U.S. Mask Ban Jeopardizes Iraqi Interpreters

Last year I posted about the risks that many Iraqis have taken in their roles as translators and interpreters for coalition troops.

Between 30,000 to 100,000 interpreters and translators are still living in Iraq, enduring the perilous ambiguity that is characterised by fatal animosity from fellow countrymen, who view them as traitors, and uncertain futures, since no guarantee of security is provided by coalition forces when they eventually pull out.

In 2007 it was found that more than half the Iraqi interpreters who applied to come to live in Britain had their applications rejected, as the Government “wriggled out” of its promise to help former Iraqi employees.


Citing “absenteeism” as a criteria for rejection, the Government seemed unable to distinguish between the absence of Tracy from Tesco after a heavy Friday night at The Horse and Cart pub, and Safa, who had been forced to stop working after receiving two bullets and written death threat.

Earlier this year, progress arrived when the Government announced that around 1,500 Iraqis would be airlifted to Britain in a multi-million pound operation that started in April.

Under a new ban by the United States military, however, interpreters in Baghdad have had the danger inherent in their positions cranked up a notch, as they are prohibited from wearing the ski-masks that ensure their anonymity.

Unsurprisingly, many have since resigned, while others have been compelled to bare their faces, despite the move increasing the chances of them – and their families – being harmed.

Since 2003 around 300 U.S. military interpreters have been killed, and while many have sought asylum in the United States through organizations such as The List Project to Resettle Iraqi Allies, others remain trapped in uncertainty.

Of the plethora of news stories that deliver accounts of Iraqi interpreters and translators, a disquieting theme emerges of a life spent in fear, but with no escape.


Take for example Ronnie, interviewed by CNN:

I swear, my god, every other night, I have a nightmare that some militia is trying to kill me. I’ve lost hope. I can’t see any future to this country. That’s why most of the interpreters want to get out of Iraq. We drove by my house, and you know how painful it is that when you see your house and you can’t stop to see your dad or your brother or your mom to say ‘Hi’. [Source]

Or Khalid Ahmed, an English Literature graduate of Mosul University:

Sometimes, when I’m alone, I cry. Every time I leave the FOB [forward operating base] I’m thinking someone is following me and will try to shoot me. I thank God for every moment of my life. I hope the US military will take care of their good interpreters. In Iraq, we were ‘waiting for Godot,’ so the Americans are Godot. [Source]

And David, who has followed in his father’s footsteps and become an interpreter, despite his father’s death at the hands of insurgents:

He was shot in the market in Basra in front of hundreds of people, only 10m from the police station. The culprits were never found, but my life was endangered. I knew the insurgents would be after me next, to punish me for my father’s so-called collaboration. I wanted to carry on his work. He worked for the future of Iraq. [Source]

The interpreters are placing their lives in the hands of the coalition military, yet ultimately it is the governments that decide their fate.

Trapped between a rock and a hard place, the latest development has thrown the interpreters and translators into fresh danger in their own land, raising questions whether the cold notion that the military views them as dispensable has a ring of truth.

Similar to the Gurkhas, the Iraqi interpreters are assisting the British and American troops in life-threatenting situations, but while the troops can go home, these men and women are left behind to suffer the consequences.

Ultimately, compelling them to remove their final piece of protection is a violation of their rights and a final slap dealt by the hand that has promised to protect them in return for their expertise.

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This entry was posted on November 17, 2008 by in Conflict Zones, Iraq, Middle East and tagged , , .
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