Moqtada al-Sadr, the Iraqi Shiite cleric and vocal opponent of the American occupation, recently declared that all Iraqis who assisted foreign forces are now “outcasts”. When Britain pulled its troops out of Basra a few years ago, 17 such “outcasts” were murdered, their bodies dumped in the streets.
Today, there are thousands upon thousands of interpreters, construction workers, embassy workers, subcontractors, and so many more Iraqis who helped American troops in uncountable ways who remain in their country, under threat from their more nationalist countrymen.
In 2007, on the campaign trail, candidate Obama said:
We must also keep faith with Iraqis who kept faith with us. One tragic outcome of this war is that the Iraqis who stood with America – the interpreters, embassy workers, and subcontractors – are being targeted for assassination.
Keeping this moral obligation is a key part of how we turn the page in Iraq. Because what’s at stake is bigger than this war – it’s our global leadership…
And yet our doors are shut. That is not how we treat our friends.
What will become of those Iraqis now? Sadly, the answer appears to be que sera, sera. In order to resettle in the United States, Iraqi civilians, even the ones who have worked on American installations in Iraq, undergone background checks, eye and fingerprint scans, lie-detector tests, and much else — must embark on a layered bureaucratic process that often lasts a year and a half.
How is our government helping its Iraqi friends? Apparently, it is doing the bare minimum, turning its back and hoping everything works out. The fates of Iraqi refugees and civilians is not a campaign issue. The Onion summed up this feeling not long ago with the headline “54 Iraqis Die In Not Our Problem Anymore”.
Kirk Johnson, a former reconstruction coordinator in Iraq and founder of The List Project to Resettle Iraqi Refugees, had this to say in the New York Times:
The sorry truth is that we don’t need them anymore now that we’re leaving, and resettling refugees is not a winning campaign issue. For over a year, I have been calling on members of the Obama administration to make sure the final act of this war is not marred by betrayal. They have not listened, instead adopting a policy of wishful thinking, hoping that everything turns out for the best…
And so our policy in the final weeks of this war is as simple as it is shameful: submit your paperwork and wait. If you can survive the next 18 months, maybe we’ll let you in. For the first time in five years, I’m telling Iraqis who write to me for help that they shouldn’t count on America anymore.
To abandon our friends is a shameful way to end this war. Our military did its job — it stayed the course and did not back down when the anti-war voices back at home reached a deafening crescendo; our soldiers never abandoned their task. They saw it through to the end. Can the same be said of our civil society?
“9/11 changed everything”, bureaucrats tell Mr. Johnson in Washington. To be fair, they have a point. Resettling Iraqis in the US on a grand scale leads to problems. Two Iraqis who moved to Kentucky were recently charged with trying to send weapons back home. That case has removed all urgency from the project to resettle our Iraqi allies. But the situation of our faithful and now abandoned friends is not good. The Sadrist militias are known neither for their forgiveness nor their appreciation of American supporters.
Those who stand by the United States in tough times deserve our thanks and our help. And from a totally selfish point of view it is important that people deciding how to align themselves in future conflicts know that the United States of America stands by its friends. Here is one case where our leaders need to lead; Congress and the White House must find a way to help and protect our friends.