Posted by on December 06, 2013 in Blog

By Marc Sabbagh
Fall Intern, 2013

On November 20th, an important documentary highlighting the plight of Iraqi nationals who worked with the United States military forces during the Iraq war was screened on Capitol Hill.

The List, produced by documentarian Beth Murphy, follows Kirk Johnson, founder of “The List Project to Resettle Iraqi Allies,” which has helped around 1,500 Iraqis who assisted the United States and are in need of special visas navigate the U.S. refugee resettlement program.

The title of Johnson’s recent book, To Be a Friend is Fatal: The Fight to Save the Iraqis the Americans Left Behind, evokes the Henry Kissinger quote later repeated to Johnson by an Iraqi USAID colleague who was forced to flee his country. “To be an enemy of the United States is dangerous, but to be a friend is sometimes fatal,” goes the infamous line. 

The U.S. refugee resettlement program was passed by Congress under the 2008 the National Defense Authorization Act and included many of Johnson’s recommendations. The goal was to provide 25,000 Special Immigrant Visas to Iraqis who “played critical roles in assisting American forces” since the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

To date, only 7,000 special immigrant visas have been awarded. According to the Congressional Budget Office, around 70,000 Iraqis worked for U.S. agencies or their contractors as translators, engineers, civil society experts and advisors, as of August 2008. While 10 percent of those Iraqis have been awarded visas, the rest are forced to cope with the consequences – whether being driven from their homes or targeted by those who oppose their work.

There is some hope: on the third day of this year’s government shutdown, Congress passed a three-month extension to the Special Immigrant Visa Program, and the issue is one both Democrats and Republicans agree on.

Bringing the documentary to Capitol Hill was another way of highlighting the importance of the needed assistance and the bravery of Iraqi citizens who risked their reputations and lives throughout the Iraq War. The reality is that a three month extension, expiring at the end of this year, is not enough to address what many Iraqis have been waiting on for over three years.

As Congressman Alcee Hastings, who brought the firlm to Capitol Hill, said at the event, “This screening is an opportunity to have conversations with lawmakers and advocates who can work together to do what’s right for those who risked their lives to help the United States.” When describing the situation, he noted: “I don’t have a better word for it than to say it’s immoral…It’s fatal to be our friend.”

Watch the moving trailer for The List:

comments powered by Disqus