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HomeWorldIraqis still await special US visas 20 years after invasion

Iraqis still await special US visas 20 years after invasion


Abdul Qadir Al-Dulaimi was shot three times – in the head, shoulder and kidney – in what he said was apparent retaliation for his work with US government forces after they invaded Iraq in 2003.

He thought his work and the attack would qualify him for one of 2,500 visas reserved for Iraqis who had experienced “an ongoing grave threat” as a result of their employment with the US.

But now, years later, he is among the Iraqis still struggling to get a visa to flee the violence that continues to afflict them.

The 66-year-old said he had worked with US forces from 2005 until their withdrawal in 2011, as well as various Shia and Sunni leaders, in an effort to address the swelling sectarian violence that gripped Iraq after the invasion.

But when he was shot in 2006, Al-Dulaimi understood that the attack was part of a campaign to drive a wedge between American soldiers and the locals who helped them.

“The purpose of that terrorist attack was to stop the relationship improvements between Iraqis and the US armed forces,” he told Al Jazeera through an interpreter from the International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP), a US-based group. “After that my son was kidnapped.”

But even that series of incidents wasn’t enough for Al-Dulaimi to get help through the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program targeting Iraqis aiding the US government.

Smoke and dust envelop US soldier during a firefight in the Adhamiyah district, Baghdad, Iraq (The Associated Press)

Of the 2,500 original visas, 228 remain available. But even though the deadline for starting the application process passed in 2014, 100 cases remain untried, according to the US State Department. most recent report to Congress, published in October.

A separate SIV program specifically deals with Iraqis and Afghans who worked as interpreters for the US military.

Meanwhile, applicants “are in real danger and an inability to plan for their futures caused by this continued delay in their applications,” said Deepa Alagesan, a senior regulatory attorney at IRAP.

“I think there is a real fear among this candidate pool that they have forgotten – that the legacy of their service to the US has been forgotten,” Alagesan told Al Jazeera.

IRAP filed a class action lawsuit to force the government to speed up the process and won one big win in 2019 required relevant agencies to prepare a plan to expedite the processing of the Iraqi SIV program, as well as its Afghan equivalent.

Nevertheless, in 2022, the US government requested relief of the abbreviated processing plan it had made.

It cited the stress of the COVID-19 pandemic and other hurdles. The number of new Afghan SIV applicants had soared, it said, following the Taliban takeover of the country.

And in Iraq, the “ongoing security crisis” in Baghdad had prevented the US embassy from fully reopening after it was forced to suspend consular operations two years earlier, the department argued.

A judge ultimately denied the request, and the State Department has since submitted a new plan to speed up processing, which IRAP challenged in court on March 9.

“It’s time for the US to step up and figure out how to phase out this program,” Alagesan said, “so that these people who have spent years of their lives working for the US have a fair chance to go to the safety they deserve.”

Meanwhile, a State Department spokesperson told Al Jazeera: “We are committed to supporting those who have helped the U.S. military and other U.S. government personnel perform their duties, often at great personal risk to themselves and their families. .”

“Everyone involved in this process, whether in Washington or at our embassies abroad, is fully aware of the contributions of our Iraqi colleagues and the risks they face,” the spokesman said.

‘Lost everything’

Al-Duhaimi, a father of six, said he applied for his SIV in 2014.

US consular officials “told me there is nothing wrong with my file and it is under administrative processing,” he said. “That was about six months ago – the last time I heard anything about my case.”

“There has been no movement.”

Al-Duhaimi explained that even after his son was released following the 2006 kidnapping, the retaliation continued and rebounded after the US pulled out of Iraq in 2011.

Iraq SIV
Al-Dulaimi, left, is pictured with US Major General Bernard S Champoux (photo courtesy of Abdul Qadir Al-Dulaimi)

During a crackdown by the newly installed Iraqi government, mainly targeting Sunni Muslims, Al-Dulaimi said he was arrested three times. He added that he had been “tortured and ill-treated” during his detention.

In 2012 he fled with his family to the city of Erbil in the semi-autonomous Kurdish area of ​​northern Iraq.

“They told me that if I stay (in Baghdad) where I am, I will be arrested again and again and it would be best if I just leave the city,” Al-Dulaimi said. “That’s why I had to leave everything behind and move to the city of Erbil in the north.”

In January 2022, Al-Dulaimi moved to Turkey, where he continues to submit his SIV application to the local U.S. embassy, ​​supported by funding from an immigration group, he said.

In legal documents, other Iraqis have described the dangers of waiting.

“It’s still very dangerous here for people who supported the US military,” a man, whose name was not known, wrote in a file in June.

“To this day I still get messages from people criticizing my work with the Americans and threatening to kill me,” said the man, explaining that he first submitted his application in 2014.

“That it has been eight and a half years since I first submitted my SIV application and that there is still no end in sight feels very disappointing after all the work I have done and the risks I have taken to support U.S. interests in Iraq,” he wrote. .

While speaking to Al Jazeera, Al-Dulaimi revealed that he still keeps a photo of himself in Baghdad, walking next to US General David Petraeus, who oversaw all US forces in Iraq after the invasion.

It serves as a souvenir, he explained, of the many US officials he received while working in Iraq, as part of his “services to both countries.”

“My main goal was to make the country safe and actually help the US government in their mission in Iraq,” he said. “But instead I’ve lost everything, and just this little thing — that I just want to feel safe — isn’t happening for me.”

“This process has been unfair.”


Merry C. Vega is a highly respected and accomplished news author. She began her career as a journalist, covering local news for a small-town newspaper. She quickly gained a reputation for her thorough reporting and ability to uncover the truth.

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