Thanks and Don’t Call Us, We’ll Call You

Local Iraqi interpreters working with either the State Department,
Military or private organizations in Iraq have a limited shelf-life.
Their ‘use before’ date has never been very long because they have to live among the ordinary population, while keeping their jobs hidden.

Local Iraqi interpreters working with either the State Department,
Military or private organizations in Iraq have a limited shelf-life.
Their ‘use before’ date has never been very long because they have to live among the ordinary population, while keeping their jobs hidden.

Try that sometime, when it’s a matter of life or death every single day.

Our occupying armada, made up of hundreds of NGOs and contractors wants an Iraqi at their side at all times, a kind of human Blackberry
to ease the path for everything from street names to ordinary
one-on-one communication. It’s not done from behind a mask. Iraqi eyes
are everywhere, watching who rides in escort vehicles, who gets out,
who gets in and where they go at the end of the day.

A major business-plan of the insurgency (which may or may not include the real or possibly mythical ‘al-Qaeda in Iraq’)
is to punish those who would help Americans. It’s not hard to know who
tops that list in an Arabic-speaking country and punishment in this
case is not a euphemism. To punish means to kill and that very often
includes family, friends and acquaintances.

One becomes isolated, friendless and paranoid. Nice job-description, huh?

But not to worry, America takes care of those who put their lives on
the line, right? Maybe not. Add to the cost of weapons lost and
billions gone missing, the human toll of those who helped us and fled
Iraq because they helped us and are no longer recognized.

AMMAN, Jordan (Washington Post Foreign Service)
every opportunity, the Iraqis pull out photos of themselves side by
side with U.S. soldiers, photos they feared to share inside their
country. They offer up laminated notes of appreciation from American
commanders. They flash expired U.S. Embassy badges they still keep in
their wallets.

Thousands of Iraqi employees of U.S. contractors,
forced to flee to this capital out of fear, are desperately trying to
leverage their American ties into entry to the United States. But most
languish for months in a bureaucratic and psychological limbo, their
status as uncertain as their future.

In a
metaphoric reference to kicking desperate Vietnamese off the skids of
helicopters departing Saigon over thirty years ago, a hundred thousand
Iraqis (maybe twice that) are left to rot in Baghdad or Amman.

In Amman, stay and starve or go home and die are the choices.

than four years after the U.S.-led invasion, the number of Iraqis being
resettled in the United States is expanding, although the numbers are
minuscule and the pace is glacial. Only those who have worked directly
for the U.S. government or military — a tiny percentage of the
refugees — are eligible for fast-track immigration processing. An
estimated 100,000 Iraqis employed by U.S. contractors — from office
cleaners to managers to highly skilled professionals — have much lower
priority, although they faced similar dangers and underwent rigorous
background checks.

In Iraq, these workers paid a price for being
America’s allies. They led double lives sheathed in lies and secrecy.
Many were killed. Those fortunate enough to make it to Jordan have
found that life as a refugee is precarious.

Their fates are
influenced by post-Sept. 11 security concerns, dwindling bank accounts
and the growing impatience of Iraq’s neighbors with the flood of
refugees. They fear having to return to Iraq, their clandestine lives
and, in their minds, certain death.

Post 9-11 security concerns?

In the warped reality of administration choices, we have contrived to
protect murderous (but American) Blackwater employees from any form of
punishment. Instead, after begging (and paying and promising) Iraqis
for their help, we’ve cut them loose, essentially kicking them off the

The entire American effort, flawed as it was, would have been
impossible without these Iraqis They braved lethal consequences to do
what they believed (and we encouraged them to believe) was a service to
their country.

"For how long can I wait?" asked
Mohammed Ameen, 40, a computer engineer who arrived here 20 months ago.
Ameen and other Iraqis interviewed for this article asked that only
portions of their names be used to shield them and their relatives in
Iraq from persecution.

Between Oct. 1, 2006, and Oct. 15 of this
year, 1,636 Iraqis were resettled in the United States at a time when
as many as 3,000 a day were fleeing Iraq.

On that basis and assuming Mohammed shuffles in the same line as everyone else, it will take 669 years.

But thanks, we really needed multi-lingual computer engineers and we’re
sorry you got tagged for helping us. Look on it as a learning
experience. Next time some world-class nation comes along and invades
you, when they ask for help, just shrug and say something in Arabic.

Or pick up a gun and just shoot them, it’s all the same and at least you can stay in your own country.

you put somebody’s life in danger, just to say ‘Thank you and goodbye’
is not enough. They are highly educated. They come from good families.
They are the best of immigrants. It’s not as if you are taking in
people who will be on Social Security for the rest of their lives."

You International Organization for Migration people
just don’t get the picture. Immigration is a very hot-button issue in
the United States these days. We’re up to our ears in fences along the
Mexican border. What do you want, special treatment just because
there’s a war?

Ibrahim, the engineer, a lavender
scarf covering her brown hair, stared in silence at a letter thanking
her for "exceptional dedication and quality of workmanship" in
rehabilitating living and working quarters for the U.S. Army. Dated
Nov. 17, 2003, it was signed by Lt. Col. Charles E. Williams, commander
of the 1st Armored Division’s 1st Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment.

smiled and remembered when she won the contract to do the work from
KBR, a Houston-based engineering firm. Company managers, she said,
treated her as an equal and rewarded good work with more contracts. As
she spoke, she pulled her expired KBR badge from her handbag.

always felt like they are my family," Ibrahim said. "All my employees
liked to work for the Americans. Those were the best years of my life."

2004, Ibrahim had started carrying a gun in her purse and had hired a
bodyguard. When she entered the Green Zone, where the U.S. Embassy and
American contracting firms are based, she wore a head-to-toe black
abaya. Once inside, she put on jeans and running shoes.

"I changed my personality," she said.

one Friday, her bodyguard was kidnapped. A few days later, his
kidnappers called his family seeking Ibrahim’s whereabouts. They knew
she worked for the Americans.
For three days, Ibrahim and her family
stayed inside their house and slept with guns beside their beds. Within
a week, they fled to Amman.

That was two years ago. Since then,
Ibrahim has seen scores of colleagues and friends who worked for U.S.
contractors flee Iraq. "I have never heard of anybody who went to the
United States," she said.

I suppose there is
someone who can make sense of that. But lives are long and interest is
fleeting. You may or may not read this and, if you do, it will be part
of your personal background noise by breakfast tomorrow. For Ms. Ibrahim it has been over 700 breakfasts and they shimmer off into the horizon like a mirage—without end, without hope.

Joseph Stalin was right. Paraphrased, “The death of a single person is a catastrophe and the death of a hundred thousand is a news event.”

A news event.
We thought ourselves better than old Joe Stalin and yet two million Iraqis who helped us and upon whom we have turned our back, are a news event without so much as the staying-power of Paris Hilton fluff pieces.

Maybe because we don’t have to do anything about Paris.

You should know Intisar Ibrahim. Sit down with her over a cup of
coffee, experience the perfume she wears and look into the depth of her
eyes. She is lovely, but even if she were not, she is important for her
humanity and the things she values, one of which—inexplicably—is

Others are more circumspect.

Her nephew Ammar
Ibrahim, a Shiite, lived in the Sunni-dominated Baghdad neighborhood of
Adhamiyah, but his biggest fear was not sectarian strife. He worked at
a Baghdad power plant operated by General Electric.

"There is no difference between Sunni and Shia when you work for the Americans," Ammar said. "Both sides want to kill you."

about that background noise at breakfast tomorrow. Think about L. Paul
Bremer and Intisar and her nephew. Think about old Joe Stalin.
Remember, if only for a moment, that this war is about far more than
Nancy Pelosi and George Bush. It goes beyond the simple numbers of
4,000 American kids dead and another 200,000 hurt, way past billions
stolen and millions displaced.

It’s a personal story, Intisar’s and Ammar’s story, times a hundred million in the Middle East.

Orange juice and coffee with those eggs?
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