- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 25, 2014

For Karzan Mahmoud, the journey began in 2002 with 23 shots from assassins’ guns in Iraq, which left him shattered and clutching to life. On Wednesday, the journey ended with him taking the oath of American citizenship.

In a ceremony in Fairfax, Virginia, Mr. Mahmoud, who is from the Kurdish part of Iraq, joined 50 other candidates spanning 31 countries who renounced their previous homes, swore fealty to the U.S. Constitution and, for the first time as citizens, pledged allegiance to their new home’s flag.

“America is the best,” Mr. Mahmoud said in somewhat broken English in an interview earlier this week, as he eagerly anticipated his swearing in.

At a time when so much of the immigration debate is colored by questions of illegal immigration, Mr. Mahmoud’s story serves as a reminder of the less controversial part — the naturalization process that, every year, sees hundreds of thousands of immigrants become Americans.

On Tuesday, members of Congress introduced a bipartisan bill that would harness private organizations to help provide English and civics classes that would help immigrants learn the skills needed to pass the citizenship test.

Also this week, the Senate voted to confirm Leon Rodriguez to be the new director of United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), which is the federal agency that handles legal immigration.

In 2013, nearly 800,000 people were naturalized as citizens, with nearly 100,000 of those from Mexico and nearly 50,000 from India.

Iraq makes up a very small portion, accounting for less than 1 percent.

Mr. Mahmoud’s story has been well-documented. Journalist and filmmaker Kevin McKiernan featured him in “The Kurds: A People in Search of Their Homeland,” and the assassination attempt was detailed by New York Times reporter C.J. Chivers in his book “The Gun,” which covers the history of the AK-47, which was the weapon used in the attack.

Surviving 23 bullets has a way of making you a part of history.

The target of the attempt was Barham Salih, the prime minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government in early 2002, when Mr. Mahmoud was working as his driver.

The three gunmen opened fire, killing five members of Mr. Salih’s entourage and leaving Mr. Mahmoud and others grievously wounded.

He was treated in Turkey, but the fixes to his arm and leg became infected. Some of the Americans he connected with in Iraq helped him get treatment at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, and he came on a six-month visitor’s visa.

During those six months, Saddam was toppled and Mr. Mahmoud went back to Iraq to work first for one of the security contractors, and later for the Iraqi government. He was detailed to the nation’s embassy to Canada, where he put the English he learned stateside to use, and then returned to Iraq where he worked closely with the U.S.

One day, he had an incident that frightened him and caused him to seek refugee status in the U.S. Mr. Mahmoud asked The Washington Times not to report the details of that incident, but it was stark enough that it earned him refugee status in the U.S.

He says the U.S. immigration system is more than a symbol of America’s generosity — he says it literally saved him an arm and a leg.

“I lived in Canada, I lived in the U.K., I lived in Jordan and Turkey. America is the best for immigration,” he said.

“If not have immigration help me in my case, I’m sure, not have a leg, not have arm. Believe me, doctor in Iraq not have anything — just a cut,” he said, drawing a slashing motion across his leg to signify an amputation.

Mr. Mahmoud said that given his experience with languages, he would now like to work for the U.S. immigration service.



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