Message on a ballot

Abdullah al-Rekabi, 21, left some of his family and new wife in the southern city of Basra, Iraq and came to America to learn English.

Currently a student at Salt Lake Community College, al-Rekabi hopes to go back to a peaceful homeland one day in order to teach English to fellow Iraqis.

Rather than waiting for others to bring peace in his home country, al-Rekabi and more than 55 expatriated Iraqi-Utahns are taking a proactive approach to bettering their native country.

A group of 55 eligible Iraqi voters living in Utah began a 12-hour journey to the nearest U.S. Iraqi voter registration station in Irving, Calif., on Friday.

The group of voters must first drive to California to register for the vote by Jan. 25, and then return to California to cast their ballots between Jan. 28 and 30. The total cost of these two roundtrip drives is about $400 per family and many local Iraqis are not financially capable of covering the cost.

One U student is determined to ensure all eligible Utah Iraqis have an opportunity to vote.

Bryan Catherman returned from Iraq, where he served in the U.S. military, in April 2004 and said the passion and desire of the Iraqis with whom he worked left a profound impression on him.

He decided to set up the Iraqi Election Support Fund so Utahns could help in the rebuilding of Iraq.

While he did serve in the military, Catherman said the rebuilding of Iraq is not solely a U.S. effort and this program should help highlight that.

“It’s important people see the sacrifice the Iraqis are making too,” he said. “We’re all in it together, and that awareness can’t hurt our community.” He called the effort a two-pronged approach. “First of all, we have to have the funds to get the people there to vote,” he said. “Kind of a secondary reason for this is that a lot of Utahns don’t realize we have an Iraqi community, or Arab community.”

Mustafa al-Hussaini, 37, said the effort is important to him because, aside from his wife, he left his entire family in Iraq.

“This is a major step toward building a better country,” al-Hussaini said. “My vote means a lot. We need to give a good government the chance to go on.”

Al-Hussaini has lived in the United States for the past eight years. He currently runs an educational Spanish magazine called “Muestro Mundo,” but he hopes to travel back to Iraq to reunite with his entire family in a less contentious Iraq one day.

“This [vote] is the only way to a better future,” he said. “Insurgents are trying to drag Iraq into a civil war…and our people have had to suffer the last 30 years.”

Catherman said the Iraqis are not deterred by the potential of insurgents reaching polling booths in the United States.

“Is there a possibility of a problem? Absolutely,” Catherman said. “Are they afraid of it? Not at all.”

He added that the donation fund had generated only $325 dollars as of Saturday, Jan. 22, but said the U can help either by getting to know their Iraqi community members by participating in the next send off at 7 p.m. on Jan. 28, or by donating money.

“We had students from the Middle East Center there Friday who brought candy and water,” Catherman said. “I didn’t think about that but the students did…to help out even the slightest is taking part in something monumental.”

He added that some of the students in the Middle East Center are actually willing to donate their cars to drive groups of Iraqis to California.

As of Sunday, 16,794 Iraqis had registered to vote in America. The community can make donations of any size at the Hinckley Institute of Politics or at Zions Bank through Jan. 27. The group will be meeting at the Alrasool Islamic Center on 470 East Stanley Ave. (3180 South).

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