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Riyadh Lafta, scientist, doctor, activist finally got a US visa to speak at the University of Washington

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When the US 2003 invasion of Iraq was underway, University of Washington (UW), Associate Professor of Global Health Amy Hagopian thought it would be a good idea to bring an academic from Iraq to explain what was actually happening to people in Iraq as a result of that invasion. She worked with other academics at UW, Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, and Johns Hopkins, as well as with community groups who worked with Iraq refugees and the anti-war movement. She spoke with politicians, and wrote letters, and in 2007, it almost seemed as if Lafta would be able to come. He was scheduled to give a talk at UW, but the USA still refused his visa. Canada agreed to give Lafta a visa, and he spoke at Simon Fraser University, with a crowd at UW in Seattle watching the lecture via the internet.

It is likely that one of the main reasons Lafta was denied an USA visa is his 2004  and 2006 Lancet papers  on the mortality of citizens in Iraq as a result of the US invasion. Doing rather dangerous door-to-door surveys, Lafta and colleagues found mortality to be far worse than that reported by the US, which downplayed the effects of war on civilians, and there was a hostile reaction to their papers.

Lafta continued to examine the effects of war on Iraq, and Hagopian continued to work with academic and community members to bring him over. After years of effort, Lafta was awarded a US visa in 2016. On October 27, Lafta gave a talk at the University of Washington.

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There was no pretending in the auditorium that politics was unconnected to science and research: lives are not saved by science or medicine alone. Hagopian and Pramila Jayapal (who is running for Wa State Senator) spoke of politics and war and healthcare, and the possibilities of change. Lafta himself was very clear about the origin of the health problems in Iraq, and about how difficult it would be to improve life for Iraqis. Physicians fear for their lives and most leave the country. With no functioning government, the country is run by militias. He ended his talk with a short film that showed before and after footage of Iraq, once busy streets and markets reduced to rubble. There was a lively question and answer session, and perhaps the sadness and hopelessness of the situation was summed up by Lafta in response to a question about his exceptions of the election on Iraq policy.

He answered simply, “No American President has ever done anything beneficial for Iraq.”

Lafta’s talk has been scheduled for November 3 at Simon Fraser University  in Vancouver, Canada- but as of October 28, his visa application has been refused. He will be speaking at the American Public Health Association meeting in Denver this week.

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October 28, 2016

Riyadh Lafta’s talk can be viewed on YouTube.

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