Fate of Iraqi Collaborators

Graham Stewart raise a question that many are starting to ponder: What happens to Iraqis who collaborated with the Coalition invaders if, as seems likely, we leave things in chaos?

He cites the obvious example, of course: Vietnam. The case that gets most of his attention, though, will surprise most Americans.

There were similar scenes at the fall of Yorktown in 1781. Imminent defeat in the American War of Independence was not a total disaster for the 7,000 British soldiers preparing to lay down their weapons. After a period in captivity, they had the prospect of returning home to Britain. But for those Americans who had loyally fought with them, it was an unmitigated catastrophe. They faced being lynched.

Although George Washington allowed his British opponent, Lord Cornwallis, honourable surrender terms at Yorktown, he refused to extend the same generosity to the American Loyalists in the defeated garrison. While the British troops were accorded prisoner-of-war status, the Loyalists were to be treated as criminals who had committed terrorist acts.

Unable to improve on the surrender terms, Cornwallis did make an effort to spirit away many of the Loyalists on the naval sloop, the Bonetta. Many, however, were left to their fate. As the ship set sail, these Loyalists tried to row out to it, but the Bonetta did not wait to pick them up. Only 14 made it.

Historians still debate how many colonists backed the British. Estimates range from one fifth to one third of the population of less than three million. At any rate, about 100,000 fled the new United States, which had stripped them of their property and their legal rights.

When the states’ legislatures refused to compensate them, Westminster worried about the cost of assisting so large a number of émigré Loyalists. It was Lord North, the former Prime Minister usually labelled with having “lost America”, who sprang to their defence. “They have exposed their lives, endured an age of hardships, deserted their interests, forfeited their possessions, lost their connections and ruined their families in our cause,” he reminded Parliament. “Never was the honour, the principles, the policy of a nation, so grossly abused as in our desertion of those men, who are now exposed to every punishment that such desertion and poverty can inflict, because they were not rebels.”

Yet in truth they were now a political embarrassment, standing in the way of improving relations with the new Republic. As one Loyalist rued: “Tis an honour to serve the bravest of nations/ And be left to be hanged in their capitulations.”

If it comes to that, we must do better by those who risked their lives betting on our steadfastness. Granted, given our history, it was a foolish bet to make. Still, we have an obligation to protect them, even if it means relocating them.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Dave Schuler says:

    You might want to take a look at the very unkind things that Neil Clark has to say about Britain’s taking any Iraqi refugees in his Guardian article.

  2. Christopher says:

    “What happens to Iraqis who collaborated with the Coalition invaders if, as seems likely, we leave things in chaos?”

    Um, James, what have u been smokin? Bush committed a long time ago to being in it for the long haul. The “war” has been going much better as of late, and things are looking up. Yet you seem to have a completely different view. Watching too much CNN lately?!?

    Also, collaboration is the wrong word by a mile and you know it. Are you related to Dick Durbin by chance?

  3. Someone should ask the Democratic presidential contenders in their next debate how they will fight the next war, and there will be a next war, if we abandon Iraq since no one will ever, and with good reason, ever trust us again to see a difficult situation through.

  4. ken says:

    Why worry about the fate of collaborators? Like the rebel insurgents they made a choice. Some people win, some people lose.

    If our leaving Iraq means we will be less trusted in the future and therefore less likely to embark on conservative wet dream wars then so much the better for everyone.

    We’ve already lost everything worth losing anyway: our honor, our credibility, our self respect. And those things we lost on the very first day Bush launched this illegal, immoral and unjust war on Iraq.

    Getting out of Iraq is just a start on the long road to recovery.