It is too late for the estimated 250 Iraqi translators who have been murdered as “collaborators” since working with U.S. forces. It is not too late for thousands of others. Those who have partnered with British or American forces and thus risk kidnapping, torture or worse deserve a credible assurance of forthcoming visas, now, to relocate their families to the West once this war is over.
Newly installed British Prime Minister Gordon Brown came to wisdom this week after news that 91 translators currently in British employment fear the worst. His government will review their cases and, we expect, rush them to the head of the line. Failure here means hanging the very people who have risked it all for the mission. That is no message for U.S. and British allies and sources in Iraq, or anywhere.
About 20,000 Iraqis are in danger of retribution and will need to be resettled once coalition forces leave Iraq, according to the United Nations, but estimates of the real at-risk population run as high as 110,000. These are people who have aided coalition forces as translators, informants, clerks, cooks or in a number of other capacities. Their jobs are often done in secret, concealed from friends and family. As Paul Moorcraft of the London-based Centre for Foreign Policy Analysis described yesterday on the opposite page, they actually take a double sacrifice. They face “the daily risk of bombs and bullets as they accompany British soldiers, but also the even graver threat of horrific torture and death from the militias if they leave their bases to return to visit their families. When the British quit they will be killed as ‘traitors.’ ” As Mr. Moorcraft puts it: “Dumping loyal coworkers is no way to do business.”
Ambassador Ryan Crocker properly appealed last month for a wide embrace. “Unless they know that there is some hope of [a visa] in the future,” he wrote the Bush administration, “many will continue to seek asylum, leaving our Mission lacking in one of our most valuable assets.” In April, Assistant Secretary of State Ellen Sauerbrey said the United States “could resettle up to 25,000 Iraqi refugees” in 2007. But it is currently working on pace for only a tiny fraction of that number.
The bipartisan Refugee Crisis in Iraq Act — Senate bill 1651, sponsored by Sens. Ted Kennedy, Gordon Smith, Joe Biden, Chuck Hagel, Patrick Leahy, Carl Levin and Joe Lieberman — is a good start. But even this bill limits the number of “special immigrant status” grantees to 5,000 annually.
Don’t we care about these brave men and women? And don’t we care about the awful message that our nonchalance sends the world? Make no mistake. The entire Middle East is watching how we treat our Iraqi allies. Our ability to earn trust and build sources and allies will be crippled for decades if we betray these friends.