Skip to comments.Iraqi Translators Risk All to Aid U.S. Troops
Posted on 02/14/2005 12:22:13 PM PST by NYer
Bat (center), an Iraqi translator who must protect his identity while working for U.S. forces, facilitates a conversation between 1st Lt. Robert Richard of the Louisiana National Guard and an Iraqi family. "It protects me, and it protects the people I talk to," Bat says of his head covering. "I don't even tell my best friends what I do."
BAGHDAD, Iraq -- As he walked through rural villages just west of Baghdad on patrol with U.S. soldiers, Bat, an Iraqi working as an interpreter, spoke as a voice with no face.
Head covered in a black ski mask and dark sunglasses, the tall, lean Baghdad native looked like Darth Vader as he traded friendly banter with children, negotiated on behalf of soldiers with a local sheik, and helped arrange payments to a farmer who said U.S. troops destroyed his crops. Bat knew those who hated American soldiers hated him even more. And he knew they were always watching.
"It protects me, and it protects the people I talk to," Bat said of his head covering. "I don't even tell my best friends what I do."
Because the interpreters are doing a job insurgents consider political and religious treason, Americans have trouble keeping them around. Many have been killed, including Bat's predecessor with a company of the Lousiana National Guard -- a woman who was shot 61 times. Others have quit after family members were threatened or killed. Many have survived attempts on their lives.
To the rebels, the interpreters represent a doubly valuable target. Killing them serves as an example to all collaborators with U.S. troops, down to those who clean the soldiers' trailers or serve them food, and also takes out a strategic military target. Without interpreters, soldiers can do nothing on the hearts-and-minds or intelligence fronts of the war.
Each of three interpreters working with Louisiana Guard troops have their reasons for taking the risks. They and their families suffered under the Baathists' brutal reign, and they envision U.S. troops as the vehicle to a new democratic government.
The Iraqi interpreters working with Louisiana Guard troops make $600 a month from U.S. defense contractor Titan Corp. Many Iraqi families get by on $100 a month, and Iraqi police make about $200.
The interpreters are reminded daily of the risks they face, in ways ranging from the subtle, such as the hard stares from some of their countrymen, to the horrific, such as notes left on corpses.
Bat's bosses, Hard Rock Charlie Company of the 3rd Battalion, 156th Infantry Regiment of the Louisiana Guard's 256th Brigade Combat Team, recently found a note on a dead sheik, a man insurgents deemed too friendly with U.S. troops. Translated from Arabic, it read: "Do not take the Jewish or the Christian as a leader. ... This is the punishment in this world, and in the end, God will put him in hell."
"We have a few interpreters but not enough," said Lt. Col. Mike Pryor, operations officer for the 256th. "When you want to look at heroes, the reasons to be here, look at the interpreters."
On patrol recently, Bat told of the terrors endured by his family, part of the Shiite Muslim majority held under the thumb of Saddam Hussein's Sunni minority for a generation.
Bat's uncle was jailed for more than a year for "talking bad about Saddam," he said. His uncle didn't do any such thing -- he would have been too terrified -- but he crossed someone who had influence with Saddam's government, Bat said. That man lied, turning in his uncle for sedition.
"I have a cousin ... . He was in Saddam's army. Everybody went to the military at 18."
Bat's cousin had taken custody of a man arrested by Saddam's henchmen. But the man got away before his cousin could get him behind bars, so the cousin was deemed part of the plot to let him flee, and was jailed. "They beat him," Bat said.
"So what am I supposed to do? Like Saddam?" he asked. "Ever since the Baathists came to power," in 1968, with Saddam taking over in 1979, "the Shi'a (Shiites) have suffered. It makes you weak."
Unlike some interpreters, Bat tries to maintain a life outside the Americans' Camp Liberty. He was commuting from downtown Baghdad to the base at about 5 a.m., taking different routes every day. Then, a few days before the Jan. 30 election, Bat returned home to find a note on his door left by mujahedeen, threatening to kill him and his family. He said he didn't know if they were looking for him or his brother. But it didn't much matter. He said he'd be staying inside Camp Liberty for the foreseeable future.
Asked if he thinks the Americans he works for can win the war, he said: "Not win, because the only ones who can win are the Iraqi people. But the Americans will help us."
For how long?
"I don't want these guys to go home," said Bat, surrounded by soldiers. "I want them to stay with me ... for maybe years, not months."
Ray, a 22-year-old Iraqi translator, recently patrolled downtown Baghdad with soldiers from another Louisiana Guard battalion. Unlike Bat, she showed her face, peeking out from under her Kevlar helmet. It's no use trying to hide her identity anymore.
"They've got my picture in Fallujah," she said. "They get our addresses from the Iraqna" cell phone company.
Two days before, she said, one of her friends and fellow interpreters was killed, as have been half a dozen other Iraqis she knew who worked for the military. She has been threatened three or four times. Eight months ago, she said, a man tried to shoot her with a handgun at close range. The gun misfired.
"I took his pistol and kept punching him," she said.
About six months ago, someone shot at Ray and her sister as they walked into the American-held Green Zone in downtown Baghdad to collect her pay.
Four days before the recent patrol, Ray had collapsed with a medical emergency she and her doctors still don't understand. She couldn't breathe. One of the soldiers treated her and put her on a helicopter bound for a hospital in the Green Zone.
"He saved my life," she said, as the soldier walked beside her, scanning for threats.
Ray trusts no Iraqi she doesn't know well, even the police and national guardsmen. She trusts only Americans, she said. Living at Camp Liberty, she visits family members occasionally.
At 13, she said, she started working as a baby sitter for a clan of Baathists. If she quit, they told her, she'd be thrown in jail.
"They tried to do bad things to me, tried to rape me," she said, adding that she always got away. "They treated me like s--- for eight years."
They told her she'd have to quit middle school unless she joined the Baath party, she said. She quit school.
Asked if she has been to America, Ray deadpanned, "Yes, three times -- in my dreams."
Ray said she loves America and wants to see it some time. But, as much as she distrusts Iraqis, Iraq will always be home.
"I love Iraq," she said. "It's a wonderful country."
Feb. 14, 2005
What a great post. Thank you.
When will we see this story in the Boston Globe? /sarcasm off
Please remember these brave men and women in your prayers!
Catholic Ping - Come home for Easter and experience Gods merciful love. Please freepmail me if you want on/off this list
Pinging Senator Kennedy!
Thanks for the reminder about the risks the Iraqis are taking.
***Eight months ago, she said, a man tried to shoot her with a handgun at close range. The gun misfired.
"I took his pistol and kept punching him," she said.***
If all their women would stand up at once like this, imagine what a different country it would be. Not just the part I quoted, but her attitude as conveyed in the article.
Four days before the recent patrol, Ray had collapsed with a medical emergency she and her doctors still don't understand.
Most likely stress-induced. I doubt many people will appreciate what she has to live with day after day without let-up.
Ray trusts no Iraqi she doesn't know well, even the police and national guardsmen.
A very smart lady but safer still to trust no-one