By Pamela Hartman
A visit to
As an immigration attorney in Encino, I see clients from all over the world. Over the past year, a steady stream of Iraqi Armenians has come to my office to apply for asylum in the
As months go by, each new applicant brings a tale more disturbing than the last. These Iraqis are professionals, shopkeepers, Christians, all ordinary people who led ordinary lives before the war began. They should have been the beneficiaries of the new
The first to appear in my office in August 2005 was Zabell, a young, highly intelligent woman from a well-to-do family. Like all the Armenian Iraqis I've met, she was pro-American. When the war began in 2003, she and other Armenians greeted the American troops as liberators, happy to be free of the tyranny of Saddam Hussein. Westernized and well-educated, they quickly found jobs with the American Army and American contractors.
Zabell got administrative work with a British nonprofit agency and in her spare time helped her father with his engineering contracts with the American Army. But things began to sour almost immediately.
After looting broke out when the Americans seized control, Zabell's family began paying a monthly protection fee to a local Muslim gang. As the insurgency gained steam, Zabell's co-workers began criticizing her for wearing Western clothing and for working outside the home. They began loudly playing CDs of extremist Muslim preachers on their computers at work.
The Armenian community center closed – its pool facility allowing boys and girls to swim together did not belong in the new
The British nonprofit where Zabell worked began changing the times and locations of its meetings to foil would-be attackers. But one of the most insidious realities in the new
In November 2003, the British nonprofit closed its office in
Two weeks later, the terrorists targeted Zabell. A carload of gun-toting extremists followed her car one day from work. She and her bodyguard managed to escape in
Zabell's case was somewhat exceptional because her work with a European organization made her an attractive target. But after Zabell, more Iraqi Armenians began showing up at my office. Some were only recently out of college and had not begun to work.
Noor Karim was just 22 years old when she and her family received death threats from Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi militia. The militia targeted them because her brother had accepted a job with an American contractor. Another client, a septuagenarian widower who owned a repair shop, had lived a long, quiet life without disruption. Now he, too, became the target of death threats.
Every day it seemed more Iraqis woke up to death threats tossed into their carports. At first the death threats were handwritten, but as kidnappings became a daily occurrence, the kidnappers grew more brazen and organized. The terrorists now issue generic, computerized threats with the organization's name as letterhead. Only the name of the victim is written by hand.
“To the traitors cooperating with Americans,” began one typed death threat received in 2005 by a young architect employed by an American contractor working in the Green Zone. “If you don't repent, the Mujahideen will punish you and behead you.” The frightened architect, who asked not to be identified, has escaped, leaving some of her family behind.
Criminals and terrorists – and police who may be members of both groups – are siphoning the wealth of
In March 2006, Iraqi traffic police brazenly kidnapped a young doctor, Aleen Serob, who was on a medical rotation in
In one of the cruel ironies of this war,
The Iraqis I see have had a very difficult time getting to the
Noor Karim, now 24 years old, is the only member of her family to make it to the
The Christian population that was poised to take advantage of a truly democratic
Pamela Hartman is an attorney in Encino. Write to her by e-mail a [email protected].