The Iraq war might have been the wrong war fought for the wrong reasons, but we can’t just walk away from it under dishonorable circumstances.
Tens of thousands of Iraqis who risked their lives to work for the U.S. are still waiting for promised visas that mean safety for themselves and their families.
Even though time is running out, the visa program — never very efficient to start with — for Iraqis who worked for the U.S. military, especially the interpreters who were vital to our efforts, U.S. contractors and private U.S. firms, such as the TV networks, has ground to a virtual halt.
A special program started in 2008 by President George W. Bush’s administration to issue 25,000 visas to Iraqis such as the interpreters has issued only 7,000.
Another program, aimed at helping Iraqi refugees, admitted 18,000 in fiscal 2010, but will have admitted just a projected 6,000 for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30. And it is slowing even further, with no visas being issued last month.
Meanwhile, the lives of the Iraqis waiting to be admitted are on hold.
If the U.S. departs Iraq entirely at the end of this year or leaves behind just a small residual force, any Iraqi known to have aided the U.S. will be at risk. Both Shiite and Sunni extremist groups have said once the Americans leave, they will hunt down and kill collaborators.
The New York Times reported, “In 2006, after the British pulled out of Basra, the southern Iraqi port city, interpreters were rounded up and killed.”
The U.S. State Department blames lack of personnel and secure facilities to do interviews. And nearly everyone blames most of the delay on new visa-vetting procedures recently adopted by the Department of Homeland Security.
The case for more-thorough background checks got a boost in May when two Iraqis in Kentucky, admitted under the refugees program, were charged with trying to send cash, explosives and missiles to Iraq.
This is a legitimate concern, but an excess of caution, red tape and Homeland Security’s notoriously cumbersome rules and procedures should not be an excuse to abrogate what, after all, is a solemn obligation.
It is beyond belief that this country, with all its resources and talent, cannot make this program work and, moreover, wrap it up by the end of 2011.
We are already fighting a second war in another land with unfamiliar languages and culture, and it likely may not be the last. When we seek local help, we should be able to point to how honorably and well we treated those who worked for us in Iraq.
Dale McFeatters is an editorial writer and columnist for the Scripps Howard News Service.