Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Iraq Crisis in Numbers: An Update

Recently, the Baltimore Sun ran an article on the refugee crisis. I was happy to see a local newspaper tackling the issue; I take it (with a heavy dose of optimism) as an indication that more and more people are paying attention to the crisis.

The article focused on one of the six Iraqis resettled in Maryland in fiscal year 2007, a woman named Ban Saadi Abdallattif, who came to the States with her nine-year-old son Sajad Mokhalad Bashar. Ms. Abdallattif was a teacher when she lived in Diyala. But the February, 2006 Samarra bombing of Al-Shi'a Al-Askari mosque marked a dramatic spike in violence that took the lives of her uncle and cousin, and which nearly led to her brother's kidnapping. Theirs is a mixed Shi'a and Sunni family, making them targets for both sides of the conflict. She fled to Syria with her entire family just over a year ago and arrived in Laurel, Maryland, this September.

Ban Saadi Abdallattif is awaiting a Social Security number so that she can begin work. Her son is in school in Laurel. She is relieved to be in the safety of the U.S. and does not plan to return to Iraq.

Sadly, Ban Saadi Abdallattif and her son represent only a fraction of the displacement crisis, and a remarkably lucky fraction at that. This fact is starkly indicated by the following stats, which clearly demonstrate the concerted effort that is required to address the crisis:

Internally Displaced Persons in Iraq: 2.3 million (
UN High Commissioner for Refugees)

Refugees outside of Iraq: 2.4 million (

Total number displaced: 4.7 million (

UNHCR referrals to the United States as of Oct 5: 11,911 (Baltimore Sun)

Total number of Iraqi refugees admitted in the 2007 fiscal year: 1,608 (Human Rights First)

Of these, number referred by the UNHCR in FY07: 1,510 (HRF)

Number referred by a U.S. embassy program for Iraqi employees in FY07: 98 (HRF)

Special immigrant visas issued to translators and their family members in FY07: 820 (HRF)

Iraqi governorates with restrictions on internal movement: at least 11 of 18 (

UNHCR Syria: 1.4 million Iraqi refugees; 128,000 registered, nearly 36 percent with specific needs (

UNHCR Jordan: 1 million Iraqi refugees; 48,833 registered, 14.4 percent with specific needs (

Success Stories and the Road Ahead

Over the last several months, EPIC members have delivered nearly 2,000 letters to the Senate in support of Senators Kennedy and Smith's "Refugee Crisis in Iraq Act". This week, EPIC has been on Capitol Hill meeting with lawmakers regarding this legislation, which recently passed as an amendment to the Defense Reauthorization Act. This is a victory for everyone concerned with the refugee crisis. We are urging lawmakers and likely House conferees to maintain and strengthen the amendment's language as it goes to conference with the House.

Nevertheless, as
an editorial in today's New York Times argues, considerable work remains if the United States is to live up to its obligations by protecting our Iraqi allies. This editorial is on the mark. Iraqis often flee their homes in desperation and with much haste, giving them less than ample opportunity to gather their belongings and assets. As a result, they have little money to care for themselves. $18,000 to $20,000 is only enough to support a family of four in a country like Jordan for three months. Even the most expedient refugee processing takes at least three months, leaving such families with no funds for a plane to the U.S.

Ordinary men and women in our armed services recognize this situation for what it is and are stepping up to the plate. The NY Times editorial describes Jason Faler, an Oregonian Army captain whose Iraqi interpreter fled Iraq after his house was destroyed and he was threatened with death by the same captors who kidnapped and killed a colleague. Mr. Faler's interpreter made it to the U.S. with his own funds, which are now nearly depleted, forcing him to reside in Mr. Faler's basement. Mr. Faler has begun his own foundation ( to raise money for Iraqi refugees.

Here's more from the editorial:
Private efforts are immensely laudable, but this is a government responsibility. Some lawmakers seem to be waking up to that. The Senate last week approved an amendment to the labor, health and human services appropriations bill that would grant Iraqi and Afghan interpreters and translators the same relocation benefits as refugees for six months. Conferees are negotiating a final bill this week, and it would be a travesty if they dropped this aid.
The amendment the NY Times refers to an amendment introduced by Senators Cardin (D-MD) and Smith (R-OR) (No. 3400) to the Labor-HHS Appropriations bill. EPIC and the refugee advocacy community have been on the Hill this week to support this amendment and to strengthen its language.
Congress should also pass a bill sponsored by Republican Gordon Smith and Democrat Edward Kennedy that would raise the number of special immigrant visas available for Iraqis and Afghans who have worked for the United States from 500 to 5,000 a year for the next five years. The bill would also streamline what is now a tortuous process. This country owes this and more to the men and women who have risked their lives to help Americans.
Indeed, these are among the tasks at hand, and we should capitalize on the momentum in this country and in Congress to see them through.

Caption: Angelina Jolie listens to Iraqi Refugees; UN photo 08/2007

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

EPIC Guest Blogger: Sarah Holewinski on Blackwater Killings

Sarah Holewinski is the executive director of the Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict (CIVIC), a group founded by slain U.S. aid worker Marla Ruzicka that works with civilian victims of wars to make sure they get the recognition and assistance they need. Sarah wrote the following commentary shortly after the Sept. 16th shooting deaths of 17 innocent Iraqis by Blackwater personnel. It was published by United Press International on September 28, 2007.

When someone is shot in America, there’s an investigation, a trial, damages might be paid. Not so in Iraq.

The U.S. military has the power to investigate wrongful killings by its forces and can make condolence payments to the families of those it kills unintentionally. But too often security contractors -- hired to guard everything from convoys to diplomats -- just drive away, leaving shattered lives behind.

In the wake of allegations that armed guards working for the private security contractor Blackwater opened fire unprovoked on a crowded traffic circle last week in Baghdad, killing at least 11 and injuring a dozen more, that may all change.

Saying he did not know how often such incidents occurred and pressed to find out by public and media attention, Defense Secretary Robert Gates Thursday announced he was sending a five-person fact-finding team to Iraq. Although he had been “assured … that we have the proper procedures, policies and legal authorities in place to oversee and manage these contractors,” he told reporters, “I want to be confident that that is in fact the case.”

What he will find is that it is not the case at all. In fact, human-rights groups and Iraqis alike have been asking for years when the U.S. military was going to finally hold contractors accountable.

There is a third party to the contracts made between the U.S. government and private security firms -- the Iraqi people. They have not only been overlooked but literally removed from the equation. In 2004 the U.S. occupation authorities issued a directive granting contractors immunity under Iraqi law. They could not be sued by Iraqis, and even within the U.S. government and commanders on the ground, there is confusion as to whether they can be court-martialed.

In this legal limbo, contractors are under no obligation even to report incidents in which they shoot and kill Iraqis, and are unlikely to be investigated or face trial for causing wrongful deaths. Innocent Iraqis suffering death and injury at the hands of contractors have little recourse.

The Gates fact-finding team and a joint State Department-Iraqi government commission also looking into the matter are not the first to do damage control when it comes to the role of private security contractors in Iraq.

Last fall Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a former military lawyer and member of the Armed Services Committee, led an effort to include contractors under the Uniform Code of Military Justice -- a set of standards used by the U.S. military to hold its own personnel accountable for bad behavior.

But that legislation was later found to be inadequate by military lawyers, and while it is true contractors can be sent home and prosecuted in the United States under the Military Extra-Territorial Jurisdiction Act, less than a handful ever have for serious crimes.

Most contractors with their boots on the ground aren’t even American, hailing from places where no justice system will ever follow through on prosecution.

Iraqis are left with unjustified, unexplained killings and horrifying injuries and an example of the rule of law lying in ruins.

Finding a solution isn’t an academic exercise, it’s a strategic imperative. Every civilian killed or wounded undermines the U.S. mission in Iraq. Gates himself admitted the U.S. military had to “do everything in our power to make sure that (contractors) are not only abiding by our rules but are conducting themselves in a way that makes them an asset in this war in Iraq and not a liability.”

The lack of uniform accountability for those responsible for civilian casualties tarnishes our reputation and puts American soldiers on the receiving end of anger and resentment. For the families suffering as a result of contractor shootings, finding a solution also happens to be the right thing to do.

Whatever recommendations emerge from the Gates probes in Iraq, three things are essential.

First, there should be official recognition of the severity and scope of the problem. Heartening is a Sept. 25 directive issued by Gates’ deputy calling for clearer rules for contractors. It’s late in coming, but it’s a good first step toward uniform accountability.

Second, the U.S. military must negotiate a Status of Forces Agreement with the Iraqi government. The SOFA is a compact clarifying the rules for U.S. armed forces, and the United States has one with every nation in the world where U.S. troops are based -- except Iraq and Afghanistan. This oversight needs to be remedied. The SOFA should formally apply to all U.S. government contractors -- including those working for the State Department -- the same rules it applies to the U.S. military.

That includes transparent investigation and prosecution of those who break the rules and hurt or kill civilians.

Third, the United States should extend its condolence and compensation systems to cover civilians harmed by private contractors. The U.S. military has the ability to pay a symbolic condolence to Iraqis it unintentionally harms and, separately, can provide full compensation to civilians wrongfully or negligently hurt by American troops.

It is unfair and strategically unwise to leave Iraqis harmed by contractors -- whether accidentally or intentionally -- with nothing. To ensure accountability, payments made to civilians should come out of their contract with the U.S. government. If a contractor does not agree to pay, they should not get a contract, plain and simple.

Blackwater security details are back on the streets of Baghdad. The U.S. government doesn’t have the forces to replace them, so the atmosphere of unaccountability continues. If the Gates team does not return with clear legal standards for contractors and make compensation for casualties mandatory, they will have failed the Iraqi people and betrayed American values.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Eid Mubarak!

Happy Eid to all of our Muslim readers and to Muslims around the world. I pray this is a joyous time for you and your loved ones.

For our non-Muslims readers, few festivals are anticipated with greater delight than Eid el-Fitr. It is this festival that marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan, the annual assertion of 'the spirit over the flesh' with prayers, sawm (fasting), charity and self-accountability.

Ramadan ends with the sighting of the first crescent of a new moon, heralding the beginning of a new month in the lunar calendar. Of course, different religious authorities apparently see different things when they gaze up into the night sky, which leads one Iraqi blogger in Europe to pose the question: Whom to Follow?

MixMode writes (Oct. 12): "As it's always the case on every year, not all Muslim countries announced today as the first day of the Eid. Some countries are celebrating that today, though, such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Libya, and Muslims in non-Arab countries such as those in China, Afghanistan and Philippine followed along. While Egypt, Syria and Oman announced that Saturday is the first day of the Eid! It has been the case for years, and every year I see on TV the endless discussions about how to put an end to such a dilemma. However, there is none and it seems that even if one Muslim climb the roof of his house in the middle of the night and see the sign in the sky (a crescent), he will not be able to celebrate the joyful days because the country did not announce through its official religious channels!"

"The chaotic situation, in my opinion, is when someone like me living in Europe, do I have to celebrate the Eid on the same as in Iraq, because I am an Iraqi? The Sunnis are celebrating today and it looks like the Shiite are going to do that tomorrow! But I don't believe in this Sunni and Shiite concept!"

"A little bit of simple thinking provided me with more than one solution, in fact: we should count the days of the month of Ramadan and accordingly decide which day to start celebrating the Eid. The other solution is to follow suit on one religious figure in the Netherlands (for sure there is one, or not?) who would watch the sky at night for a clear sighting of the crescent then declare the next day as the first day of the Eid. Simple, especially if we take into the consideration that the Ramadan rituals (fasting) are based on the local time in the country where I live i.e. The Netherlands, not local time in Jakarta!"

Thanks for that wisdom MixMode. So whether you're a Muslim living somewhere in the Diaspora or in the Muslim world, all of us here at the Education for Peace in Iraq Center (EPIC) wish you and your family the happiest of Eids. May it mark a new beginning for peace in Iraq and the Middle East.

NPR Morning Edition reports on the plight of Iraqi School Kids in Syria

Among broadcast media, National Public Radio is the leader in its coverage of Iraqi refugees. This morning, NPR foreign correspondent Deborah Amos filed a powerful report on Iraqi school kids in Syria. I highly recommend listening to Deb’s report if you’re looking to better understand the plight of Iraqi refugees.

Here’s a short description: Morning Edition, October 16, 2007 · Syria has become a safe haven for 2 million Iraqi refugees, most of them children. Education is important to Iraqis, but their parents can't afford school in Syria, meaning a generation of Iraqi kids may go uneducated. Listen to Deb’s powerful report here.

Be sure to listen for her short interview with Rami, one of the Iraqi children she talks with. It will break your heart. She also talks with Syrian kids like Fadi Sargere who tries to help his Iraqi friends forget the war they fled. Deb's report begins a series of reports on NPR's Morning Edition about displaced Iraqis.

In coming days, I’ll be writing more about what’s needed (and past needed) from the international community, U.S. administration, and Congress to respond to the needs of millions of displaced Iraqis and the overwhelmed governments that are hosting them.

Monday, October 15, 2007

60 Minutes Fails to Hold Blackwater CEO to Account

I've got to sound off this morning. Last night 60 Minutes had an opportunity to hold Blackwater to account for the wrongful killings of 17 innocent civilians at Baghdad's Nisour Square on September 16th. Instead, we got a fluff piece.

In her 9-minute interview with Blackwater CEO Erik Prince, 60 Minutes reporter Lara Logan lobbed softball question after softball question, and when she did ask more difficult questions, she seemed to do all that she could to sugar-coat them. It got so bad that I had to remind myself that I was watching an investigative report by an award-winning TV newsmagazine, and not a PR video for Blackwater.

While the FBI's investigation into the Blackwater shooting deaths of 17 innocent Iraqis may be ongoing, there is already a damning case to be made. Neither the U.S. military nor Iraqi investigators have found any evidence of an attack on the Blackwater guards that justified their hail of bullets on innocent bystanders.

The Nisour Square incident is not the first involving Blackwater and the loss of innocent lives. According to Blackwater’s own incident reports, the security firm has been involved in at least 195 ‘escalation of force’ incidents in Iraq since 2005. In 80% of those cases, the company reports that its people fired first. Furthermore, the company acknowledges that (prior to the Sept. 16th incident) it was involved in 16 Iraqi civilian casualties and 162 incidents with property damage, primarily to Iraqi civilian vehicles.

Blackwater has also failed to properly vet and train its men. The company has terminated one out of seven workers for wrongful conduct, including wrongful conduct that has resulted in the loss of life. Last Christmas Eve, a drunken Blackwater worker shot and killed Raheem Khalif, an Iraqi assigned to the personal security detail of Iraqi vice president Adel Abdul Mahdi. Raheem was shot three times.

When questioned about this incident at a recent congressional hearing, Erik Prince shrugged “We can’t flog him.” Apparently not. Up until now, Blackwater and its men have not been subject to U.S. or Iraqi law.

At the end of the 60 Minutes segment, reporter Lara Logan rightly observes: “Many believe Blackwater just doesn’t value Iraqi life.” You think?! But then she closes her report with the following exchange, practically pleading with Mr. Prince to say the right thing.
60 Minutes: I know you said that the loss of innocent life is a tragedy. Do you regret it? (pause) Do you wish it never happened?

Prince: Absolutely. But I wish there were no major insurgency in Iraq either. I regret that more. I regret the poor Iraqi family who’s trying to send their kids to school and worried about them getting blown up while they’re walking. Or a suicide bomber that blows up a market while the wife is getting groceries.

60 Minutes: People want to know from you, from Blackwater, that, that you wish those people had not been killed. That you wished innocent people didn’t have to die as a result of anything that you’re involved in.

Prince: It is, it is absolutely not our wish that any innocent civilians should ever die.
Why is Lara Logan so afraid to ask hard questions about the wrongful deaths of innocent Iraqis, and to hold security contractors like Blackwater accountable for its failure to protect noncombatants during its operations?

I can’t fault CBS overall because CBS Evening News with Katie Couric is among the few media outlets that bothered to feature an interview with one of the victims of the Sept. 16 Blackwater shootout. Here’s an excerpt of the report filed by CBS News correspondent Elizabeth Palmer: Hassan Jabbar, a lawyer, was almost one of them, shot in the back as he tried to escape. Now - a month later - his body is healing, but his faith in America is broken. “They pretend it’s democracy,” he weeps. “But they’re killing people.”

CBS News also interviews two Americans who had formerly been under the protective services of Blackwater: Adam Hobson, who was working as a political aide in Baghdad in 2005, and Janessa Gans, a former U.S. official who served in Iraq from 2003 to 2005. Both Hobson and Gans agree that Blackwater’s “protection at any cost” approach undermines U.S. efforts in Iraq.

In a recent letter to the LA Times, Janessa Gans writes: We would careen around corners, jump road dividers, reach speeds in excess of 100 mph and often cross over to the wrong side of the street, oncoming traffic be damned. I began to wonder whether my meetings, intended to further U.S. policy goals and improve the lives of Iraqis, were doing more harm than good ... how many enemies were we creating?

Indeed, how many Mr. Prince?

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Senate passes The Refugee Crisis in Iraq Act

As an advocate for peace in Iraq, it's not every day that I can share a victory with you. But today, thanks to EPIC's supporters and concerned citizens like you, I am pleased to announce a major victory in support of Iraq’s most vulnerable refugees.

On Friday, Sept. 28, the U.S. Senate passed the Refugee Crisis in Iraq Act as an amendment to the Defense Reauthorization bill. Originally introduced by Senators Ted Kennedy (D-MA) and Gordon Smith (R-OR) last June as S.1651, the Refugee Crisis in Iraq Act faced heavy opposition from the Bush Administration. But concerned citizens like you helped us fight back, sending more than 2,000 letters to your Senators urging action on behalf of Iraqi refugees. Many of you followed up last week with phone calls. Together, all of these efforts added up to make a real difference.

The Kennedy-Smith amendment marks an important first step by the U.S. Senate to address one of the greatest humanitarian crises of our time. Among its provisions, the Refugee Crisis in Iraq Act:
  • Requires the State Department to provide a comprehensive plan for assisting countries in the region -- especially Iraq, Jordan and Syria -- that are struggling to meet the needs of millions of displaced Iraqis;

  • Creates Minister Counselors in Iraq and throughout the region to better coordinate refugee processing and emergency aid;

  • Establishes mechanisms for processing refugees from within Iraq, Syria, Jordan and Egypt;

  • Provides up to 5,000 special immigrant visas (SIVs) yearly for Iraqis who worked with the United States and protection or immediate removal from Iraq of SIV applicants who are in imminent danger;

  • Allows Iraqis who belong to a community facing persecution or at risk for having worked with a U.S. government agency, contractor, media organization or NGO to petition for resettlement in the U.S.; and

  • Requires the Department of Homeland Security to report on plans to improve resettlement process.
In the days ahead, EPIC will work to ensure the Kennedy-Smith amendment remains in tact as the Defense Reauthorization bill moves toward final passage in conference committee and the President's signature. We are also working to advance even stronger legislation in the House, including Rep. Earl Blumenauer's (D-OR) Responsibility to Iraqi Refugees Act (H.R.2265) and a new bill introduced by Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL) that would increase U.S. aid to Iraq and countries in the region struggling to meet the needs of 4.3 million displaced Iraqis.

Senate passage of the Refugee Crisis in Iraq Act is an encouraging first step, but it must not be the last. Until there is peace in Iraq and innocent civilians are safe, you can count on EPIC to continue to make our presense felt in Washington.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Senator Ted Kennedy on Passage of The Refugee Crisis in Iraq Act

The Honorable Edward (Ted) Kennedy is the senior U.S. Senator from Massachusetts (1962 - present) and the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security and Citizenship. He is also a Ranking Member of the Senate Armed Services and Joint Economic Committees, and chairs the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. In June he introduced The Refugee Crisis in Iraq Act as an important step by the U.S. Senate to help better protect Iraq's most vulnerable refugees and address one of the greatest humanitarian crises of our time. Thanks in part to the efforts of EPIC members and readers like you, the Senate passed a modified version of this important bill on Friday. The following speech was delivered shortly afterwards by Sen. Kennedy.

The late Arthur Helton, perhaps our country’s greatest advocate for the rights of refugees wrote, “Refugees matter…for a wide variety of reasons…Refugees are a product of humanity’s worst instincts – the willingness of some persons to oppress others – as well as some of its best instincts – the willingness of many to assist and protect the helpless…”.

A year later after he wrote those words, Arthur Helton was killed in Baghdad in 2003 when a bomb destroyed the UN headquarters in Iraq.

His words still resonate today, especially when we consider the immense human cost of the war in Iraq, and its tragic effect on the millions of Iraqis – men, women, and children – who have fled their homes and their country to escape the violence of a nation at war with itself.

These brave and heroic Iraqis work with the American military, staff our Embassy, and work with American organizations to support our mission in Iraq. They are among the four million Iraqi refugees who have been forced from their homes. They are the people we have an obligation to help.

Instead of protection, we have offered them bureaucracy and doublespeak, false words and dubious hopes. Despite the overwhelming need, the U.S. has resettled less than 2,000 Iraqis this fiscal year.

Last night the Senate acted and stood up to help Iraqi refugees. I want to thank Senators Levin and Senators McCain for adopting my amendment, the Refugee Crisis in Iraq Act of 2007, cosponsored by a bipartisan group of Senators: Senators Smith, Levin, Hagel, Biden, Brownback, Lieberman, Leahy, Snowe, Durbin, Voinovich, Feinstein, Collins, Obama, Dole, Menendez, Mikulski, and Clinton.

The need is especially urgent for those whose work for the United States has put them in danger. Because they supported us, insurgents have repeatedly threatened to kill them. Many have lost their homes, their property, and their livelihoods. They face ongoing threats every single day. Some have fled the country and are waiting in refugee camps, and others are in hiding. All of them hope that the United States will not forget their sacrifices.

Still others have tried to flee, only to be stopped at the border, trapped in a country that cannot protect them, abandoned by a country—our country—that they believed would set them free. Others continue their work, living in fear of the day that the insurgents punish them for working with Americans.

They are women such as Sarah, whose husband worked as an interpreter for the Coalition Forces in a combat hospital. Although he kept his job secret, insurgents discovered his identity. They broke into the family home, kidnapped her and released her only after torturing and raping her. The family fled to a neighboring country where they have waited for almost a year in the hopes of qualifying for refugee status. Sarah’s husband has been forced to return to Iraq. Each day that passes without assistance brings the rest of the family closer to an involuntary return to Iraq. She wrote, “Dear gentlemen, I put my suffering between your hands as my hope in you is great that you will hear our calling.”

And they are men such as Sami, who worked for USAID. He received several death threats – one in the form of a blood-soaked bullet sealed in an envelope. Sami pressed on, despite the threats, in order to help improve local governments and strengthen civil society. In June 2006, a group of men armed with machine guns, attempted to kidnap his pregnant wife and two-year-old son outside their home. The attack was thwarted, but his wife nearly miscarried and their son suffered from prolonged shock. Sami and his family fled to Jordan, where they live day-to-day, waiting for the labyrinthine process to rule on their refugee case.

Our government owes these Iraqis an immense debt of gratitude. Many American employees owe their lives to these Iraqis.

Despite the clear and present danger many Iraqis face based on their ties to the United States, their religious affiliation, or their work with media, nongovernmental and humanitarian organizations, the vast majority of Iraqi refugees must go through a long and complicated referral process of approximately eight to ten months, in which the United Nations serves as an intermediary. There are no provisions for conducting refugee screenings within Iraq – as there should be.

In a recent cable, Ambassador Crocker asked the Administration to reconsider its practices. He estimates that under current practices, it would take more than two years to process the over 10,000 referrals made by the U.N. As Ambassador Crocker noted, “Clearly, this is too long. Refugees who have fled Iraq continue to be a vulnerable population while living in Jordan and Syria.”

Ambassador Crocker asked for the authority to process refugees in Iraq. He asked for the authority to provide special immigrant visas for those who have worked in good faith with our government in Iraq. He asked to expedite the processing of refugee claims to save lives. Surely, we can all agree with Ambassador Crocker that delay is unacceptable. We must clearly do better by these Iraqis who have sacrificed so much for the United States.

The amendment approved by the Senate last night will cut through the red tape. It requires the Secretary of State to establish a refugee processing program in Iraq and in countries in the region for Iraqis threatened because of their association with the United States Government. Those Iraqis who worked with our government will be able to apply directly to the United States in Iraq – rather than going through the United Nations referral system outside Iraq.

It authorizes 5,000 special immigrant visas yearly for five years for Iraqis who have worked for the U.S. Government in Iraq and are threatened as a result. It also allows Iraqis in the United States who have been denied asylum because conditions in Iraq changed after Saddam Hussein’s government fell, to have their cases re-heard.

Surely, we cannot resettle all of Iraq’s refugees in the United States, but we need to do our part. America has a special obligation to keep faith with the Iraqis who now have a bulls-eye on their back because of their association with our government.

Mr. President, I had the honor of meeting Sgt. Joseph Seemiller, a young man who is haunted by the military motto, “Leave no man behind.” Sgt. Seemiller is dedicated to helping the translator he was forced to leave behind in Iraq. On countless occasions, his translator helped to avoid several American and Iraqi casualties. He braved innumerable death threats and the horrific murder of his brother, finally fleeing to Syria where he has waited for more than two years for a chance to be resettled in the U.S.

Those words haunt us all. I’m delighted that the Senate has taken this important step to honor our commitment to the brave men and women whose lives are at risk.
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