Kirk Johnson : Simon & Schuster Speakers Bureau

Kirk Johnson

Founder of the List Project to Resettle Iraqi Allies

Kirk Johnson is the founder of the List Project to Resettle Iraqi Allies, a non-profit organization which helps Iraqis who have become imperiled as a result of working with the U.S. To date, over 1,000 Iraqis on the list have found safety here in America. This work has been profiled by 60 Minutes, the Today Show, the New York Times, the New Yorker, NPR, and the Washington Post. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post Magazine, and Foreign Policy.

Johnson’s book To Be a Friend is Fatal: A Story from the Aftermath of America at War, on the story of the List Project and the Iraqis who stepped forward to help the United States will be published in the summer of 2013.

After a draining year in Iraq with USAID, first in Baghdad and then as the coordinator for the reconstruction of Fallujah, Johnson took what was supposed to be a week-long vacation in the Caribbean. In the middle of my second night, he experienced a PTSD-triggered fugue state, in which I sleep-walked out my hotel window and fell two stories to concrete. He broke wrists, jaw, and nose, cracked his skull, and suffered lacerations so severe that his face required nearly 70 stitches.

Toward the end of Johnson’s year-long recovery from this accident, which cut short his work in Fallujah, he heard from a close Iraqi colleague. He had been identified by a militia-member as he walked out of the Green Zone one afternoon. The next day, he found the severed head of a dog on his front steps, with a note pinned to it saying that his would be next. Despite his years of invaluable service to USAID, he received no help or protection from the Government, and fled to the Gulf with his wife. From there, in desperation, he wrote to Johnson for help.

Johnson did not know the first thing about the refugee resettlement process, but he wrote an op-ed about his plight and the broader Iraqi refugee crisis, which, by that time in late 2006, had already spiraled into a displacement of several million Iraqis.

That email was forwarded within hours of its publication throughout the diaspora of U.S.-affiliated Iraqis, who all began writing to Johnson for help. He opened Excel and began entering their names into a list, which grew at an exponential rate. When he realized that there were no organizations that could help them, he founded the List Project to Resettle Iraqi Allies, in June 2007.

The List Project has had remarkable support: eight of the world’s top law firms have provided hundreds of attorneys and well over 100,000 pro bono hours of assistance, meaning that every Iraqi on the list has access to free legal representation, to help them navigate an incredibly complicated process seemingly designed to reject them. Thousands of Americans have formed List Project chapters throughout the country to help resettled Iraqis succeed in their new lives here.

Prior to the List Project, Johnson served in Iraq with the U.S. Agency for International Development, first in Baghdad and then in Fallujah as the Agency’s first coordinator for reconstruction in the war-torn city.

Johnson has received fellowships from the American Academy in Berlin, Yaddo, and the Wurlitzer Foundation, and conducted research on political Islamism as a Fulbright Scholar in Egypt. Having started his studies of Arabic at the age of 16, he has lived throughout the Middle East, and received his BA from the University of Chicago. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.

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  • Refugees and Human Displacement
  • The Plight of Iraqi and Afghan Interpreters
  • The History of U.S. Refugee Policy During Prior Wars
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: Coming Home from War

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