Iraqi interpreters feel frightened and ‘fooled’ as U.S. visa program ends

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“Folks are still under threat of decapitation, the siblings or children will get kidnapped for ransom, people will get kidnapped and tortured, people’s houses will get raided and burned. You name it, it’s happened,” said Katie Reisner, national policy director for the Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project. “There was a period of relative calm, and things are disintegrating again. It’s still within working memory who helped the U.S. and who didn’t.”

Former interpreters note with dread a prison break in July at the infamous Abu Ghraib that freed hundreds of extremists and criminals.

“Many bad guys were inside that jail. On the streets, you don’t know when they will get you,” said a 23-year-old Sunni Kurdish interpreter who was afraid to give his name for fear of his safety.

‘I’ll do it again’

Violence in Iraq has worsened since U.S. troops left at the end of 2011, with Sunni insurgents fighting the Shiite-majority government. In April, government security forces raided an encampment of Sunni Arab protesters in Kirkuk that left 45 people dead.

Interpreters are targeted by Sunnis and Shiites because they helped U.S. troops capture and interrogate fighters from both camps.

Ali Nori Nadir, a 26-year-old Sunni Kurdish interpreter, said interpreters are captured and killed under unknown conditions, and the government simply blames “insurgents” or “al Qaeda.”

Mr. Nadir’s U.S. visa was denied after 3 years of assisting Army units for “security issues” and for not providing “valuable and faithful service” to the government.

U.S. Embassy officials have encouraged him to reapply, but he has given up because it’s too difficult to get to the embassy in Baghdad from Kirkuk, where he lives and works as a security guard.

“You can’t tell what is an official checkpoint and what is an unofficial checkpoint,” Mr. Nadir said.

Conner said he keeps two weapons in his home. “I need it for my protection,” he said. “I do not feel safe. I am a son of Iraq, and I do not feel safe for my life.”

Jasim said he and his wife have given up trying to go to America. The State Department still has his case open, and it contacts him once or twice a year to ask him to update his contact information, but he said he no longer holds any hope.

Despite all he has been through and the disappointment he has met, he said, he does not regret his service to the American troops who freed his country from a despot, many of whom he regards as friends.

“I’ll do it for my friends,” he said, “and I’ll do it again and again and again.”

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