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November 18, 2008

Why ban masks for Iraqi interpreters?
Posted by The Editors

This is a post from Eric Auner

The Washington Post reports that the US military has barred “Iraqi interpreters working with American troops in Baghdad from wearing ski masks to disguise themselves, prompting some to resign and others to bare their faces even though they fear it could get them killed.” If the identities of these interpreters become widely know, the interpreters (and their families) become targets for violent reprisal.  The only rationale cited by the article is a spokesman saying “We are a professional Army and professional units don't conceal their identity by wearing masks.”  This same spokesman said that those “dissatisfied” with the new policy ‘can seek alternative employment." By “dissatisfied,” perhaps he means “in fear of being killed.”  A Staff sgt. who works in Baghdad said of the new policy "I don't see anything wrong with them wearing a mask. Why risk the lives of those who work with us?"

Counterinsurgency is all about demonstrating to the populous that you can in fact keep them safe from the insurgents and at some point that means returning to some kind of normalcy.  In all likelihood, the unstated reason for this policy is the desire to send the message that the US military and the Iraqi Security Forces are able to protect interpreters.  Unfortunately, this presupposes an unrealistically optimistic assessment of the current conditions on the ground in Iraq.  Even now “The Mahdi Army, the armed group led by anti-American Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, collects and distributes photos of interpreters working with U.S. troops.” Also, consider Mexico, where federal troops battling drug cartels in Chihuahua don’t “dare show their faces, wearing ski masks instead.” If federal soldiers in Mexico are that frightened, one can only imagine what the Iraqi interpreters are experiencing.

In a war that offers few clear choices, this seems like a nonsensical policy that appears to only endanger those Iraqis that have actually chosen to help us.  There is no reason to add to the “nearly 300 interpreters” slain since 2003 in Iraq.  The truth is that despite the improving security situation the country remains a very violent place to live and work, and it will remain so for years to come even after the current withdrawal deadline of 2011.


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In practice all third world workers, including Iraqis, employed by the U.S. Military, State Department, USAID and especially their contractors, subcontractors and sub subcontractors have always been treated as consumable resources. They are cheap, completely disposable and ridiculously easy to replace.

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