Will We Betray Our Iraqi Workers?

I see by the papers, as Mr. Dooley used to say, that the American ambassador in Iraq is trying to obtain passports for Iraqi members of the embassy staff and isn't having much success. The United States hires Iraqis to work for them but does not want its employees to have an escape hatch when the end comes. Homeland Security is combing the list for possible terrorists. It might be easier if the department gave them passports and then forced them to live in the toxic house trailers it has stockpiled for Katrina victims.

What will happen to those Iraqis who worked for the United States when we finally pull up stakes? In Vietnam, American allies were sent to "re-education" camps. A few were released eventually. In Iraq, someone will cut off their heads. Americans will feel no more responsibility for their deaths than they do for the tens of thousands of Iraqis who have already died during our feckless occupation. One of the arguments that the neocons make for staying on in Iraq, even for 10 more years, is that we have an obligation to the Iraqi people. But is there no obligation to those people who face death because they worked for the American government?

There are two reasons why the ambassador's plea for escape hatches for his employees might embarrass the administration. The first is that it violates the party line that we are not going to leave Iraq until the job is done -- until, as the president promises, we've won. The ambassador is "pessimistic." Outside of the coterie of advisers around the president, their allies in the media and diehard "patriots," there is little doubt that the war has been lost.

The "surge" strategy cannot work. Even half a million Americans couldn't put out the fires of ethnic hatred that consume the country. The suicide bomber who drove a truck bomb into a crowd celebrating a soccer victory was proof of that if any more proof is needed. The "surge," which was supposed to last three months, has been extended to September, then to 2008, now to 2009. It becomes evident that the "surge" was a response to the pessimistic report of the Iraq Study Group to protect the president from defeat until he's safely out of office.

The war will not end until the inaugural of the next president. Mr. Bush can leave with the boast that he kept the faith. Out of office, he can blame Democrats, Congress, the media and pessimists for losing the war. The atmosphere in the White House is remarkably like that of the months before the war. The slick spin, the dishonesty (conflating bin Laden/al-Qaida with the small group of "foreign" terrorists in Iraq that has dubbed itself al-Qaida), the threats of more terrorism, the attacks on the patriotism of critics -- a recycling of all the stale, tired Karl Rove tactics.

Six hundred Americans have died trying to police Iraq since the "surge" was announced. Many more will die before January 2009 in an evil effort to preserve the president's infallibility. Does one have to say that each of these unnecessary deaths breaks the hearts of many Americans -- as Chicago novelist Harry Mark Petrakis poignantly shows in his novella Legends of Glory? At this late stage, do not such deaths come dangerously close to war crimes?

The second reason for denying an escape hatch to embassy staff is that immigrant-hating nativists will think that dirty, dark-skinned Iraqi refugees in huge numbers are preparing to inundate this country. The Minutemen and their allies will go crazy. We don't want no Iraqis.

Andrew Greeley

(c) 2007 The Chicago Sun Times

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