Abdul Qadir Al-Dulaimi was shot three times – in the head, shoulder and kidney – in what he said was apparent retaliation for his work with US government forces after they invaded Iraq in 2003.
He believed his work and the attack would qualify him for one of 2,500 visas reserved for Iraqis who had faced “a serious and continuing threat” because of their employment in the United States.
But now, years later, he is among the Iraqis still struggling to get a visa to flee the violence that continues to target them.
The 66-year-old said he worked with US forces from 2005 until their withdrawal in 2011, as well as various Shiite and Sunni leaders, to try to tackle the outbreak sectarian violence who took over Iraq after the invasion.
But when he was shot in 2006, Al-Dulaimi understood the attack was part of a campaign to drive a wedge between American soldiers and the locals who were helping them.
“The purpose of this terrorist attack was to stop the improvement of relations between Iraqis and American forces,” he told Al Jazeera through an interpreter provided by the International Refugee Assistance Project. (IRAP), a group based in the United States. “After that, my son was kidnapped.”
But even this series of incidents was not enough for Al-Dulaimi to receive relief through the Special Immigrant Visa Program (SIV) directed at Iraqis who were helping the US government.
Of the original 2,500 visas, 228 remain available. But while the deadline to begin the application process ended in 2014, 100 cases remain untried, according to the US State Department. most recent report to Congress, published in October.
A separate SIV program deals specifically with Iraqis and Afghans who have worked as interpreters for the US military.
Meanwhile, applicants have been “facing real danger and an inability to plan for their future which is caused by this continued delay in their applications”, according to Deepa Alagesan, supervising senior counsel at IRAP.
“I think there’s a real fear among this pool of applicants that they’ve been forgotten – that their legacy of service in the United States has been forgotten,” Alagesan told Al Jazeera.
IRAP led a class action lawsuit to compel the government to speed up the process, winning a big win in 2019, which required the relevant agencies to create a plan to expedite the processing of the Iraqi SIV program, as well as its Afghan equivalent.
Nevertheless, in 2022, the US government relief requested of the truncated treatment plan he had created.
He cited the stress of the COVID-19 pandemic as well as other obstacles. The number of new Afghan applicants to the SIV had exploded, he said, after the Taliban takeover from the country.
And in Iraq, the “persistent security crisis” in Baghdad had prevented the US embassy from fully reopening after it was forced to suspend consular operations two years earlier, the department argued.
A judge ultimately denied the request, and the State Department has since submitted a new plan to expedite processing, which IRAP disputed in court on March 9.
“It is time for the United States to step in and understand how they are going to end this program,” Alagesan said, “so that these people who have spent years of their lives working for the United States United have the chance to come to the safety they deserve.
Meanwhile, a State Department spokesperson told Al Jazeera: “We are committed to supporting those who have assisted the United States military and other members of the United States government in the discharge of their duties, often risking their lives and those of their families.
“All involved in this process, whether in Washington or in our embassies abroad, are fully aware of the contributions of our Iraqi colleagues and the risks they face,” the spokesperson said.
‘Lose it all’
Al-Duhaimi, a father of six, said he applied for his SIV in 2014.
U.S. consular staff “told me there were no issues with my case and it was being processed administratively,” he said. “That was about six months ago – the last I heard of my case.”
“There was no movement.
Al-Duhaimi explained that even after his son was released following the 2006 kidnapping, the reprisals continued, resuming after the United States took of from Iraq in 2011.
During a crackdown by the newly installed Iraqi government, mainly targeting Sunni Muslims, Al-Dulaimi said he was arrested three times. He added that he had been “tortured and ill-treated” while in detention.
In 2012, he and his family fled to the city of Erbil, in the semi-autonomous Kurdish territory in northern Iraq.
“They told me that if I stayed [in Baghdad] where I am I will be arrested again and again and it would be better if I just left town,” Al-Dulaimi said. “That’s why I had to leave everything behind and move to the northern city of Erbil.”
In January 2022, Al-Dulaimi moved to Turkey, where he continues to pursue his SIV application at the local US embassy, supported by funding from an immigration group, he said.
In legal documents, other Iraqis have detailed the dangers of waiting.
“It’s still very dangerous here for people who supported the US military,” one man, whose name has not been released, wrote in a June filing.
“To this day, I still receive messages from people criticizing my work with Americans and threatening to kill me,” the man said, explaining that he first filed his claim in 2014.
“The fact that it has been eight and a half years since I submitted my first SIV application and there is still no end in sight is very disappointing after all the work I have done and the risks that I took to support American interests in Iraq,” he wrote. .
While speaking to Al Jazeera, Al-Dulaimi revealed that he still kept a photo of himself in Baghdad, walking next to US General David Petraeus, who oversaw all US military forces in Iraq after the invasion.
It serves as a remembrance, he said, of the many American officials he hosted while working in Iraq, as part of his “services to both countries”.
“My main objective was to make the country safe and to help the American government in its mission in Iraq,” he said. “But instead I lost everything, and just this little thing – that I just want to feel safe – it’s not happening for me.”
“This process has been unfair.”