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Amid U.S. shutdown, visa program for Iraqi interpreters expires

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Senate made a last-ditch bid late on Monday to save a program granting visas to Iraqis who risked their lives working for the American military, but a similar effort in the House of Representatives fell victim to bickering over government spending.

Because the program granting the visas expired at midnight, visa application processing was halted for some 2,000 Iraqis who worked as interpreters or in other capacities for U.S. forces.

The civilians - and their families - remain stranded in their homeland, many with their lives at risk because some see them as traitors for working for U.S. troops.

The Senate passed a three-month extension of the plan by unanimous consent shortly before midnight, when the fiscal year ended and the federal government partially shut down because lawmakers could not agree on an emergency government funding bill.

Members of the Republican-controlled House included an extension of the program in their versions of the emergency spending bill. But they wrapped it in with language to defund or delay President Barack Obama's healthcare reform law, so the bill died in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

Aides said some House members were trying to persuade House leaders to allow a vote on a standalone bill that would extend the Special Iraqi Visa program, but there was no immediate word on whether they would do so.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Mohammad Zargham)

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