Iraqis in region headed to polls

By Troy Anderson, Staff Writer
Hoping this weekend’s elections in Iraq will strengthen the fledgling democracy, about 40 local residents with Iraqi ties gathered Saturday in North Hollywood to hop into vans so they could cast votes in their homeland’s elections.

A combination of longtime United States citizens, dual citizens and refugees from the war in Iraq, the group was joined by about 300 other people throughout Southern California who drove to the polls in El Cajon to elect a slate of Assyrian Christians to parliament.

Those who left from North Hollywood, mostly residents of the San Fernando and Santa Clarita valleys, said they want to elect members of parliament who will help stop the bloodshed and persecution of Christians in Iraq.

“We are trying to show our support for our nationality in Iraq – the Chaldean-Syriac-Assyrians,” said Rev. William Nissan of the Assyrian Church of Ninevah in Panorama City. “We thank God for America that they gave the freedom to Iraq to be one country.”

The Valley group met up at the Assyrian American Association of Southern California office in North Hollywood. They drove down to the Royal Palace Restaurant & Banquet Hall in El Cajon, one of only a handful of sanctioned voting sites for Iraqi expatriates across the United States.

Sayros Yadgar, spokesman for the Assyrian Democratic Movement, said many of the people voting on Saturday are refugees from Iraq who hope their vote will help the nation get back on its feet.

“There are a lot of church bombings and killings,” Yadgar said. “So we hope to send a lot of representatives to parliament. This will help the Iraqis because they will be less radicalized.”

The election is the first one since 2005 when a Sunni Arab boycott deterred many people from voting. This year, some of the top candidates, including former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi and Sunni Vice President Tariq Hashimi, have made numerous campaign appearances and urged Iraq’s 18 million registered voters to go the polls.

“It’s a very important election,” said Valencia resident David William Lazar, a 50-year-old financial adviser for Morgan Stanley who grew up in Iraq and has lived in the U.S. for 30 years.

“For the first time in the history of the republic of Iraq, we have a constitution that guarantees our rights as a nation.”

Valencia resident Adadnan Isa, an 80-year-old retired engineer and factory and property owner in Iraq, said U.S. Marines at a checkpoint inadvertently shot him and killed his friend when they were returning from a funeral. Isa lost his left hand and still has bullets lodged in his shoulder.

After recovering at a military hospital where the doctor “was very nice,” Isa came as a refugee to the United States in 2005. The rest of his family members are refugees too, living in Syria, Jordan and other countries, including a son in Sacramento.

“We need honest people to rule and rebuild our country,” Isa said.

“We were richer (in the past) and spent money on Jordan and other countries, but now the people are begging. It’s unbelievable what is happening now.”