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A Conversation With the Translators
Here is the transcript of a conversation FRONTLINE recorded between two Iraqi translators who work for the U.S. military. The translators, one of whom recently had been shot five times, discuss the dangers inherent in working for the Americans during the insurgency. "You become wary of everyone you know," says one. But both agree it is worth it to help Iraq become a stable, peaceful nation. "We are not just translators here," says the other. "We are trying to bring these two peoples together."

Note: For security reasons the translators did not want to be identified and all names have been redacted to protect the Iraqis and their families. This conversation was recorded in November 2004.


FIRST TRANSLATOR: Hi. How you doing? How is your health?

SECOND TRANSLATOR: I am a little hurt. I took a hit.

FIRST TRANSLATOR: Oh really, how did that happen?

SECOND TRANSLATOR: I was in my car, another car pulled in front of me, four guys got out and began to shoot. One of them looked like one of my neighbors. I took five bullets. They took three out and two are still inside.

FIRST TRANSLATOR: Well, what do you want me to say? I can't say I'm surprised. A year ago, I was threatened with the same thing, when I was living with my family. Now I live here in the barracks, with the troops, and go out on the missions and so on. I too was threatened.

SECOND TRANSLATOR: This shouldn't be the way. I'm doing this job to help people out. They shouldn't target us like this.


SECOND TRANSLATOR: A lot of my friends have been going through the same thing. Like [NAME REDACTED]. Do you know [him]? [He] got hit.

FIRST TRANSLATOR: He's still in hospital, poor guy.

SECOND TRANSLATOR: Then there's [NAME REDACTED]. He passed away.

FIRST TRANSLATOR: God rest his soul, he was a friend of mine.

SECOND TRANSLATOR: Lots of guys are taking hits. [NAME REDACTED] also passed away, he was very close to me, like a brother.

FIRST TRANSLATOR: This is crazy.

SECOND TRANSLATOR: … What I like about my job is that I am [enhancing] understanding, a message. I act as a sort of bridge--

FIRST TRANSLATOR: --between the Iraqis and the Americans. We are not just translators here. We are trying to bring these two peoples together.

SECOND TRANSLATOR: I just hope people understand this situation. There are prices on the heads of Iraqis who work with Americans. I am a child of this country. I belong to this country. I just want to serve my country. I am not alone; there are many like us. I want to do something to make my country proud. I feel that we've regressed as Iraqis.

FIRST TRANSLATOR: All other countries have advanced forward and we have gone back.

SECOND TRANSLATOR: I don't know how people can't understand that.

FIRST TRANSLATOR: There is a small bunch of people with connections to outside countries who are orchestrating these covert operations.

SECOND TRANSLATOR: We, as Iraqis, should want peace and quiet so we can move forward. If the Iraqis have a stable peaceful country, you will notice the drawbacks of the leaders of neighboring countries and people there will understand that Iraqis are leading a better life. And those foreign leaders don't want that. The people doing this are not Iraqis.

FIRST TRANSLATOR: No, I don't think they are. These are people attacking young Iraqis and women and children. They have been raping women. And they claim they have been fighting a jihad, but they are willing to drop their demands for a few coins.

SECOND TRANSLATOR: Some people might not like what I do or say I say what I say because of what I do, but I know I am doing something important to help Iraq. I don't understand how people can kill another for money or any other reason. The Koran says he who kills an innocent human life, it is as if he has taken the life of all humanity.


SECOND TRANSLATOR: If you look at all the Eastern countries around us they are living much better lives.

FIRST TRANSLATOR: Although we do have higher levels of education in this country.

SECOND TRANSLATOR: Yeah, Iraqis are known for being clever. What I like about working for the Americans is that they seem to want to help the ordinary Iraqi live a normal life, to be able to laugh and things.

FIRST TRANSLATOR: We have accomplished many things. We have tried to bring our opinion to the world, but I don't know how it's going to work out. I don't know our national destiny given that we are under threat in our own country. Now if I leave this base I feel like a fugitive everywhere I go.

SECOND TRANSLATOR: It's quite difficult to feel unwanted in your own country.

FIRST TRANSLATOR: Yeah, you live in fear in your own country.

SECOND TRANSLATOR: You become wary of everyone you know -- your friends, your neighbors, the people next to you. I don't know what we did to deserve this. It's not just us, I also lost many friends who used to work in the National Guard. I hope our sense of national belonging will be reawakened.

FIRST TRANSLATOR: Yes, we should stand shoulder to shoulder to one another, against the outsiders.

SECOND TRANSLATOR: We have lost enough of our lives, 35 years. It's enough.

FIRST TRANSLATOR: What kind of youth did we have? We didn't benefit from our country in the past.

SECOND TRANSLATOR: I can't even live with my family anymore. I have to stay here. What have I done? If I was to leave this job and go back to the outside world, could I live a normal life again? No!

FIRST TRANSLATOR: I wouldn't guarantee your security for an hour.

SECOND TRANSLATOR: Where do you go if your friends don't want you, your immediate family doesn't want you? You know what my dream is? I want to go out to other countries, travel, experience different things.

FIRST TRANSLATOR: All of us want to do that. We have been trapped in this country for so long.

SECOND TRANSLATOR: One other thing I like about this job is that I get to learn different ways of doing things.

FIRST TRANSLATOR: I really like that, too. Doing this job, you really begin to feel how far back Iraq has regressed, and how quickly we are beginning to catch up to everyone else. At the same time we have this internal fear that is turning us into blind men. We don't know how to deal with this situation.

SECOND TRANSLATOR: I don't know if it is because we have too much freedom.

FIRST TRANSLATOR: It's the deprivation that we experienced.

SECOND TRANSLATOR: Or maybe there is something wrong with the way the new regime operates. I don't know, I am not a political person. I just want to know why I am not accepted anymore. A lot of people have really exploited this new freedom.

FIRST TRANSLATOR: This is kind of like when you have release the animals at the zoo and the strong animals got out. Most Iraqis are kind-hearted people, but it seems that some are monsters under the skin which Saddam had managed to keep under control.

SECOND TRANSLATOR: Look at all the burglary that has happened. People have been stealing simple things like refrigerators. This didn't happen before.

FIRST TRANSLATOR: Yeah, that's true… This is unfortunate, they have given the world the message that that is how Iraqis behave, the whole world is watching.

SECOND TRANSLATOR: People are going to become suspicious of Iraqis now.

FIRST TRANSLATOR: Now you have got all these stereotypes about us, looters, Ali Babas and the like. I don't know why everyone is so complacent about it. It might be, as you said, because they lack a national belonging.

SECOND TRANSLATOR: We have to start moving forward because we have stagnated enough.

FIRST TRANSLATOR: We have been through three wars.

SECOND TRANSLATOR: We have to try to move along with the rest of the world. I am sure that our progress is going to be swift, instantaneous. We are much cleverer than a lot of people. People should take advantage of this opportunity.

FIRST TRANSLATOR: People need to be given this chance to improve their lot.

SECOND TRANSLATOR: There is so much unemployment in our country, the people need the jobs Americans are bringing.

FIRST TRANSLATOR: There are these jobs. You can be a policeman for $1,000 per month. But if you don't become a policeman, do you become a looter?

SECOND TRANSLATOR: No, of course not. This is not a jihad. If we were fighting a clear war with clear enemies things would be different, but it's all very unclear right now.

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posted feb. 22, 2005

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