PARKERSBURG - A Yazidi man who worked with U.S. troops in Iraq is looking to get his U.S. citizenship with the hope of eventually getting his marked family to the United States and out of harm's way.
Khalid Sulaiman Haider, 33, who is now residing in Parkersburg, since 2005 was an interpreter with various American military units during operations in Iraq.
With the U.S. troops, he came under fire, was attacked by mortars, shot at and was hit with an IED in June 2007 when he suffered a concussion. He received permanent damage to an eye, an ear and now deals with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Photo by Brett Dunlap
Khalid Sulaiman Haider, 33, who is now residing in Parkersburg, worked as an interpreter with various American military units during operations in Iraq since 2005. Efforts are underway to help get him U.S. citizenship and to bring his family over from Iraq.
Haider became involved with a local PTSD support group organized by John J. Danielski of the Mid-Ohio Veterans Support Group. Danielski is offering his help in getting Haider services through the Veterans Administration and working with him to get his U.S. citizenship.
"We are trying to get things fixed up so he can get his citizenship so he does not have to worry about being sent back and get his family over here," Danielski said. "It is only right since he helped American soldiers as an interpreter."
Haider is enrolled at West Virginia University at Parkersburg, majoring in solar energy technology and energy assessment management and technology. He comes from Sinjar, Iraq, which is close to the Syrian border.
Being Yazidi, Haider's community has come under constant harassment by Iraqi authorities as well as militant Muslim groups. The roots of these conflicts go back many years.
"We are not Muslims," Haider said. "Yazidis are considered non-believers. We don't believe the way they believe. The majority of people in my community work as linguists or security working for the Americans in Iraq.
"That was one of the reasons Muslims dropped papers all over the area telling if they didn't target Americans we were going to pay for it. We did not obey them."
Under Saddam Hussein, many of the people in his community were taken to the desert to be killed. Haider said if it wasn't for the intervention of American troops, he and many people in his community would not be here today.
Haider's brother, Adnan, also worked for the U.S. military as an interpreter.
Their village had been attacked numerous times and many people lost their lives over the years. Their people are discriminated against in regard to jobs and employment and are regularly harassed.
Almost two years ago, another brother, Gazy, was arrested by the police for no reason, Haider said.
"As far as I know, there is no court order, no evidence, they were basically harassing the family because my brother (Adnan) and I worked for the United States military," he said. "We thought (Gazy) would be in jail for 10 days. It lasted for a year and a half. They tortured him. There was no indication of how much time he would have to spend in jail. There was not one clue on why he was in jail."
It cost his family around $15,000 to get his brother Gazy out of jail, which was equal to the money he and Adnan made working for the U.S. military. There were promises made that his brother could go free if Haider returned home. Even though he considered it, family and friends advised him not to, believing Haider would be locked up and Gazy would remain incarcerated.
"He and his brother (Adnan) are both on the hit lists by Muslim groups," Danielski said. "He is more or less boycotted from doing any work there because he enlisted with the U.S. Army.
"Khalid was lucky to come over. His brother not so much, but someone had to stay and take care of their mother and father."
Haider described the money his family paid to free his brother Gazy as a "ransom."
"That is basically what it was," he said. "There are no rules, no regulations ... it is basically jungle law there.
"If anyone has enough power to control the lives of others, (he) will do so."
Danielski has been in contact with the offices of U.S. Sens. Joe Manchin and Jay Rockefeller to get support for Haider to get his citizenship, get health care through the VA and support for his family to eventually bring them to the United States.
"I have known people who have gotten their citizenship in less time and they did not help out the U.S. military like Khalid did," Danielski said. "The toughest thing is to get his family over here before something happens. That is due to the country over there. Rockefeller said they would do everything they could, but it was going to take time."
His family has been able to meet with an international immigration agency in Iraq, but the 12-hour trips to Baghdad have been fraught with danger and uncertainty as being Yazidi makes them subject to harassment at government checkpoints.
Also, efforts through the agency seem to have stalled with not much happening to move things forward, which he believes might be from pressures coming from the Iraqi government. He had to apply three times to get his visa.
Haider is able to keep in contact with his family through Skype.
In coming to the U.S., Haider said he was sponsored by Gene Yoho, a former state trooper who was with the State Department in Iraq. Adnan worked with him as an interpreter. Haider has been staying with Yoho.
"He has been a brother to me," Haider said. "He and his fiancee Mary Beth Welch have been guiding me and helping me."
Because of America's diversity, he has been able to interact with people who have helped him to adapt.
"There are people who may dislike you, but generally most of the people I have known here have respected me," he said. "There are people here who are like my family. If I am late to college, they text me to make sure I am safe. What else do I need? I am blessed here in the U.S. by having great people who care and respect me. I am adapting here very well."
Haider wants to become a U.S. citizen and be able to help his family.
"It is an honor to be a U.S. citizen, honestly," he said. "I would love to see my family in a safer land. I want to say that my hope is in your hands. If someone can help my family get to a safer land, it will be a favor that will never be forgotten. That is all I can say. God bless this nation and you all."