Helping the occupation a deadly risk


Sun, Jun 27, 2004 - Page 7

Even in a country ravaged by 15 months of war, the scene was horrific: a woman's head had been placed on a box containing the ashes of her cremated body. This was her punishment for working as an interpreter for US forces in Iraq.

Another interpreter was pursued on his way from work by men spraying his car with an assault rifle. They left him for dead after his car flipped over in a ditch. Insurgents entered the home of an Iraqi National Guard battalion, tied his family up and threatened to kill them if the commander didn't quit.

In the weeks running up to the establishment of a new Iraq government, insurgents have stepped up attacks on Iraqi civilians who cooperate with and work alongside coalition forces. The message from the guerrillas is clear: anyone who helps build the new, US-supported Iraqi government faces death.

"We still believe in democracy and freedom," said Sheik Saud al-Shibley, a tribal leader and vice president of the national farmer's union, who has survived three assassination attempts. "Everybody sees us and at anytime we can get hit ... [but] I don't care about these things, I carry on with life."

While several senior Iraqi officials have been assassinated -- including two members of the former Iraqi Governing Council -- no one knows for sure how many Iraqi civilians have been killed for having contact with US forces.

On Tuesday, two women working as interpreters for an American company in Basra were ambushed and killed while driving home from work. In the last three weeks, two of the 10 farmers' union leaders have been killed and three out of a group of 24 interpreters have died at the hands of insurgents.

Every slaying takes a toll on the thousands of unarmed Iraqis who cooperate with US forces.

"Any person who goes to the Americans is considered a spy," said Sheik Wadah Maliek el-Sayed, a tribal leader who has acted as a mediator between US forces and hardline Iraqi religious leaders.

He said the purpose of the interaction determined whether a meeting with Americans is allowable.

"When we come to visit the Americans to solve some problem, people know we are speaking for them," Wadah said. "If [an Iraqi] is only helping themselves, they will be killed."

Two elected neighborhood council member have been killed in the last two months, US army officers said. Colonel Michael Formica, whose 2nd Brigade of the 1st Cavalry Division controls west Baghdad, warned members of one council to change their meeting times and locations, and to be careful when driving between work and home.

"You must change your daily routine," Formica told the council. "If you could take a few weeks off, that would be a good thing."

Many of the council members asked for special weapons permits to arm bodyguards.

The next day, Formica attended a memorial service for Maytham Taleb Hammed Habib, a former lieutenant colonel in the Iraqi army, who worked as an interpreter for a new Iraqi National Guard battalion. He had suffered under former dictator Saddam Hussein's regime and was passionate about helping build a new, democratic Iraq.

He was killed by insurgents while returning home from work. Most of the interpreters do not want to be named or interviewed for fear they may be next.