In Iraq, abandoning our allies

It is no mystery that human beings have short memories.

Playing with young Iraqi refugee clients at a refugee awareness event at UNC-Chapel Hill.

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:

Additional Resources:

  • 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.


Filed under Inspirations

2 responses to “In Iraq, abandoning our allies

  1. Adeed

    I think a major problem is that all this is happening during an economic recession. Regardless of how much you tell Iraqis in Iraq (or other immigrants for that matter) that jobs are not plentiful here, they’ll still come. And when they do and find it very difficult to work, it sours the whole experience.

    • I appreciate your comment, but I think you may be missing the main point of my post. We’re talking about Iraqi refugees who are specifically being targeted because of their aid TO the United States. Now that the US government has withdrawn troops from Iraq, those specific refugees (not all, the ones who helped the US government as interpreters, etc) are being targeted by insurgents because of their involvement with the US. Given that they helped us fight the war, don’t we have a moral obligation to help them come here? Their situation is completely different from the experiences of other immigrants, and their lives are in danger because they helped us. This is similar, as Kirk Johnson put it, to the many Vietnamese who aided our troops until the end of the Vietnam War. To quote his article,
      “Although Mr. Kissinger had once claimed there was an “irreducible list” of 174,000 imperiled Vietnamese allies, the policy in the war’s frantic closing weeks was icily Darwinian: if you were strong enough to clear our embassy walls or squeeze through the gates and force your way onto a Huey, you could come along. The rest were left behind to face assassination or internment camps. The same sorry story occurred in Laos, where America abandoned tens of thousands of Hmong people who had aided them.

      It wasn’t until months after the fall of Saigon, and much bloodshed, that America conducted a huge relief effort, airlifting more than 100,000 refugees to safety. Tens of thousands were processed at a military base on Guam, far away from the American mainland. President Bill Clinton used the same base to save the lives of nearly 7,000 Iraqi Kurds in 1996. But if you mention the Guam Option to anyone in Washington today, you either get a blank stare of historical amnesia or hear that “9/11 changed everything.”
      As I said at the start of the post, Americans have short memories.

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