By Spencer Ackerman / Washington Independent
In the United States, it would be a mundane tax form, with standard provisions for cataloging an employee’s tax obligations. Full name. Citizen ID number. Address. Phone. Specifications about any children. But Form D/4a from the Iraqi Ministry of Finance is sending waves of anxiety through the community of Iraqis who work as linguists, translators and interpreters for the U.S. military in Iraq. For the “terps,” as many U.S. troops and diplomats call them, the form is a prelude to a disaster. Unless their identities are kept a closely guarded secret, they fear, they and their families will be hunted by insurgents, militias and death squads — many of whom are tied to or work for the Iraqi government — for collaborating with the U.S. military. Several weeks ago, Global Linguist Solutions (GLS), the company that holds the contract with the U.S. military to provide translators, entered into negotiations with the Iraqi government about what their new obligations are for withholding employee taxes once the U.S.-Iraqi Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) — which, among other things, gives the Iraqi government increased authority over U.S. contractors — goes into effect. The company said emphatically that it has no intention of turning over identifying information for its roughly 7,000 Iraqi employees. “We’re not providing any personal identification information,” said company spokesman Douglas Ebner. “We have not done so up to now, and we’re not going to change.” But many of these contractors don’t trust GLS to keep its word. Some are considering fleeing Iraq entirely, raising the prospect of U.S. service members losing their ability to talk and listen to Iraqis. “We either quit,” said Garrison, the pseudonym of an Iraqi interpreter, in an email, “or sign our own death warrants by turning the information [over] to the ministry.” Terps go to extremes to safeguard their identities. Many are known to soldiers and marines by Anglicized names like Moe and Tommy and Big King Paul. When leaving U.S. bases to accompany troops on missions, it’s common for them to wear ski masks and wraparound sunglasses in the burning Iraqi heat, their hands covered in flame-retardant gloves so as not to leave behind so much as a fingerprint. Some don’t tell their families how they earn a living; others actually live on U.S. bases. And for good reason: those who help the U.S. in Iraq are targets for insurgents, as are their families. While there aren’t available figures on how many Iraqis employed by the U.S. have been kidnapped or murdered, a well-received play, “Betrayed,” by the New Yorker’s George Packer, has chronicled the anxiety of collaborating with the U.S. in Iraq. “There’s no future for us here,” a translator calling himself Big King Paul told me in Baghdad’s Khadimiya neighborhood in March 2007. “The terrorists know us. We can’t live in this country.” In several cases, the terrorists are within the Iraqi government itself. Insurgents and militia members have infiltrated the ranks of the Iraqi police, and to a lesser extent, the Iraqi army — a systemic problem that retired Marine Gen. Jim Jones, now President Obama’s national security adviser, identified in an influential 2007 report. Many political parties in Iraq, including aspects of the Shiite-dominated governing coalition, possess their own militias. And there remains a thriving kidnapping market in Iraq, creating a temptation among Finance Ministry bureaucrats to earn extra money by turning over case files on GLS employees to terrorists and criminals.
“Everyone knows the Iraqi police and all Iraqi security forces are either corrupt or [have] got something to do with militias or terrorist or insurgents,” said another Iraqi interpreter in an email.
Indeed, the very finance ministry that seeks employee identification information is run by a man named Bayan Jabr, who has ties to the Badr Corps militia affiliated with one of the major Shiite political parties, the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council. In fall 2005, Jabr served as interior minister when U.S. forces discovered that the basement of the interior ministry was used as a torture chamber for Sunnis by Iraqi police officers. At the time, Jabr defended himself by saying, “Nobody was beheaded or killed.”
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