An estimated 100,000 Iraqis have worked for US government agencies, contractors, or sub-contractors since the invasion, often placing themselves and their families in grave danger under accusations of "collaborating with the occupiers."
Facing the troubling fact that Iraqis who devoted themselves to assisting the Americans were being killed for that alliance, the US State Department in February pledged to re-settle 7,000 Iraqis in the United States by the end of the budget year--September 30.
Despite this promise, since October 2006, the US has admitted only 719 people--reportedly a result of slow processing by the Department of Homeland Security, which has been tasked to vet all referrals for possible security threats.
The sclerotic pace of bureaucracy was slammed in recent weeks by Ambassador Ryan Crocker in a 'sensitive' memo to Washington, which criticized the slow pace of re-settlement, charging State and DHS security reviews with causing a "major bottleneck" that could take two years to work through.
Applicants must wait eight to 10 months from the time they are referred to U.S. authorities by the U.N. refugee agency before they set foot in the United States, he said.
"Resettlement takes too long," Crocker wrote.
As a result of the flurry of criticism, DHS has created a new position, appointing Lori Scialabba as Senior Advisor to the Secretary of Homeland Security for Iraqi Refugee Affairs on Wednesday.
At the time of this writing, State is also apparently poised to appoint a former ambassador--James Foley--to a corresponding position within that department.
The State Department reported Tuesday that UNHCR has so far referred the cases of approximately 10,000 Iraqi refugees to the US. Of that number, State's "overseas processing entities" had prepared 7,500 for interview by the DHS. By the end of September, according to State, DHS will have interviewed 4,500 of the applicants.
Unfortunately, DHS processing requires much more than simply an interview. Secretary Michael Chertoff announced in May that the department was implementing "enhanced screening procedures" for all applicants, though the actual requirements have not been revealed.
Adding a new level of bureaucracy rarely makes a positive impact on the pace of any work, but the new overseers will hopefully be able to hasten the process.
The lives of thousands depend on the speed of their work.
To underscore the importance of efforts to protect those Iraqis who have risked everything of themselves to assist US efforts, Iraqslogger would like to refer readers to the latest Newsweek.
Emel Meskoni and her husband of 40 years, Hazim Hanna, became two of the first Iraqi translators employed by the new US embassy in Baghdad in 2004. Their seniority also allowed them to be two of the first to apply for re-settlement under the new US plan.
Emel received her US visa in April, and the pair expected Hazim to be approved within months, but their time had run out by then.
Hazim was kidnapped in late May. In a futile effort to save her beloved husband, Emel attempted to negotiate and pay a ransom for his release.
Their bodies were discovered together in early July.
The Islamic State of Iraq claimed credit for killing "two of the most prominent agents and spies of the worshippers of the Cross ... a man and woman who occupy an important position at the U.S. Embassy."
Their son told Newsweek his mother had known the risks of attempting to secure her husband's release. "At a certain point she decided, 'To hell with it. I am going down the grave with him'," the son says. What mattered most, she told a friend in one of her last phone calls, was that she had gotten all three of her children out of Iraq: "No one can say I didn't do that."
It's a shame the US can't say it had done everything it could to get these two loyal American supporters out of the country before their tragic fate befell them. Had American bureaucracy moved a little faster, Hazim may have gotten his visa in time.
The tragedy of Emel and Hazim should remind those at the head of the "bottleneck" that they are not processing "cases," or "files"; they are processing human lives.
The papers they shuffle have names, faces, children, and hearts that will beat for the hopes of a better future re-settled safely inside the United States--unless the terrorists reach them first.