Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.
When Barack Obama campaigned for the presidency, he spoke eloquently about America‘s moral obligation to Iraqis working for U.S. forces in their country. “We must keep faith with Iraqis who kept faith with us,” he said in a 2007 campaign speech.
“One tragic outcome of this war is that the Iraqis who stand with America – the interpreters, embassy workers and subcontractors – are being targeted for assassination. Keeping this moral obligation is a key part of how we turn the page in Iraq. Because what’s at stake is bigger than the war – it’s our global leadership.”
The war Obama inherited from George W. Bush officially ended this week when U.S. soldiers rolled up the flag of military forces in Iraq in a low-key ceremony attended by U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta. The remaining U.S. soldiers will be out by Dec. 31. They leave behind thousands of the faithful Iraqis Obama described on the campaign trail.
They are still targets, seen by anti-American militants as traitors or collaborators.
A special program set up in 2008 provided for an annual quota of 5,000 visas for Iraqis at risk. Fewer than a quarter have been allotted so far. Thousands of applications are pending, stuck in a “nightmarish, dysfunctional screening process,” in the words of Bob Carey, a resettlement policy expert with the International Rescue Committee. What’s worse, he said in an interview, there is no contingency plan to protect Iraqis at risk after the last American soldier leaves. “Are they being abandoned, betrayed?”