Within the much larger Iraqi refugee crisis, U.S.- affiliated Iraqis present a unique problem. Their work for the United States puts them at great risk of violence from insurgents and other Iraqis who perceive them as collaborators or traitors. Our embassy in Baghdad has been aware of the threats to Locally-Engaged Staff (Iraqi employees) since early on in the war: in 2005 a cable surfaced in which they described the scale of violence already underway:
[I]nsurgents’ intimidation campaign has touched our LES corps personally: two of our LES employees have been gunned down in execution-style murders, and two others barely escaped a similar fate in August. Our LES employees live in fear of being identified with the Embassy of the U.S. For the first half of 2005 ten of 14 [resignations] were due to security concerns. Of 58 job offers, thirteen employees did not show up for work or resigned within 30 days. The reality is that the embassy can offer them little protection outside the International Zone (IZ) and is not in a position to grant their repeated requests to house them and their families within the IZ.
The situation for U.S.-affiliated Iraqis continued to deteriorate, prompting another cable which eventually leaked in June 2006:
[e]mployees began reporting a change in demeanor of guards at the green zone checkpoints. They seemed to be more militia-like, in some cases seemingly taunting. One employee asked us to explore getting her press credentials because guards had held her embassy badge up and proclaimed loudly…’Embassy’ as she entered. Such information is a death sentence if overheard by the wrong people…a few staff members approached us to ask what provisions would we make for them if we evacuate.
These threats are not imagined. Johnson lost several colleagues at USAID to assassination, and many Iraqis on the List working for other contractors and reconstruction implementing partners have faced the same danger and threats. An internal investigation by just one contractor, conducted in May 2008, identified hundreds of cases of injury, abduction, and murder of U.S.- affiliated Iraqis at the hands of insurgents.
Despite the perception that the surge has pacified Iraq, the country is still unsafe for most of the Iraqis who have played a critical role supporting U.S. efforts there. In addition, many U.S.-affiliated Iraqis currently live alongside Americans on military bases and in protected compounds. As our military footprint shrinks and hundreds of bases are dismantled in the coming months, our ability to provide even the most basic level of protection for our Iraqi staff will diminish accordingly. Once U.S.-affiliated Iraqis are ‘cut loose,’ they will be at the mercy of insurgent groups and militias that have already assassinated hundreds, if not thousands of our employees.
The Islamic State of Iraq, the umbrella organization composed of many insurgents and terrorists – including Al-Qaeda in Iraq – has been responsible for the assassination of many U.S.- affiliated Iraqis. This group recently published its strategic plan for the coming period of U.S. withdrawal. The List Project has translated several sections of the document, which lays out a clear and murderous intent. With respect to Iraqis perceived as serving U.S. interests, their “balanced military plan” is simple: “1) nine bullets for the traitors and one for the crusaders, 2) cleansing, and 3) targeting.” They are patient: “this cannot be accomplished within one or two months, but requires continuous effort.”
The ISI and Al-Qaeda in Iraq have mounted numerous large-scale attacks throughout Iraq throughout the withdrawal and afterwards.
And although they constitute a small part of the overall refugee crisis, the List Project believes that U.S.-affiliated Iraqis are the most imperiled. The United States has a clear and urgent moral obligation to ensure that they are not left behind to face the ISI and Al-Qaeda in Iraq.