Iraqi expatriates living in Iowa began registering to vote this week in their homeland’s first independent elections in nearly half a century. Iraqi nationals who’ve immigrated to Iowa will have to travel to Chicago, the nearest registration site, where the registration period continues till Sunday, January 23. Jerry Heinauer is district director for Citizenship and Immigration Services, one section of the federal agency formerly known as the INS. Heinauer says most likely these are “lawful permanent residents” here, natural-born citizens who moved here from Iraq. He says they could vote in their native country’s election if its laws permit that, and adds the U.S. government wouldn’t have any reason to get involved in that process. It’s up to the other country to decide whether its former residents now living abroad can mail a ballot home, as they’ll be allowed to do in the Iraqi elections the end of this month, and Heinauer says that does not mean Iraqis living here have dual citizenship. If you weren’t born in the U.S. and you weren’t a citizen at birth, you take an oath of allegiance when you obtain your citizenship and declare you’ll give up any foreign allegiances you had before. Heinauer says some who move here are granted permanent residence and can live legally in Iowa…but many want to go further, and study lessons to take the oath of citizenship and become naturalized U.S. citizens. The 2-state Iowa-Nebraska office naturalized around 4300 people, and granted permanent residence to around 3500 in the 2-styate area. He says some are surprised that “here in the heartland of America, as far from a border as you can possibly be,” that his office is so busy. Heinauer can’t say how many Iraqi nationals in Iowa may cast a vote in Iraq’s election later this month. The 2000 census found 182 Iowans who reported Iraqi ancestry, and 148 Iowans who said they were born in Iraq. Iraqi expatriates who’ve gone through the international registration process will be able to cast a vote January 28 through the 30th. The voter registration’s open to those 18 or older who are present or former Iraqi citizens, who were born in Iraq, and those whose fathers are Iraqi.