Embassy Employee Risks All for a New Iraq
By Jim Garamone
Iraq — "You know that freedom is not free. There must be
sacrifice. When I decided to work here, I knew and I know that
it is a sacrifice. Maybe I will be killed. Who knows? But there
must be people who work for their country."
hero doesn’t necessarily have to perform brave acts on a battlefield.
Sometimes, the mere act of showing up for work is heroic.
is the case for "Ali," a pseudonym for an Iraqi employee
of the American Embassy here. If his identity were known, Ali
would be a target for Iraqi insurgents – or, as he calls
them – "murderers."
is from Baghdad, and is fluent in a number of languages. "I
love my country and I want to serve my country, and this is the
only way I can do it," he said. "I cannot be a policeman
or a soldier, because I hate shootings."
his job, Ali serves as a bridge between Iraq and America. "We
have a different culture and Americans cannot expect to impose
theirs on this country," he said. He and his compatriots
at the embassy help to explain the cultural gap to both sides.
knows the pain his country is going through. He has lost friends
to suicide bombers – including three friends killed in a
car-bombing near "Assassin’s Gate." Others have been
killed recently, including a friend who worked at the embassy’s
came to the job after being an interpreter for foreign journalists
in Baghdad. "I had a fear and curiosity about the American
forces," he said. "Fear because I don’t know those guys:
strangers on tanks and Humvees traveling in Iraqi streets. And
curiosity on what do these people want from my people."
said the only way to know the truth about Americans is to know
the people — to work with them, to have contact with them and
see what they want. "I’m here to help my people, first, and
to facilitate the American mission in Iraq, because we know Iraq
better than Americans and we can say many things about Iraq,"
said the upcoming election for the Iraqi national assembly is
tremendously important to the country. Saddam Hussein held elections,
"but there was only one candidate," Ali said. If Iraqis
didn’t vote for that candidate, they were arrested or shot, he
elections will be the first truly democratic elections in Iraq’s
history. "There is no legal government without the people’s
approval," he said. "Elections are the first step toward
democracy, and all the Middle East needs democracy. If it succeeds,
Iraq will be an example for the Middle East. Everyone wants this
country to be a significant country."
it can be, he said. Iraq has not only the world’s second largest
known oil reserves, but also water and arable land. Ali said Americans
should remember that Mesopotamia really was the cradle of civilization.
"We developed the first written language, developed agriculture
and irrigation," he said. "There are many houses in
Baghdad older than America."
said he and his friends who work at the embassy understand the
danger, but will continue to serve. "In Baghdad, danger became
a relative word on the Iraqi street in general," he said.
"Death is everywhere in Iraq. If I manage to escape someone
who wants to kill me, I may die in a car bomb or a mortar attack.
here is a specific danger," he continued. "Here, I am
targeted. I’m followed. I’m wanted. But when I came here, I was
completely convinced to work here despite everything, and I will
quit when I want to, not because I am afraid. It would be like
said his family understands his work, and said his wife is the
source of his greatest support. "We have different cultures,
but the same expression: ‘No one dies before his time,’"
he said. "You cannot decide when you will die, and we have
our religion our instruction. I am doing what my God wants. I
know that when I die, I will die at the date specified by God
and no one else can decide that."
the danger, he has had no thought of emigrating. "There are
more than 4 million Iraqis living abroad," he said. "If
I quit and my folks and friends here leave Iraq, who is going
to build a new Iraq?"