Iraqis Who Take Risks for American Journalists May Pay With Their Lives

By: (AP) Iman Hashim worked as a translator for American troops dealing with her small town's local government council, until insurgents broke into her family house last year and shot her to death as she lay in bed.

"She was young," her elderly mother said recently, her voice trembling. Remembering the way that her 24-year-old daughter's blood stained the sheet and pillow and even the walls, the mother, Sabihah Abdulmohsin, begins to cry.

Like many Iraqis who deal with Americans and other Westerners, those who work as interpreters face a dilemma: keep their jobs and live with threats of intimidation and death or give up their livelihood in a country where jobs are at a premium.

There are no hard numbers on how many translators have been killed by the insurgents since the U.S.-led occupation began in May 2003. Their employers and families routinely refuse to provide information about such killings for fear of endangering families or other translators.

But since last November, rumors have swirled throughout the region where Hashim lived, the so-called "triangle of death" south of Baghdad, of bounties being offered for murders: $1,000 for a policeman, $2,000 for a member of the National Guard, and $10,000 for an Iraqi translator or journalist.

Many of the Iraqis working as interpreters are young women like Iman knowledgeable of English in a country where language skills are valued. Sometimes they support whole families on their salaries.

Iman's mother, 55 and wearing a veil when talking to a reporter, left her house in Mahmoudiya, about 25 miles south of Baghdad, and moved to live with her sister in Baghdad after her daughter's brutal slaying last year.

Abu Hassan, a 58-year-old father of three who works as a translator for U.S. forces in Baghdad, is fatalistic, believing that God alone can determine his destiny.

But he is sure that no insurgent will pay him a salary if he leaves his job.

"Those who are threatening us will not fetch bread for my children if I quit," he said.

Beyond being targeted individually, interpreters who work for multinational troops are also at risk because they often travel with military units on patrol or help them man dangerous checkpoints.

In November, for example, an Iraqi man who served as an interpreter was killed along with three British soldiers when a suicide driver blew up his vehicle at a checkpoint in a high-risk area just south of Baghdad.

The British unit had moved to the area a few days earlier from Basra, and the interpreter had postponed his wedding to travel with the troops, a British spokesman said.

Not everyone finds such risks worthwhile.

One interpreter who worked with U.S. troops after the April 2003 fall of Baghdad, left his work, and plans to leave the country soon, after receiving numerous threats.

"I quit after they accused me of being a spy and traitor, and kept sending me killing threats," said the man, who insisted on being identified only as Z. Mohammed. "I have a life to live outside Iraq."

But many who go to neighboring countries like Jordan face problems finding work or affordable housing there and they often have no right to settle permanently.

Thus, some Iraqis try to make small changes to protect themselves, keeping their jobs but never forgetting the threat of violence.

One 22-year-old Iraqi who does translations and reports for a Canadian broadcaster in Baghdad, received an anonymous letter informing him, "You should stop doing that."

The man, who requested that he be identified only with his initials, N.H., went to live with a sister and stopped taking taxis after the threats.

Often, he walks down the street scanning the faces of those who pass by, looking for a possible attacker, he said.

"I kept thinking of the person who is going to kill me," he said.


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