While under death threats from insurgents in Baghdad last year, Tariq Abu Khumra mailed a prized possession to his girlfriend in California: a huge American flag signed by 50 American military officers whom Khumra had helped while serving as an interpreter for the U.S. military.
Kohima was afraid the flag would get him killed if the wrong people found it at his home in Baghdad. Insurgents had already marked him for assassination, even though he had lost his interpreter job when U.S. military bases in Iraq shut down last fall.
Desperate to leave Iraq, Khumra had applied for a special U.S. visa promised to Iraqis who had served the U.S. It was held up for more than two years by red tape and security concerns, as described in a Los Angeles Times article from Baghdad in December.
But this week, the American flag was waiting for Khumra at his girlfriend's apartment in Glendale after Khumra arrived at LAX, visa in hand, for a new life in the United States.
"I can't even describe how good it feels," Khumra said Friday, still jet-lagged a day after his flight from Baghdad.
Khumra said — in nearly flawless English, of course — that his visa was finally sprung loose through the persistent efforts of Becca Heller, director of the Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project, a nonprofit organization in New York.
"Just saying 'thank you' is not enough for what Becca did for me," he said.
Heller, whose group has pushed for expedited visas for thousands of Iraqis who worked for the U.S., was especially moved by Khumra's plight.
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