The United States has taken a small step toward righting a terrible injustice.

This past week, the Bush administration announced that we would accept 7,000 Iraqi refugees this year. That compares with only 600 in nearly four years of war. The administration also announced it would contribute $18 million to international relief and resettlement efforts for displaced Iraqis.

The figures are inexact, but there are a lot of Iraqi refugees: at least 2 million who have fled the country, mostly to Syria and Jordan, and at least 1.7 million displaced internally.

Many of the refugees in the Mideast prefer to stay there, waiting for the day they can safely return to their homes. But many would like to come here, and accepting 7,000 is a small enough gesture. As a Jordanian official pointedly noted, it is 1 percent of the 700,000 his relatively poor country is accommodating.

There is one group the United States must especially welcome and whose arrival should be expedited. Those are the Iraqis who have risked their lives and those of their families to work for the American forces, a group especially targeted for ghastly reprisals by the insurgents.

Returning American troops speak well of the Iraqis they encounter and are admiring and respectful of the ones they employ. There’s nothing to indicate they would be anything other than good citizens and a positive addition to the national tapestry. And, in a calculation of cold self-interest, they would add a store of expertise about Iraq and the Mideast that we clearly lacked before the war.

Supporters of the war argue that a precipitous withdrawal from Iraq would be taken as a sign of American weakness. That would be a strategic failing. Abandoning the Iraqis who sought to help us would be a moral failing.

We trust that the 7,000 is only a down payment to people we owe.

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