Posted by on July 17, 2014 in Blog

When the Islamic State launched a sweeping offensive in Iraq last month it signified the chief threat to Iraq’s stability since the United States withdrawal in 2011, and this siege usurped exclusive media coverage throughout the United States. Headlines, however, are fleeting, and while Iraq still buckles under the ominous weight of instability, the crisis in Iraq threatens to become yesterday’s news.

Caught in the maelstrom of waning media coverage and partisan politics are some of the United States’ most indispensable allies—the thousands of Iraqi nationals who advanced the U.S. mission as military translators, journalists, and human rights activists. For the courageous individuals employed on behalf of the United States, the Islamic State's campaign in Iraq does not occasion a captivating news article or impassioned political debate. Rather, it is a crisis with life threatening implications.

When sectarian violence first surged in Iraq from 2005 to 2006, Congress authorized a Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program that allotted a designated number of visas to Iraqi nationals who assisted the United States throughout the course of the war. In January of this year, the SIV program was extended, offering an additional 2,500 visas to Iraqi allies who submit applications before the end of September.

While the extension of the SIV program signified a positive step forward, the recent upheaval in Iraq has forced the Iraqi resettlement issue another ten steps backward. The estimated 40,000 resettlement applications that flooded the United States embassy in Baghdad prior to the crippling Islamic State's campaign are not simply backlogged, but are instead entirely stalled.

The U.S. officials once stationed in Iraq to accept and subject visa requests to a system suffocated by bureaucracy have been evacuated, abandoning Iraqi allies to outlast imminent death threats all on their own. The situation of Iraqi allies is indisputably urgent, and it is imperative that the voices advocating for their safe passage to the United States do not fall silent.

On Thursday, July 24, AAI hosted a Congressional briefing on the resettlement of Iraqi allies in an effort to renew and amplify calls to action. Bolstered by the expertise of panelists Raed Jarrar, Policy Impact Coordinator at the American Friends Service Committee; Marcia Tavares Maack, Assistant Director of Pro Bono Activities at Mayer Brown LLP; and Lindsey Sharp, Associate Director of Resettlement at the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, this briefing offered an important lens into ongoing issues of the resettlement process and the important work being done by organizations like Mayer Brown and the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants to help fulfill promises made and ensure Iraqis are provided for when they do finally come to the United States. 

As the situation in Iraq unfolds, the resettlement of Iraqis with ties to the United States must be part of the discussion. Washington cannot ignore this debate, or hope to dodge it in the future. In fact, the issue of resettling allies can only be expected to intensify as Iraqis reconsider the SIV program amid renewed violence, and as the United States prepares to withdraw from Afghanistan at the end of the year, leaving thousands of Afghani allies to seek visas.

The resettlement of Iraqi allies affords an opportunity to take concrete action on an issue that already enjoys bipartisan support, and an exercise in addressing an issue that the United States is destined to encounter in the very near future.

For any inquiries, email Marc Sabbagh at