Iraqi expats begin voting
Violence continues at home as security tightens even more
Days before Iraqi elections, insurgents targeted polling stations.
How Iraqis will vote when they head to the polls on Sunday.
Pressure increases to find an "exit strategy" in Iraq.
|U.S. HELICOPTER CRASHES|
Deadliest of Iraq warJanuary 26, 2005: 31 killed
November 15, 2003: 17 killed
November 2, 2003: 16 killed
March 21, 2003: 12 killed (8 Britons, 4 Americans)
January 8, 2004: 9 killed
November 7, 2003: 6 killed
April 2, 2003: 6 killed
Source: U.S. military
(CNN) -- As insurgent attacks continue at home, Iraqi expatriates in countries around the globe began voting Friday morning in the first democratic elections in almost 50 years.
Although the voting in Iraq doesn't start until Sunday, more than 280,000 expatriates in 14 countries -- many of whom fled during Saddam Hussein's regime -- are eligible to vote over a three-day period beginning Friday.
The largest single contingent of expatriate voters is in Iran, with more than 60,000 registered. About 31,000 are registered each in Sweden and Britain; more than 25,000 are registered each in Germany and the United States.
The first to cast ballots were in Australia, where about 11,000 expatriates are registered.
In Sydney, Shimon Haddad boasted to CNN that he was the first Iraqi in the world to vote, saying it was a "very happy and exciting day" for Iraqis in the country.
Haddad, manager of the city's biggest temporary polling station, said he took the opportunity to vote just before the polls opened at 7 a.m. (3 p.m. ET Thursday) because he knew he would be busy for the rest of the day.
Haddad, who has lived in Australia for 33 years, said it was not difficult to determine how to vote for the candidates on offer.
He said the various Iraqi political parties had distributed brochures and had held meetings in Sydney ahead of the vote.
The ability of Iraqis to vote in safety in Australia and elsewhere contrasts with the situation in Iraq, where Iraqi and U.S. forces are further tightening security to ensure insurgent violence does not keep people from the polls Sunday.
Insurgents are targeting police stations and warning candidates and would-be voters that their lives will be at risk if they cast ballots to choose a 275-seat transitional national assembly.
Tighter restrictions will be imposed for the period before and after the elections, said Kasim Daoud, the country's minister of state for national security.
Daoud told reporters via a satellite news conference that from Friday through Monday curfews will be extended and vehicle movement restricted.
"We are not going to allow vehicles to reach directly to these polls, Daoud said. "Vehicles will stay away a certain -- in such a distance from the polls."
Civilians will also be prevented from moving from province to province, and voters will not be allowed to carry weapons, even if they have a license to do so, the minister said.
National security adviser Mowaffak al Rubaie said the first line of defense to protect voters will be the country's military and security forces, with support from U.S.-led multinational troops.
"The main aim is to delay the election, is to cancel the election, is to derail the political process," al Rubaie said. "This is not going to happen."
U.S. Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Hammond said American forces are ready. "Over the last 30 days we have pressed the insurgents hard -- ruthlessly," he said.
"In fact, we've conducted over 270 combat operations. And in doing so, we've detained over 800 insurgents and captured over 100 weapon caches," he said.
"Now, you can imagine that should, obviously, put some sort of dent in the insurgents' resources and his ability to continue to wage this fight. We believe it has. We truly believe it has."
Hammond emphasized American troops will play only a supporting role in the elections.
"It will be the Iraqi security forces actually guarding the polling sites with American forces supporting, but being very active," he said.
Hammond predicted there would be some violence, but said he believed most Iraqis would brave the prospect of danger to cast their ballots.
Hot spots for insurgents
Daoud said insurgents are mainly active in two of Iraq's 18 provinces, Anbar and Nineveh.
"There are a couple of hot areas in Salahuddin province and in Diyala province," Daoud said. "Otherwise, the whole country is more or less a safe country."
He described the insurgents as being mainly of two groups: "the Saddamists, which they are loyal to Saddam regime; and the Islamic fundamentalists."
Daoud blamed neighbors Syria and Iran -- which he compared to "naughty boys" -- for not doing enough to stop insurgents from using their countries as pathways to Iraq.
He said the Iraqi government has formed a trilateral committee with Syria and the United States to combat the problem.
"Until now, we didn't get any good response from the Syrians, although our intelligence information, with very solid documents, shows the involvement of some of the Syrian security forces authorities ... in these activities," Daoud said.
Daoud said part of the next step after the elections is to get more security and military personnel trained.
He estimated that about 90,000 Iraqi police officers and 55,000 members of the military are trained as of now, and said the goal is to have 150,000 members of the Iraqi army by 2006, he said.
Northeast of the capital in Baquba, an Iraqi police lieutenant was killed and three others wounded in a suicide car bombing Thursday outside the Diyala provincial governor's office, authorities said.
With a large Sunni Muslim population, Diyala is believed to be the only Iraqi province in which religious leaders have given Sunnis dispensation to vote.
The minority Sunnis dominated under Saddam's rule but fear the election will benefit the majority Shiites.
In Babil province, one U.S. Marine was killed and four others wounded Thursday, the coalition press office said. The death brought the U.S. death toll in the war to 1,420, according to the U.S. military.
On Wednesday, a suicide tractor bomb detonated outside the Kurdish Democratic Party office in the northern city of Sinjar, killing four Iraqi soldiers and a guard, a provincial official said.
Seventeen others were wounded, including nine Iraqi soldiers, five guards and three civilians. Sinjar is about 62 miles (100 kilometers) southwest of Mosul.
The tractor was stolen from a city facility close to the Kurdish office before being packed with explosives, said Kahsro Goran, deputy governor of Nineveh province.
CNN's Jane Arraf, Kianne Sadeq and Mohammed Tawfeeq, and journalist Anthony Clark contributed to this report