At polling booths in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, voters express hope and resignation at Iraq's prospects
Iraq elections 2018: Inked fingers held aloft, voters in the UAE have their say
Atheel Amer lifted his inked thumb proudly as his wife captured a photo of him after casting his ballot.
The 48-year-old Iraqi architect had just voted for incumbent Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi at a polling booth at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre.
"I am from Mosul and, as we have seen so far, he is a powerful man who works for the welfare of Iraq – not like the ones who came before him," he said.
In this parliamentary election, Iraqis are voting to rebuild their country’s economy and infrastructure as well as its continued recovery from sectarian violence and the battle against ISIS.
Iraqis living in the UAE were required to present their official Iraqi documents along with an Emirates ID that lists “Iraq” under their nationality.
It is the first national elections since ISIS was driven out of the country. Mr Abadi, the current prime minister is running for re-election, depending largely on his success in defeating ISIS militants.
Mr Abadi's greatest accomplishment, Mr Amer agreed, was defeating the extremist group in the northern city of Mosul.
"He did it in a record time and with minimal losses," added his wife Safa Salah, 33, also an architect and who is Sudanese.
Mr Amer moved to Abu Dhabi in 2002 after becoming tired of the turmoil sparked by the US invasion and its aftermath.
"The security was bad, there were road blocks and the situation was tense," he said.
"But when ISIS was there it was the worst – even worse than when the US troops were there".
Many of his friends are excited to be voting, though the turnout at the voting centre set up by the Iraqi government at Adnec was low on Thursday.
Friday was expected to be busier, some said.
Mr Amer voted for Ayad Allawi, Iraq's former vice-president, in the past but changed his mind this time around.
"So far Abadi has been quite proactive, I hope he will not fail me".
Hassan Abdulhameed and his wife Nour Hassan told The National they had chosen to vote for new candidates, without elaborating.
"Because only by introducing new competent individuals positive change is bound to happen," said Mr Abdulhameed, 37, a mechanical engineer.
"They are well-educated and have a rich history of helping people, so hopefully they will stay the same if they win," Abdulhameed continued.
Mr Abdulhameed moved to the UAE back in 2006, and said the situation in Iraq has improved since then.
"People were desperate for some security, there has been a lot of improvement, but still the services there are not encouraging for one to return," he said.
Other voters were unwilling to be fully identified or to give the candidate of their choice.
Dr Shaker Al Nouri, a professor at Al Jazeera University, said: "I am voting for my country’s future not for a specific candidate or party. In this year’s elections, economic hardship surpasses sectarian lines and is at the forefront of voters' concerns".
“I admire one of the candidates, Haider Al Abadi, as he freed the country from ISIS. There is a glimpse of hope after defeating ISIS", said Dr Al Nouri.
"The sectarian language has disappeared. Voters are focusing more on anti-corruption, providing jobs and services, and improving the economy. Iraqis are fed up with the current situation in Iraq. Political parties do not focus on Iraqis citizens," said Mr Al Nouri, who left Iraq in 1977.
A 44-year-old businessman who declined to be named said he voted for the former Iraqi Defence Minister Dr Khalid Al Obaidi, who had served in Abadi's government until two years ago and represents the party Itihad Al Quwa Al Wataniyah.
"I see him as the right man in the right place," he said, adding that in past elections, he had voted for Mr Allawi.
"I hope circumstances will improve, why else would we show up for elections?"
Show up they did. Dozens of Iraqi expatriates thronged polling stations at Al Reemal Castle on Thursday to cast their votes for a new parliament amid cautious optimism.
All of the voters that spoke to The National said they did not vote along sectarian lines and several stressed the need for a secular government.
Although Al Abadi is a Shiite, like every prime minister since Saddam Hussein was toppled, it still matters in Iraqi politics whether the candidate is a Shiite or Sunni, Kurdish or Arab.
Ms Sara Ayoub, 25, argued that Kurds and all Iraqi voices must be heard in the country's parliament.
“We have suffered a lot in the past and we want to get our normal rights,” Ms Ayoub said.
“I hope that no corruption takes over the voting process. I look forward to Iraq stick to its constitution, becoming a safer place, and adjust the current messy situation,” she said.
Mrs Layla Rakan, a 31-year-old Iraqi housewife, expressed concern about the sectarianism that has long plagued her home country.
“I am here to vote for Mosul and hope to rebuild the country," said Mrs Rakan. “In the past, there was no discrimination among religious groups. No one would ask us whether we are Shia, Sunna or whatever.
“I am concerned about the young generation. What’s happening in Iraq must change for them,” she continued.
Aram Aziz, assistant manager for the Iraqi election commission, said purple dye is used to ensure no one can vote more than once.
"It is mandatory for every voter to place his thumb in a one-week permanent ink, so they don't come back the next day and claim they have not voted – the ink cannot even be washed with Clorox".
Mr Aziz said he was expecting an influx of people on Friday.
The elections in Dubai and Abu Dhabi are taking place on Thursday and Friday from 7am to 6pm.