. "From now on, the people must be the source of power." That journey will begin with the first free elections.