revenge attacks once the Americans depart.

Those who have been working remotely because of the coronavirus outbreak were told not to return to their bases. Those still working at military installations alongside U.S. soldiers said they were informed that their departure would be “coordinated” in short order.

The U.S.-led coalition has been stationed in Iraq to fight the Islamic State since 2014. In September, Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie, the commander of U.S. Central Command, said the troop reduction — from about 5,200 to 3,000 — reflects the administration’s confidence that Iraqi security forces can handle the remaining threat from Islamic State militants in the country.

While employed, the translators could report threats they received, and for the most part, they say, their complaints were taken seriously by the U.S. military. Some men were offered a safe place to stay on a military base. Others said their superiors made it clear that they had their backs.

“I knew the risks when I signed on, but I also knew that the United States had told us that no matter the threat, they would stand by us,” said another translator from Kirkuk.

During four years of service, he said, he had worked with the U.S. Navy SEALs and the Montana Army National Guard and had most recently been helping train Iraqi forces at two centers in northern Iraq.

When he received his termination notice, he got goose bumps. “I knew then that it isn’t a matter of asking whether something will happen to us. It’s a matter of asking when,” he said.

Another translator, who said he had worked with the Navy SEALs on the front lines against the Islamic State, said he had not believed a colleague who called to say their contracts had ended. “He told me to check my Gmail, so I did the thing where you drag the screen down to refresh. I really didn’t think anything would show up. When it did, we were all freaking out.”

In late October, a little-known militia named Ashab al-Kahf addressed the translators directly in a statement, suggesting that the group would be willing to “forgive” and even provide a salary to those who identified themselves as working on a U.S. military installation. “Today we think it is beautiful to offer forgiveness to those who have insulted themselves, their religion and their country, who have rendered services to the American, the English, and the rest of the enemies of Iraq,” the statement said.

A former translator in Baghdad said he saw the offer as a “trap,” adding, “Just like I predicted, the worst is yet to come.”

The mounting peril comes as the Trump administration has been making it more difficult for people who fear war or other dangers in their home countries to move to the United States. The White House announced in October that it would reduce the annual cap on refugee entries to a record low of 15,000.

While that number allocates up to 4,000 spots for U.S.-affiliated Iraqis per year, Iraqi applicants have been processed slowly, partly because of heightened security vetting. According to the International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP), there is a backlog of over 100,000 Iraqi applicants. The U.S. government also set aside 4,000 spots for Iraqis last year but only 161 were resettled, IRAP said.

Meanwhile, the United States no longer allows Iraqis who worked with the U.S. government in Iraq to apply for a Special Immigrant Visas program, which stopped accepting new applications in 2014. A parallel program for Iraqi and Afghan translators remains open, but it is capped at 50 people per year.

“Pathways for humanitarian protection for refugees from Iraq have so narrowed that they are basically closed,” said Sunil Varghese, IRAP’s policy director.

One of the translators who had worked with the Navy SEALs said he had been “honored” to do so. “I’m so proud of all the days I’ve been working with the greatest forces in the world,” he said. “But the problem is that after they are gone, their government doesn’t care about us. We are literally left behind.”

In the northern city of Irbil, a group of translators submitted a letter late last month to the U.S. Consulate there that they said was on behalf of about 400 people who had been hired by Valiant. “We are sure that you are well aware of the situation and the difficulties we face every day. For that, we are asking you kindly to reactivate [the visa] program that used to be provided for Linguists . . . just a few years ago,” the letter read.

Hostile militias, it said, are “capable and willing” to hunt down translators who have supported the departing U.S. forces. “The situation for us is a matter of When rather than If.”

Source: The Washington Post