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A Times Editorial

A shameful failure to aid Iraqi allies

The Bush administration is turning its back on Iraqi citizens who risk their lives to help the American war effort in their country. Some work directly for the military and others carry out U.S. mandates to promote political and economic recovery. All are under a threat of torture and death if their identities are discovered by those resisting American occupation.

One man, an Iraqi translator working for the Army, lost a leg while trying to help an American during a firefight. He had to flee with his family to Jordan on his own limited resources and tried for years to be get into the United States. If forced back to Iraq, he said, "I'll be 100 percent killed."

While he was finally allowed in after more than three years — being included in a 60 Minutes expose of his dilemma may have helped — thousands like him are left to fend for themselves, often in the unfriendly confines of Syria and Jordan. It is a shameful and heartbreaking situation that undermines the American war effort and our moral standing in the world.

When Great Britain left Iraq, it took all of its Iraqi workers along. Some 100,000 Iraqis have helped the United States during the war, but the Bush administration has allowed only 5,700 into this country. Those left behind face threats and unspeakable violence to themselves and members of their families. One Iraqi worker accidently dropped his U.S. identification badge in a barber shop and was murdered.

The focus of the 60 Minutes segment was Kirk Johnson, a former federal employee who has made it his mission to help stranded Iraqi allies get the legal help they need to navigate the unnecessarily complex immigration bureaucracy. CBS correspondent Scott Pelley likened Johnson to Oskar Schindler who helped save Jews in Nazi Germany.

Today in America, it shouldn't take such an extraordinary effort by an individual to save the lives of those who have helped us. Irresponsibly, the State Department wouldn't comment for the broadcast, though an unnamed official blamed the delay on background checks. Even if that is true, it shouldn't take more than three years to figure out a man who lost a limb trying to save an American isn't a terrorist.

More likely, Johnson said, the Bush administration is afraid an exodus of friendly Iraqis will make it appear that the war is not going well. The war isn't going well, but that shouldn't keep America from living up to its obligations. To turn away from the Iraqis who risked their lives to help and protect American soldiers is nothing short of betrayal.

If President Bush won't speed up the process of allowing deserving Iraqis to enter the United States, then Congress should do everything in its power to force him to do so.

A shameful failure to aid Iraqi allies 05/19/08 [Last modified: Monday, May 26, 2008 4:14pm]
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