Don’t worry, Whitey will pay -- The American ambassador in Baghdad, Ryan C. Crocker, has asked the Bush administration to take the unusual step of granting immigrant visas to all Iraqis employed by the U.S. government in Iraq because of growing concern that they will quit and flee the country if they cannot be assured eventual safe passage to the United States.
Crocker's request comes as the administration is struggling to respond to the flood of Iraqis who have sought refuge in neighboring countries since sectarian fighting escalated early last year. The United States has admitted 133 Iraqi refugees since October, despite predicting that it would process 7,000 by the end of September.
Undersecretary of State Henrietta H. Fore. "Unless they know that there is some hope of an [immigrant visa] in the future, many will continue to seek asylum, leaving our Mission lacking in one of our most valuable assets."
Crocker's two-page cable dramatizes how Iraq's instability and a rapidly increasing refugee population are stoking new pressures to help those who are threatened or displaced. As public sentiment grows for a partial or full American withdrawal, U.S. Embassy officials are facing demands from their own employees to secure a reliable exit route, and the administration as a whole is facing pressure from aid groups, lawmakers and diplomats to do more for those upended by the war.
Overall estimates of the number of Iraqis who may be targeted as collaborators because of their work for U.S., coalition or foreign reconstruction groups are as high as 110,000. The U.N. refugee agency has estimated that 20,000 Iraqi refugees need permanent resettlement.
In the cable he sent July 9, Crocker highlighted the plight of Iraqis who have assumed great risk by helping the United States. Since June 2004, at least nine U.S. Embassy employees have been killed -- including a married couple last month. But Iraqi employees other than interpreters and translators generally cannot obtain U.S. immigrant visas, and until a recent expansion that took the annual quota to 500 from 50, interpreter-translator applicants faced a nine-year backlog.