The United States has a "moral obligation" to resettle tens of thousands of Iraqis who helped U.S. troops and civilian groups and who now face death threats from al Qaeda terrorists, members of Congress told Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates.
In letters to the two Cabinet members, the seven senators and 15 House members complained that the Obama administration is moving too slowly to grant visas to the doomed Iraqis and blamed bureaucrats for narrowly applying a law designed to relocate the Iraqis to the United States.
They also warned Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Gates that time is running out, as the deadline for the end of U.S. combat operations looms at the end of August. The United States plans to draw down its 64,000 soldiers in Iraq to 50,000 and switch to a training and advisory role with the Iraqi army until a complete U.S. troop withdrawal by Dec. 31, 2011.
"Resettlement to the United States could be the only safe option for thousands of our Iraqi employees," said Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, Maryland Democrat and chairman of the congressional Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, who organized the letters with Co-chairman Rep. Alcee L. Hastings, Florida Democrat.
"The United States has a moral obligation to stand by those Iraqis who have risked their lives and the lives of their families to stand by us in Iraq for the past seven years, and doing so is also in our strategic self interest," the letters said.
"Providing support for our Iraqi allies will advance U.S. national security interests around the world, particularly in Afghanistan, by sending a message that foreign nationals who support our work abroad can expect some measure of protection."
Al Qaeda and other terrorists have threatened to kill the Iraqis who aided the United States, denouncing them as traitors and collaborators.
The members of Congress called for swifter processing of the 15,000 visas authorized under the Special Immigrant Visa Program, which has approved visas for only 2,145 Iraqis. They complained that U.S. consular officers are misinterpreting the program by considering only Iraqis who worked directly for the U.S. Embassy or for U.S. contractors and subcontractors and denying visas to Iraqis who worked for U.S.-funded nongovernmental organizations.
Besides Mr. Cardin and Mr. Hastings, the signatories of the letter included Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat and assistant majority leader; Sen. Richard G. Lugar, Indiana Republican and the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee; and Rep. Howard L. Berman, California Democrat and chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
The story of Africa is too often written in blood by tyrants who oppress their people while enriching themselves. However, one nation in southern Africa has been the exception for decades.
Botswana is a peaceful, democratic nation, prosperous by African standards. One of Botswana's best leaders is coming to Washington to serve as a public policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
Festus Mogae, president from 1998 to 2008, will study the way governments deal with AIDS, the deadly virus that ravaged the continent.
"I look forward to interacting with knowledgeable people informed on issues in HIV/AIDS in Africa in the Wilson Center and around Washington," Mr. Mogae said last week after the Wilson Center announced his appointment.
Mr. Mogae has been widely recognized for his efforts to combat AIDS and promote democracy.
"We are delighted to welcome one of the world's most progressive leaders on the HIV/AIDS pandemic," said Steve McDonald, director of the Wilson Center's Africa program.
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Sen. Cardin (left) with Rep. Alcee L. Hastings at the Helsinki Commission Mediterranean Seminar in July 2009