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Underdogs of war

An Iraqi man who works as interpreter with US troops takes a break in central Baghdad in November 2005.

TEXT OF STORY

SCOTT JAGOW: Yesterday, the House approved President Bush's request for another $66 billion. Much of that money will go toward the military operation in Iraq. That brings the price-tag for the three-year-old war to about $320 billion. Of course the costs go far beyond dollar signs. More than 2,000 Americans have been killed in the conflict. Many Iraqis have died as well. One group in particular danger is those who work as interpreters for the US military. Ben Gilbert went to the city of Ramadi and talked to some of them. For their safety, their names have been changed in this report.


BEN GILBERT: Iraqi interpreters serve as the bridge between the American military and other Iraqis. Good ones are hard to find. It's a demanding and sometimes deadly role, but interpreters like Dennis are willing to take the risk.
DENNIS: I just want to show this kinda like shrapnel I got here. I still work. I'm still a survivor.

Dennis just got out of the hospital two weeks ago. He was injured in what the military calls an IED, or roadside bomb attack, with US troops. It was the 21st such bomb to hit a vehicle he was traveling in. Dennis makes about $1,000 per month. The average Iraqi government employee makes around $400. But the good pay comes at a price, and most Iraqi interpreters now live full-time on American bases. It's like an exile in their own country, because interpreters are held in contempt by many of their fellow Iraqis.

DENNIS: People point to us and say "You are a traitor, or spies." The guys, they can't even look at us, kind of ashamed of us, because we are working with Americans. So, we cannot change this picture any more. They still looking to us like, "Traitor, you should be killed."

Another interpreter, named Ronny, says insurgents killed five of his colleagues from this base alone as they traveled back to Baghdad. Documents filed by L3 Communications / Titan Corporation, the main US contractor providing interpreters to the US military, show that 181 employees have been killed in Iraq, and 439 injured, since 2003. These interpreters do get treated at US military hospitals. But that doesn't solve all their problems.

RONNY: You have a choice: If you want to stay in home, and then get targeted by insurgents, you die, I mean, you're gone.

All of these interpreters dream of going to the United States. Ronny applied for a visa, but the paperwork never went through. His biggest fear is that the US will pull out. That would leave Ronny and his fellow interpreters to fend for themselves in a country where they'd quickly become easy targets.

RONNY: First of all I believe in my job. When I go up there in this area, I don't care how many IEDs, I don't care how many insurgents there gonna be there. But if I gonna go by myself, without any support man. . . I wish to die here, man, with the Americans. It's more better than me to die back in my home.

In Baghdad, I'm Ben Gilbert for Marketplace.

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