Abather Abdul Hussein and his wife, Balqes Abdel Mohammed, threw flowers on the day American tanks rolled into Baghdad. Soon they had well-paying jobs working as translators for the Americans, and living in a US-supplied compound near the airport.
In a story that has become tragically too familiar, their employment soon made them the targets of ominous letters accusing them of being traitors and threatening a death sentence. An incident in August 2005, when Balques was six months pregant, led them to flee to Jordan, just as 750K other Iraqis have done according to UNHCR estimates.
Case visits the American embassy in Amman to plead for Abather and Balques's case to be given a fair hearing. The response he received was not encouraging.
At the embassy, I recounted Abather and Balqes' ordeal at Window 3, then at Window 1—the setup was similar to visitation in a high-security prison. Then, at Window 4, I told the story again to the consul general, who stood behind the bulletproof glass wearing a telephone headset. I was expecting to hear that "the United States is doing its best to help," but there was only silence as the consul's eyes welled up. (An Amman-based aid worker later told me that American diplomats are so distraught by the policies they are charged with representing that "it just takes a few gin and tonics and they'll break down.") Finally, the consul said, "We hear stories like this all the time. We have enormous empathy for the Iraqis who've suffered after working with the Americans, but there's really nothing the embassy can do for them." She handed me a document outlining Congress' sole concession to people like Abather and Balqes: visas for up to 50 military translators from Iraq or Afghanistan each year. "But don't get their hopes up," she added quickly; there were thousands with the same story. "This is something Congress really needs to address," she said as we parted.
The administration certainly doesn't seem inclined to take the initiative. Philip A. Frayne, an embassy spokesman in Amman, told me that "there are no reliable figures" on how many people have fled Iraq, and that in any case, it was Saddam who drove out "a large percentage" of them. Likewise, in its 2006 annual refugee report to Congress, the State Department focused mainly on those Saddam-era exiles, and blithely intoned, "It is hoped that significant numbers of Iraqi refugees will soon be able to return home, although the security situation will remain an important consideration." The report ignored the fact that, according to a survey by the nonprofit U.S. Committee for Refugees, 644,500 new refugees entered Jordan and Syria in 2005 alone. And 2006 will likely be worse.