U.S. visas urged for Iraqi staff

July 22, 2007 at 9:21 AM

WASHINGTON, July 22 (UPI) -- There is growing concern Iraqis employed by the U.S. government will flee Iraq if they are not guaranteed eventual safe passage to the United States. 

Ryan C. Crocker, the U.S. ambassador in Baghdad, wants immigrant visas granted to all Iraqis employed by the U.S. government in Iraq, The Washington Post reported Sunday.

In a letter to Undersecretary of State Henrietta H. Fore, Crocker wrote Iraqi staff members are targets for kidnapping and murder.

"Unless they know that there is some hope of an (immigrant visa) in the future," Crocker said, "many will continue to seek asylum, leaving our Mission lacking in one of our most valuable assets."

Crocker's request comes as the Bush administration struggles to respond to the estimated 2.2 million Iraqis who have sought refuge in neighboring countries since sectarian fighting spiked last year.

The United States has admitted 133 Iraqi refugees since October, despite predicting it would accept 7,000 by the end of September, The Post reported.

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