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Saving Iraqis the US left behind

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Iraqis left behindAfter the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003, Hakim, a 49-year-old Sunni Iraqi, helped the U.S. and NATO forces by serving as a guide in Mosul. He enjoyed this work, often traveling with American military units as they went door to door, aiming to win local support. This work financially sustained Hakim and his family, but it put them in danger.

After waiting four years, during which time his house was set afire and his younger brother killed for working as an interpreter and guide, Hakim was finally granted a special immigrant visa and resettled in New York, but without his wife. She still awaits an answer to her application for asylum. Now with renewed calls for military action in Iraq, Hakim worries that his wife will never get out of the country.

Hakim is among the thousands of Iraqis who helped the U.S. during the decade-long war. They include military interpreters, media translators, guides, journalists and human rights activists, and thousands of them are still in the pipeline for special visas to immigrate to the United States.

As Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militants extend their control over more than 70 percent of Anbar province and threaten to take control of Erbil, where the U.S. has a consulate, President Barack Obama has authorized airstrikes and humanitarian air drops of supplies. American politicians continue to debate what our commitment to the Iraqis should be. But before we make more promises to help Iraq, we need to address our unmet obligations to those Iraqis who risked their lives during and after the U.S.-led invasion. Iraqis, like Hakim’s family members, who have connections to the United States were already at risk of persecution by extremists, but with the ISIL’s rise, their situation becomes more precarious each day. By not providing visas for these Iraqis, the U.S. is failing to meet its basic moral obligation and risks losing the political support of the Iraqi people.

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