WASHINGTON, March 5 (UPI) -- Iraqis living abroad voted Friday in 16 countries, including Syria and the United States, in elections to select the 325 members of their next government.
Iraqis in Iraq head to the polls Sunday to pick a national government for the second time since U.S.-led forces toppled the regime of Saddam Hussein in 2003.
Qubad Talibani, the representative of the Kurdistan Regional Government to the United States, said the parliamentary election was an inclusive process for the Iraqi people.
"All of the political parties and candidates are fully vested in the system -- unlike in 2005, when the Shiites and the Kurds maintained their own coalitions and Sunni Arabs boycotted," he said. "We now expect Sunni participation, while Shiite and Kurdistani parties will be competing under multiple and separate coalitions."
The Justice and Accountability Commission of Ahmed Chalabi banned several Sunni leaders from the election because of alleged ties to the outlawed Baath Party. That decision sparked a short-lived boycott of the election from top Sunni leaders.
U.S. Sen. Dick Lugar, R-Ind., the ranking member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, said he was stressing the importance of the Iraqi election by acting as an official observer Friday as Iraqi nationals in the United States begin voting.
"These elections are essential to the long-term political stability and economic progress in Iraq," Lugar said in a press statement.
More than 6,000 candidates are vying for 325 seats in the Iraqi Parliament. Analysts expect it could take as long as four months for the Iraqis to form their next government.
The U.S. military plans to pull its combat forces out of Iraq in August.