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More than 11,000 detainees at U.S. facilities in Iraq were allowed to visit makeshift polling places this week, taking part in early rounds of voting for Thursday’s parliamentary elections.

It was the first time Iraqi election officials and the U.S. military were able to overcome what, in prior votes, were termed “technical reasons” preventing prisoners from voting.

But, officials confirmed, the most high profile detainee in the country — former dictator Saddam Hussein — once again didn’t cast a ballot.

In a news release headlined “Detainee Voter Turn Out Overwhelming,” the U.S. military said eligible detainees at the Camp Bucca, Abu Ghraib and Fort Suse detention facilities voted Monday, when early ballots were cast throughout the country. Prisoners held in detention but not convicted were eligible to vote.

“Extending the vote to all eligible Iraqis is another example of how the rule of law is helping to strengthen the Iraqi society,” the release read. “The right to shape a free and representative democracy is not a privilege for few, but a right of all Iraqis.”

The voting itself was set up and monitored by the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq, officials said. U.S. forces set up tents and security for the detainees and ushered them through the lines.

“The IECI handled the ballots — no coalition forces touched the ballots at any time,” Lt. Col. Guy Rudisill, a U.S. spokesman for detainee operations, said in an e-mail to Stripes.

There were 12,700 detainees eligible to vote, Rudisill said.

“Of that number, 11,188 detainees walked into a polling station at one of the internment facilities. We do not know whether all 11,188 detainees voted, but they were given the opportunity,” he wrote.

Foreign fighters and juveniles held at the detention facilities were not allowed to vote. There are more than 13,000 detainees in Iraq.

There are several smaller detention facilities at U.S. and Iraqi camps throughout Iraq.

While thousands of others cast ballots, Saddam didn’t visit the polls. Technically he is still able to vote — despite being on trial for crimes against humanity and genocide — but he didn’t cast a ballot this week.

The IECI guidelines allowed for polling places only where more than 100 people could be gathered. Because Saddam is held isolated in an undisclosed location, there were not enough people to warrant an IECI visit, officials said.

“Only those detainees at Abu Ghraib, Camp Bucca and Fort Suse were allowed to vote,” Rudisill said. “Per IECI regulations they would only set up a polling station where there were more than 100 eligible voters.”

Though on trial, Saddam has not yet been convicted of a crime and would thus be eligible to vote, just as any other Iraqi citizen with no criminal record.

“If Saddam had wanted to vote he would have been entitled to do so but he would have had to go to a polling station in person,” Farid Ayar, a spokesman for Iraq’s Electoral Commission, told news agencies during October’s constitutional referendum.

In the two previous votes, registration lists have largely been drawn from U.N. food ration cards issued during the sanctions. New voters or those without ration cards were also allowed to register in the weeks before each vote.

Saddam has been in prison since December 2003, when he was captured by U.S. troops near his hometown of Tikrit.


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