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The Iraqi Electoral Commission will not allow Iraqi expatriates to vote on a new constitution, effectively locking out a quarter-million votes from mostly religious minorities living in the United States, Britain, and other countries.

The decision, revealed by Electoral Commission member Fareed Ayar in a telephone interview Tuesday (August 2) from Baghdad, is certain to alienate the Christian minorities who comprise most Iraqi exiles.

"You're changing the entire demographics of the country. If we don't vote, then we'll all be forced to leave there," said Nahrain Kamber, a ChaldoAssyrian Christian who lives in Palo Alto, Calif., who cast her ballot from the United States in January. "Given the history of what's been going on with the Christian minorities it looks like Iraq will be an Islamic state, as scary as that is."

New parliamentary elections will be held by the end of the year, following ratification of the new constitution. The commission does not yet know if those elections will be open to out-of-country voters. "It depends on the law of the elections which is now transitional, and then we will decide," Ayar said.

Ayar said that the organization running the elections had initially estimated an expatriate turnout of 1.25 million, but "we discovered only 250,000, which is a very low percent." Officials of the International Organization of Migration, which ran the election, said they had only two months to launch a global get-out-the-vote effort.

Expatriate leaders have alleged widespread voter fraud in their towns during the historic Jan. 30 elections. Ayar denied those allegations. "We didn't get anything official that there was any fraud in any place in the last election, and we will do our best to make our next election ...

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