The official ineptitude that has dogged our war effort in Iraq has spread to affect the fate of tens of thousands of Iraqi refugees, many in fear for their lives having worked for us, desperate for sanctuary in the United States.

We are obligated to help them. You can argue that the violence is Iraqi-on-Iraqi, but there wouldn’t be internecine violence if we hadn’t arrived and there would be less violence if we had arrived in the numbers our military planners recommended.

Two million Iraqis have fled their country, just over half of them to Syria, the rest to Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon, Iran and the Gulf Coast countries. Most of these countries are poorly equipped to care for them let alone offer an opportunity for a better life.

The United States, hardly showing the qualities of generosity and efficiency we like to think we have, planned on accepting 7,000 Iraqis in the past fiscal year. That was soon scaled back to 2,000, and we fell far short of even that modest goal. The actual number was 1,608 — out of 2 million.

The Bush administration, acknowledging that this was a miserable performance, three months ago set a goal of accepting 1,000 Iraqi refugees a month and installed two senior officials charged with making it a reality. And how goes that redoubled effort? Not well, according to the Associated Press. In October, we accepted 450 refugees; in November, 362; and in December, 245. Embarrassingly, we appear to be going backward.

The inability to process refugees is blamed on bureaucratic gridlock between the departments of State and Homeland Security, the stricter security clearances that Iraqis for whatever reason are required to undergo and, until recently, problems with the Syrians letting our officials gain access to refugees there.

For a while, the process was further gummed up, requiring Iraqis to leave their country to apply for refuge despite the fact that the largest U.S. embassy in the world is in Baghdad.

The Bush administration with all its MBAs and supposedly hard-nosed realists needs to get a grip on the refugee issue. It’s no longer purely a humanitarian matter but one of American self-respect.

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