It is no mystery that human beings have short memories.
Americans certainly, are no exception, especially when it comes to our international policy. We alternate our heavy involvement in military conflicts with a rabid isolationism, choosing to forget about those who suffer in the wake of the choices we have made. Our geographical isolation allows it, and our Western privilege allows it. And when it comes to the Second Gulf War, it seems we would rather forget about the many Iraqis who were our allies for those seven long years.
In a way, it’s understandable that Americans are sick of a country that permeated our every news story, orange alert, and political talking point. Polls taken towards the end of the war revealed a strong opposition to renewed military involvement as well as a majority of Americans who considered the Iraq War to be a mistake. We witnessed too many lives lost, too many resources used, and too many mistruths spoken. It seems that most Americans are embracing Obama’s message of change by moving on from a war that we would much rather forget.
But if Obama’s inspiring message was predicated on the belief that we should build a more peaceful world by protecting the vulnerable, then our current policy towards Iraqi refugees contradicts that message. Kirk Johnson, founder of the List Project to Resettle Iraqi Refugees, wrote an eye-opening article in The New York Times opinion page about the current refugee crisis, and how Obama’s administration has not lived up to his promise to help the ‘interpreters, embassy workers, and subcontractors targeted for assassination’ because of their involvement with the U.S. government. In the article and on his website, Johnson outlines the dangers that our Iraqi allies are facing now that they have been left behind in the wake of the U.S. withdrawal. “The sorry issue,” Kirk Johnson writes, “is that we don’t need them anymore now that we’re leaving, and resettling refugees is not a winning campaign issue.”
Kirk Johnson’s article was one of the few in the past year that The New York Times published about Iraqi refugees. Perhaps that is one of the reasons why when I tell people that most of the clients we are receiving at the refugee resettlement agency I am involved with are from Iraq, they looked surprised. Most get quiet. And to be honest, I understand why. After all, if our involvement was supposed to instill democracy in Iraq, then why are so many people fleeing?
And that question, perhaps, is one that we would just not prefer to answer.
Here are the facts:
- Since 2003, there have been an estimated 2.2 million Iraqis who have fled the country. Most (nearly a million) have fled to Jordan or Syria, where they are often treated as second-class citizens, barred from decent work opportunities. Thousands of young women and girls have been forced into the sex trade in Syria just to survive.
- Of those, only around 60,000 refugees have been admitted into the United States.
- Johnson’s project has helped to resettle 1,500 refugees who have had to flee Iraq largely because they have helped the U.S. during the war. Still, thousands more are being targeted in their country, and the Obama administration has admitted just a small percentage of those who loyally aided us.
- The Iraqis who have been targeted due to their involvement with the U.S. include the following: an Iraqi interpreter who at the time of his murder, was desperately waiting for a visa to resettle in the U.S.; a former U.S. interpreter who was gunned down in his home; and ‘emo’ youth, who are targeted and killed by the Ministry of Interior for their style of dress that has perceived ‘Western’ influence. These are just a few of the tragedies that have been documented.
- To learn more about Kirk Johnson’s project to help resettle Iraqi refugees and how you can help, click here.
- To learn more about the Iraqi refugee crisis, please watch PBS’s documentary Iraqi Exodus
- To learn of other ways in which you can help, either by donating or getting involved with a local refugee organization, contact the International Rescue Committee.