When I served in Iraq with the 173rd Airborne Brigade in 2003, I served alongside an Iraqi translator named Mustafa. Despite all he did to further our cause and protect me and my fellow troops, Mustafa is now the kind of person banned from the United States by President Trump’s executive order on immigration.
Rather than write an op-ed, I wanted to share the below letter I wrote to Mustafa as a way of making clear how I feel about this executive order and, more importantly, the Iraqis that I lived and worked with during my time in the military.
I wanted you to know that I have not forgotten your courageous service alongside American forces nearly fourteen years ago in northern Iraq.
I haven't forgotten the times that you rode along with us in our unarmored Humvee as we drove down dangerous highways and into hostile villages, in search of insurgents on early morning raids. The endurance you showed while translating for us on multi-day missions was remarkable. I'll never forget the death threats you and your family received — the warnings that if you continued to work with American forces, you and your family members would be killed. And I'll always admire the courage you showed in the face of those threats to continue to do what you believed was right.
I have often told my family about the generosity you showed to us American soldiers. I still have pictures of the iftar dinner you invited us to join with you to build on our friendship and learn about your culture.
It is so painful to reflect on how optimistic we were in the spring of 2003! Do you remember the letter exchange we organized between Iraqi and American students? It nearly brought me to tears reading your translation of the letters from the Iraqi students. They were so eager to get to know American students and put the war behind them. I was so impressed by how interested and excited students in my hometown of Helena were to learn about Iraqi students as well. My dream was that we were at the beginning of a lasting friendship between our two nations.
It felt so close that it was nearly inevitable, but what a never ending nightmare it has been since those early "post-war" days.
The grinding insurgency, followed by the barbaric and sadistic rise of ISIS. I can't imagine what it must have been like for you and your family as you all took up arms again to fight for your besieged country and your imperiled lives. And now, just as it appeared that Iraqi forces were on the verge of a hard fought victory over ISIS in Mosul, our President has issued an executive order barring the entry of all Iraqis from the United States.
As a proud Iraqi, I can only imagine what a deep insult this order must be for you. I want you to know that as an American I consider the order a profound insult as well. It is foolish and dishonorable. It does not reflect the America I know and love. And of course, it does nothing to keep us safe — and everything to put you at risk.
It has always been widely recognized by American leaders that radical extremists purporting to speak for Islam did not speak for you, your family or your community. For years, American veterans have been working to expand the number of special visas available to protect interpreters like you from violent reprisals. I know so many other American veterans who now are working not only on that issue, but to overturn the entire order and help those impacted by it. We have not forgotten your service and hope that the friendship between our nations will somehow recover.
Thank you for having the courage to work with us many years ago. I pray that it all has not been in vain.