Skip to comments.Iraqi interpreters risk their lives to aid GIs
Posted on 11/03/2005 5:54:02 PM PST by saquin
BAGHDAD, Iraq They venture into hostile areas on raids to capture insurgents. They travel in Humvees knowing that at any time they could drive over a bomb hidden in the road. They know they are moving targets at all times.
They are Iraqi interpreters, a vital link between local residents and U.S. troops trying to rein in the insurgency.
With nicknames such as Tony, David and Sara, the interpreters, Sunni Arabs, Shiites and Kurds, sleep in the same tents as soldiers and are privy to the most private of conversations.
Some say they have the most dangerous civilian jobs in the world. Videos of beheadings of interpreters have been posted on the Internet; some have been gunned down in their cars.
Several weeks ago, an interpreter known as Nelson was killed by a bomb during a raid conducted by the 48th Brigade's 2nd Battalion, 121st Infantry Regiment. Soldiers said he had volunteered for the mission.
Some interpreters from the Baghdad area try to go home a few days a month. Others, Iraqi exiles from the United States, Britain and Arab nations, live with the soldiers around the clock. Each has his or her own reasons for serving.
Imad, a former spare parts dealer for high-end cars, left the relative luxury of life in Beirut, Lebanon, five months ago to return to Iraq to settle a family property dispute. While waiting, he sought work as an interpreter.
"I thought I shouldn't just be sitting at home wasting time," he said, stunned at how the Baghdad of his childhood had deteriorated into chaos. The son of a Lebanese mother and Iraqi father, Imad, 49, spent his formative years in Baghdad from 1958 to 1975. His father had been a bank manager and raised Imad in a middle-class Catholic household.
He initially felt Iraq was headed in the right direction. But after months in Baghdad, he has become restless. Though Iraqis lived under tyranny when Saddam Hussein was in power, Imad said, most people had jobs and access to basic needs such as electricity and water.
"Now everything is bad," he said.
Compassion was in every Iraqi heart before, he said, but now people are devoid of trust, devoid of humanity. He asks himself how a nation could have been robbed of its soul.
A few weeks ago, U.S. soldiers came across a homeless woman with six children.
"She needed money. She was out on the street," Imad said. "I asked all the translators here for money. Can you believe that nobody gave any?"
Sammy conceals his face with a mask and dark glasses to hide his identity. But through the dark lenses he can see the resentment in people's eyes when he asks them tough questions for the Americans.
"They hate us for what we are doing," said Sammy, 51, who interprets for soldiers in the 121st Infantry Regiment's 2nd Battalion.
But Sammy is undeterred. One day soon, he is convinced, Iraq will be at peace. "Mr. Bush saved 25 million people in my country," he said. "I put a picture of him up in my home."
When he was 22, Sammy found work on an Iraqi merchant ship that took him to ports throughout the Middle East and around the Indian Peninsula. The adventures stopped, however, after the world imposed strict economic sanctions on Saddam's Iraq in 1991 and the nation became increasingly isolated.
"I worked hard for 25 years," he said. "And look at me. I have nothing. No house. No car."
After Saddam's statue was toppled in Firdos Square in April 2003, Sammy went looking for work with the Americans, and he has been with them since.
"Now, I have a car," Sammy said. "Maybe in 10 years, I will have a house."
When Sammy gets a chance to go home to see his wife and four children, he makes the long drive alone and unarmed because he does not have a weapons permit. He is always alert, checking the rearview mirror constantly to see if he is being followed. Insurgents assassinated several of his friends who worked with U.S. troops.
Sammy blames Saddam's supporters for the violence ripping Iraq apart.
"Saddam was working only for his tribe," he said. "He didn't care about anyone else. Now, all these problems are caused by the Sunni. They lost everything when Saddam went down. They think they will be left out."
Tyler grew up with six brothers and sisters in the sprawling Shiite slum known as Saddam City.
After the 2003 invasion, the name was changed to Sadr City, after Imam Mohammed Sadr, a Shiite religious leader killed by Saddam Hussein.
But living conditions didn't get much better. Tyler, 31, still dreamed, as he did as a little boy, of escaping Iraq.
He thought the Americans might provide a ticket out, but Tyler knew little English. On Baghdad's al-Mutanabi Street, where every Friday second-hand book vendors sell everything from literature to technical guides, Tyler purchased language books and a series of cassettes produced by the BBC.
"I made myself a prisoner in my room for 14 weeks and learned English," he said. "I studied 16 hours a day."
On May 22, 2004, Tyler approached the U.S. Army for a job and became an interpreter. He now interprets for a civil affairs unit attached to the 48th.
"I don't know about the future of Iraq, but I am hopeful about my own future," said Tyler, who dreams of being a U.S. citizen and joining the American military. "Yes, I have to be selfish. I want a better life for myself. Iraq makes me very, very sad."
Tyler said he doesn't understand Iraq's lawlessness, why one Iraqi would plot to kill another, why the price of life has become cheaper than a pound of potatoes.
"If we continue to use each other like this," he said, "we cannot achieve a free Iraq."
Two years ago, all that was precious in Jena's life disappeared.
She took her 1-year-old daughter, Hadeel, to a Baghdad hospital for vaccinations. The baby developed a fever and died a few days later. Jena blamed expired medications.
"I blame Saddam and the sanctions for that," Jena said. "Doctors here didn't have the experience to save her."
Consumed by loss, Jena's sad existence grew bleaker after Hadeel died. Her husband was abusing drugs, abusing her. Her parents and siblings showed Jena little support.
"My husband hurt me. He hurt my baby," said Jena, 35, now seeking a divorce.
Desperate to find a way out, the former schoolteacher found a job with a CBS News crew in Baghdad. All those years teaching English to sixth-graders paid off. Three months ago, Jena signed up as an interpreter for the U.S. Army. As a teacher, she earned $250 a month. Now she makes about $800, eight times the average Iraqi salary.
With the 48th Brigade, she is assigned to the all-male 2nd Battalion, 121st Infantry Regiment. She is vital when the soldiers need to speak with local women. In conservative Muslim homes, women speak only to other women; it would be disrespectful for male soldiers to enter their living quarters.
"When [Iraqi women] see me, they become more comfortable," Jena said, knowing she is seen as a traitor by some.
"I don't care," she said. "I am confident in what I am doing. The Americans respect human rights. We have never had that in Iraq."
But Jena has no illusions about why she spends her life at Camp Striker these days, severed from her culture and her family.
"Patriotism has been killed in Iraq," Jena said. "Saddam killed my love for this country. I would be lying if I told you I were doing this job because I love my country. I am here because this is a job I like doing."
A very strong article. Thanks for posting it.
The only people not risking their lives in Iraq are the reporters -- until we begin to admit who the enemy really are, that is.
An interesting read.
HELLO American MSM!!!!