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US Urged to Admit More Iraqi Refugees

The United States has admitted some 12,000 Iraqi refugees since last October, more than ever before, but still a fraction of the huge number of Iraqi refugees who have fled their country. Refugee advocacy groups are pressing the U.S. government to admit more Iraqis, especially those who have helped the American war effort in Iraq. More from VOA's Bill Rodgers.

"Big hug, big hug - she's all my life," Abu Talib says. He holds his daughter close, but does not dare show his face on camera after almost losing his life in Iraq.

Like other Iraqis who worked as interpreters for U.S. troops, he received death threats -- until one day the worst almost happened.

"They killed my friend in front of my face," saysTalib. "They attacked me with my friend and they killed my friend. I couldn't do anything (sobs). He was more than a friend for me."

Like many Iraqis, Abu Talib and his family fled his country, joining an estimated two million of his countrymen now living abroad, mainly in Syria and Jordan. Now, all he has left are photos of the life he left behind.

Abu Talib's case is one of many handled by the Holland and Knight law firm working pro bono [without fees] to resettle Iraqis who worked for the Americans.

The effort is organized by a group called The List Project to Resettle Iraqi Allies. It was founded by Kirk Johnson - who once worked in Iraq for the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Now, Johnson spends his time urging Congress to press the Bush administration to move faster to grant special visas to Iraqis who have helped the American war effort.

James Foley, who coordinates Iraqi refugee issues says the State Department says processing for Iraqis is going as fast as it can. "This program, though, is subject to greater security checks and scrutiny than other programs," Foley said. "We don't make any bones about that [no excuses] because it is essential that the national security be safeguarded and that Americans have confidence in this program."

Yet Iraqis who have worked with Americans should not be considered a security risk, says Johnson. "An Iraqi who is running from terrorists himself is not a terrorist when he's been riding alongside our marines, soldiers and diplomats day in and day out," he adds. "I don't think there is any clearer message we could send by letting this group of people live in our country and then hopefully, if Iraq stabilizes to a point where the taint of collaboration with the US disappears, they can go back."

But achieving stability in Iraq may take some time. Despite the surge of U.S. troops and a degree of normalcy, suicide bombings and other acts of violence continue.

For the lucky ones, like Abu Talib, who made it to the United States, there is relief to be out of danger. But he still hopes to return to Iraq some day. "I love my country, more than anything, more than myself," Talib said. "But I just want the situation to be better, then I will go back."

Even if he returns one day, too many of his friends are dead and too much has changed for life in Iraq to ever be the same.