WASHINGTON – A 15-year-old Iraqi girl who came to America for medical treatment is seeking political asylum, claiming persecution at home because her family cooperated with the U.S. military.
The petition, under review by the Center for Immigration Services (search), seeks reprieve for the girl and her mother, who asked not to be identified for fear of retaliation against other family members still in Baghdad (search). Several of them have been shot at and one was killed, according to the petition.
The case, which is expected to be decided Tuesday, is believed to be among the first U.S. instances of an Iraqi seeking political asylum. A victory could open the door for other Iraqis in the United States who claim persecution for reasons other than race, religion or political opinion.
"Here, it's just their association with the U.S. military that's causing the problems," said Jeff Sullivan, a Washington lawyer at Foley & Lardner who is representing the mother and daughter. "Something has to be done."
The girl began having pains last year from a growth in her cervix that was later determined to be cancerous, the petition states. But after consulting 27 Iraqi doctors, none said they could provide the appropriate treatment. Finally, the mother approached U.S. Army doctors in Baghdad, who arranged for treatment at Walter Reed Medical Center (search) in Washington.
The girl received successful treatment last fall, and is expected to fully recover. But after she and her mother left Baghdad, family members began receiving death threats from insurgents who resented the girl's special attention from U.S. troops, the petition states, citing sworn affidavits from army officers.
Members of the girl's family also have provided the U.S. military with "actionable intelligence" on the whereabouts of Saddam Hussein's cohorts and purported bomb factories, although it's unclear whether that's widely known, said Army Col. Frederick Gerber, who submitted an affidavit in the case.
Subsequently, the girl's uncle was killed in March, and several relatives, including a cousin who looks like her, were shot at and injured. Two weeks ago, insurgents painted graffiti on the family's home, stating "Dead soon" and "Long live Saddam Hussein," according to the mother.
"It's not safe," the mother said. "I'm afraid for my other children and husband."
Legal experts said political asylum cases are typically hard to win, because government officials don't want a flood of applications to the United States they can't handle. The girl's case might be more difficult because cooperation with the military isn't a typical category, although it could be seen as political opinion.
"The reason people are attacking U.S. troops there are for political reasons. So you can certainly argue the attacks on the family can be attributed to political opinions that Americans are not such bad guys," said Douglass Cassel, director of the Center for International Human Rights at Northwestern University.
In the meantime, the girl is attending summer school in the Washington area and says she enjoys watching movies and learning to play the piano.
"I miss my family, but I don't miss the people there because they don't like me," she said in a phone interview. "This country helped me, and when I come many people give me love."