Iraqi interpreters for U.S. military in dangerous limbo
He rarely leaves his house. He’s been shot at by gunmen in a passing car. He gets death threats over the phone.
“Traitor,” the callers say. “American agent.”
Tariq, 27, is a quick-witted, tech-savvy Iraqi who tosses off idiomatic American English phrases such as “I’m outta here” and “That’s cool.”
When he served as an interpreter for the U.S. military, Tariq lived on a secure base, safe from fellow Iraqis determined to kill him because of his service to America. But when the unit he served pulled out of Iraq on Oct. 13, he was dismissed and escorted off the base.
The U.S. government promised Tariq and thousands of other former interpreters that they would be first in line for special visas to the United States. But with the pace of visa approvals having slowed to a crawl, that promise rings hollow for Tariq, who stays locked in his parents’ home, working the phones and the Internet to track his application.
For the first time since his work as an interpreter ended, Tariq left his home one day this month and drove through Baghdad to meet a reporter. He brought along his brother, a tall, burly fellow who literally watched Tariq’s back with each step. Tariq asked that his surname not be published.
“I served the Americans very well, but now they’ve left me on my own, with no security,” he said in nearly flawless English. “They’ve expelled us all from the only places in Iraq that were safe for us — U.S. bases.”
The visa process, always slow and cumbersome, has bogged down further since two Iraqi refugees were arrested in Kentucky in May on federal terrorism charges that included providing material support in the U.S. for Al Qaeda.