Iraq interpreters face visa delays, danger

Dec. 27, 2011 at 9:31 AM
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BAGHDAD, Dec. 27 (UPI) -- Thousands of Iraqis who served as interpreters for the U.S. military in Iraq say they face death threats from insurgents as promised special visas are delayed.

The slow pace of granting special visas to the United States for the former interpreters has left them living in fear since the U.S. military withdrawal, the Los Angeles Times reports.

Tariq, 27, had lived on a secure base when he served as an interpreter for the U.S. military. But when the unit he served pulled out in October, he was dismissed and escorted off the base.

"I served the Americans very well, but now they've left me on my own, with no security," Tariq said. "They've expelled us all from the only places in Iraq that were safe for us -- U.S. bases."

The Refugee Crisis in Iraq Act, passed in 2008, was meant to speed special immigrant visas for Iraqis who had worked for the U.S. government or military. The act authorized 5,000 special visas a year -- 20,000 through 2011 -- but only 3,415 had been issued through October to Iraqis who worked for the United States, the Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project says.

A U.S. Embassy official in Baghdad, who requested anonymity, cited "unfortunate delays" in issuing special visas as a result of security procedures but said recent changes would shorten the process.

For now, though, thousands of ex-interpreters are left in limbo -- and in danger. The interpreters provided crucial support to U.S. troops, not only in interpretation but in local customs and tribal rivalries. They accompanied troops in combat, and many were killed in battle or executed after leaving their military interpreter jobs, the Times said.

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