Monday, July 14, 2014

Trapped in Iraq

by George Packer, The New Yorker, July 21, 2014

Ali is a self-described “agnostic Shiite” who lives in Baghdad. Karim lives in Sinjar, the badlands between Mosul and the Syrian border, in a town made up of Yazidis—believers in an ancient faith related to Zoroastrianism. Ali and Karim (they asked to be given pseudonyms) are Iraqis in their thirties, married with children. Both worked for the United States Army when there were American troops in Iraq. From 2004 to 2008, Ali interpreted for soldiers on patrol in tense neighborhoods, then helped in the training of Iraqi security forces. In 2009, he became a freelance journalist and a researcher for Western non-governmental organizations in Baghdad, including Human Rights Watch. Karim, an engineer, signed on in May, 2003, after American troops entered Sinjar, supervising water projects and the renovation of schools in areas too dangerous for the Army to reach. In 2005, he left his job with the American military and went to work for an American medical charity outside Mosul. Few Iraqis offer so many armed groups so many reasons to kill them as Ali and Karim.

Over the years, both men have been threatened repeatedly—by phone calls, by strangers appearing at their front doors, by carloads of gunmen. Once, travelling on a highway outside Tal Afar, insurgents fired AK-47s at Karim, who survived only because he was driving a faster car. In 2010, Ali had to leave his family and go into hiding, after Human Rights Watch issued a report on a secret prison, and a government spokesman proclaimed that an Iraqi researcher was feeding the organization lies. But Ali and Karim stayed in Iraq long after others in their situation had fled. Ali tried to downplay threats. “I’m the guy who believes if you hear the mortars whistling they’re already past you,” he said last week. “I worry about the mortars you haven’t heard.” He remained proud of his job with the U.S. Army, and liked working as a human-rights researcher: “I was dreaming of a better Iraq.” Similarly, Karim held on through the worst years of the civil war: “I always said, ‘It’s my country, I am an engineer, I have a future here.’ ”

(More here.)

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