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Iraq: Young Iraqis Eager To Work For Good Salaries From U.S.

Many Iraqis work with U.S.-led coalition forces, as translators or minor clerks. Some have been killed during attacks on U.S. forces. But many Iraqis say they will continue to cooperate with the Americans. Some say they do it for the money. But others say their reasons are more personal, and more patriotic.

Baghdad, 23 October 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Many young Iraqis are cooperating with the coalition forces occupying their country -- working as interpreters or drivers or doing basic administrative work in U.S. military and civilian offices.

Some of these young people say they are cooperating with the Americans just for the good money they are paid. Others say they want to help their country and are working for idealistic, rather than material, reasons.

RFE/RL spoke with several Iraqi interpreters working with the U.S. troops. Muhammad Ali, a slender 26-year-old, is working with the coalition forces as an interpreter. He said he chose to take the risky job of accompanying U.S. forces because he has few other opportunities for a well-paid job. "It's hard to get a job now, and a job [I can get] is not a stable one," he said. "That's why I [work with the coalition forces.]

He said the salary is very good. "[For the first] two months they paid $300 and now they pay $450. It's very good."

Muhammad Ali said his neighbors know where he works and many of them come to him asking for help finding a job with the Americans. He said he has managed to help some of them.

He said sometimes he feels afraid but he needs to do something to support his family. Although he has not yet been threatened, he knows the job is a dangerous one. One of his friends was killed several months ago after the U.S. military vehicle he was traveling in came under attack from an armed opposition group.

Twenty-three-year-old Shara Hussein also works as a translator for the U.S. troops. She said money is not her primary concern. Instead, she said she appreciates the help the United States is giving to Iraq and she wants to contribute to the effort.

"I appreciate that [U.S. troops] are here to help the Iraqi people. They came here to liberate Iraq and now we feel we are a free country and this is the best thing [and] really I feel happy to work with them because they need me here. I am supposed to be in touch [as a translator] with the Iraqi people and the Americans," she said.

She said Iraqis need help understanding why the coalition forces are in the country, and the U.S. troops need to understand the Iraqis. "That's what I am doing and I think it is a noble job," she said. She aded that she does not feel threatened doing her job, just proud.

Ordinary Iraqis have mixed feelings about their compatriots working with the coalition forces. Ahmad, a street vendor, said different people cooperate with the Americans for different reasons. He said he feels disdain for those who take the job purely as a way to settle old scores, saying such people "are in a good position to falsely report on a person they don't like or are indebted to. They can tell the Americans that he is a supporter of Saddam Hussein or a terrorist. The Americans come and arrest the falsely accused. That person might spend a long time in detention before they find out the accusations were wrong. Or they may never find out the truth because many Iraqis in one way or another cooperated with the regime and many were Ba'ath Party members."

But Ahmad said he thinks the majority of Iraqis working for the U.S. troops are honest. He said he doesn't agree with some of his friends who say Iraqis working for the coalition are all traitors or collaborators.

Omar, a man in his 20s, collects fees at a parking lot in central Baghdad. He is convinced the majority of Iraqis would choose not to work with the Americans if there were more employment options available. "They have to work with the American forces, but if they had any other opportunity in a different place they would never work with the American forces," he said. "I would never be a translator for the American troops, even if they pay me a million dollars, because I don't want to die," he added.

Heidar, an unemployed young man who speaks good English, said he would like to find work as a translator for the U.S. troops. "Yes, I would. You have to be careful, of course. But I am not scared. I'll do it to [pass] some time and of course for money," he said. "But not everything is money."

However, Heidar said he doubts he would be hired because some members of his family worked for the former regime. Most translators, in addition to proving their proficiency in English, are also required to provide information about their family background.