Wednesday, August 16, 2006


settle score with Sadam.

It would be difficult to find a more diverse
group -- a former bodybuilder, a budding seminarian,
an engaging fast-talker, an aging scholar -- but
interpreters for the US military in Habbaniyah
are united by a shared sense of mission and a
chance to even scores.

The generous salary doesn't hurt either, but it
takes more than money to make these Iraqis leave
home for months on end, don the uniform of the US
Marines and go on patrol with them in the insurgency-
plagued western province of Al-Anbar.

Each of them has a tale to tell of the past, about
life under the old regime, that gives clues to their
decision to take on one of the most dangerous jobs in
a dangerous country.

"It is an honor to wear the Marine's uniform -- the
devil's dogs as the Germans called them, said the fast-
talking 22-year-old, who's taken the pseudonym "Jaguar".
All the interpreters have taken nicknames to protect their
identities. These men work with the Marines assigned to
train up the local Iraqi army units and accompany their
instructors on patrol.

Since the beginning of the conflict, interpreters have
been targets for insurgents. In Anbar, unlike elsewhere
in the country, interpreters wear US uniforms to help
them blend in and carry weapons to protect themselves.

"My uncle tried to kill Saddam, so Saddam killed my uncle.
He killed my father; he sent my mother to jail," said
Jaguar. "I thank God and George Bush for giving us freedom
and stopping Saddam Hussein."

At 66, grey-haired, bespectacled and well-spoken Jaf,
a distinguished professor, with a degree in English and
Kurdish literature, suffered in his own way under the old

"I was a teacher in high school, but I was fired because
I refused to be a member of the Baath Party and join the
popular army and then later I was put in jail and tortured
because of my political activities for Kurdish culture,"
he explained calmly. Jaf favors his right ear ever since
he went deaf in his left one due to maltreatment during
his detention.

"The Americans freed us from the dictatorship of Saddam
Hussein, so I like to work with them."

It is not only revenge against the Sunni and Baathist
overlords who once ran this country that motivates these
men -- but it is also a sense of patriotism.

"We are like a bridge between the Iraqis and the
Americans," says Farid, 36, who used to make four
dollars a month as a teacher under the old regime.
"I like to work with the military and I serve my
country in this way."

Ronny, a former body builder, was in the Iraqi army
for two and a half years, until he decided to put his
English skills to use and make twice as much money.

The work is risky, and every interpreter can recite the
names of friends killed on patrol or doing their job.
"Risk is everywhere, but I am more safe here in the camp
than in my house in Baghdad, and God is safeguarding me,"
said Peter, a 32-year-old Christian, who says his pale
skin and Western looks often put him in danger when he's
on leave. Though he has a degree in engineering, Peter
turned to religion and studied at the college of theology,
going to church four days a week.

"I cried and prayed to God to save me from Saddam Hussein
and his regime," he recalled. "After the war, I was so
excited and happy -- like a salvation time."

Thibauld Malterre
Sun Jun 18


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