TO BE A FRIEND IS FATAL by Kirk W. Johnson


The Fight to Save the Iraqis America Left Behind
Email this review


A highly readable memoir from a former USAID worker who battled PTSD and bureaucratic red tape to help Iraqi refugees find asylum in the United States.

As a consequence of a childhood trip to Egypt, Johnson took an interest in Middle Eastern civilization and became fluent in Arabic. After the American invasion of Iraq, the author intended to use his Arabic skills as a tool for rebuilding the war-torn country. He arrived in Iraq in early 2005 to find life inside the Green Zone too confining, so he shifted into the role of USAID reconstruction coordinator in Fallujah, where the exposure to the tensions of a war zone proved to be a tremendous emotional strain. While on Christmas vacation with his family in the Dominican Republic, a dissociative fugue state caused Johnson to leap from a building and narrowly escape death. Instead of returning to his work in Iraq, Johnson moved into his parents’ suburban home for a period of prolonged rehabilitation. His injuries drew him into a dark depression and increasing paranoia, until correspondence with former Iraqi co-workers provided a route away from his personal demons. Through emails, Johnson heard stories and saw videos detailing the threats, physical abuse and assassinations waiting for the former Iraqi employees of the American military and government. Using American diplomatic actions in Vietnam as a legal precedent, Johnson constructed an ever-growing list of Iraqis needing rescue and, eventually, a nonprofit organization (“The List Project”) to bring Iraqis to safety in the United States. Johnson makes sharp criticisms of the maddening government administrations that continue to block the implementation of this project.

A well-written account of one man’s righteous quest to overcome government bureaucracy.

Pub Date: Oct. 15th, 2013
ISBN: 978-1-4767-1048-8
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Scribner
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15th, 2013


NonfictionBEYOND THE GREEN ZONE by Dahr Jamail
by Dahr Jamail
NonfictionBREACH OF TRUST by Andrew J. Bacevich
by Andrew J. Bacevich
NonfictionTHE STRUGGLE FOR IRAQ by Thomas M. Renahan
by Thomas M Renahan