Iraq Owes Chaldeans for Stolen Lands

The following editorial written by PobleteTamargo attorney, Mauricio Tamargo, was featured in the September 2016 edition of The Chaldean News. To read the published article, visit The Chaldean News Guest Columns page, found here.

When the United States liberated Iraq over a decade ago, Iraqi-Americans were hopeful that thousands of American Chaldean families would finally see justice for property stolen by Iraq. Corporations, American and foreign, have received restitution through programs designed exclusively for business operations. Sadly, these Americans are still fighting for justice. Now we are asking Congress and the Administration to help.

Being Christians in a Muslim country made it very difficult to live in Iraq. For generations, these families worked hard to succeed despite discrimination and persecution. They hoped justice would finally come with the American liberation of their homeland. Our law firm represents some of these families. As Chaldeans in Iraq, they were a minority, but found strength in their faith and community. Then they became a target of a merciless regime. Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein destroyed the lives, homes and communities of countless Iraqis. In many cases, victims sought justice in Iraqi courts, but even after American liberation, Iraq’s corrupt legal system remained incapable of administering justice.

On behalf of our clients, we raised this issue with the Iraqi government, ambassadors and other high-ranking officials, but have yet to see any action. Although there is still hope for a negotiated settlement, other steps must be taken. There are still thousands of families dealing with uncompensated property losses. Today, the Iraqi Chaldean community is once again vulnerable to property confiscation and human rights abuses.

Chaldeans are a religious and ethnic minority group in Iraq. For years this minority status did not hinder efforts by our client and many others from becoming prominent members of their community. Once Saddam Hussein took power in 1979, the Iraqi government quickly became the vehicle by which the dictator intensified discrimination against religious minorities. Those who remained in their homes were eventually forced out after suffering political imprisonment and often violent religious persecution.

The property confiscated from our client was converted into a base for military operations. The land was taken over by the United States from the Hussein Regime in 2003. In 2009, the U.S. allegedly transferred control back to Iraq but still maintains a presence at this camp. Located in a commercially thriving area with many civilian homes and businesses, the U.S. incorporated this property into the reconstruction plans for Iraq. A vast amount of confiscated properties met similar fates.

Today there are thousands of American families of Iraqi descent that are still seeking justice. This community has been left broken, by not only institutionalized discrimination by the Iraqi government, but also the gross injustice of being denied closure. Rule of law and protection of property rights are hallmarks of a democratic and free society — values that must be defended.

Iraqi law, U.S. law, and the agreements between our two nations encourages compensation. America has lost thousands of American lives and invested billions in the liberation and reconstruction of Iraq. It is critical to stand up for what is right today or leave future generations vulnerable to even greater repression. The U.S. government has the tools to fight for these freedoms. We are only asking that they defend it.

On behalf of these American citizens, we are requesting that Congress authorize a claims program under the Foreign Claims Settlement Commission at the Department of Justice. As former chairman of the commission, I remain hopeful for a negotiation settlement of these claims and am confident that resolution of this injustice can be found through a claims program, the same as many programs have done in the past. We want to ensure that every possible step is taken to compel Iraq to follow through.

Mauricio Tamargo is an attorney at PobleteTamargo, LLP, in Alexandria, Virginia. He is the former chairman of the Foreign Claims Settlement Commission at the Department of Justice.

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