One Iraqi Reflects On 8 Years Of War

As American forces leave Iraq, NPR Baghdad staffer Ghassan Adnan talks about how his life has changed over the past eight years.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Now, the story of another Iraqi interpreter. Ghassan Adnan is NPR's producer in Iraq. Here are his reflections on working through eight years of war.

GHASSAN ADNAN, BYLINE: I worked for an Indian company when Saddam was in power. The company closed in 2002. By 2003, I was no longer speaking English to anyone. No foreigners to talk to, no foreign companies. They all left because they were scared of a possible war, a war I never believed would happen, even in my dreams.

When it did happen, I got a job offer from a group of American soldiers, soldiers who entered my country violently without any permission. The soldiers who we never believed we'd ever see on Iraqi soil, the soldiers who made the biggest change in my life. These soldiers were on patrol in my neighborhood in west Baghdad. They spoke to my father first. He spoke fluent English, too. They offered him the job. He passed the offer to me.

I was hired by the U.S. Army to be an interpreter in west Baghdad, one of the most troubled spots in Iraq. I spent 14 months with American soldiers learning so many things about a country we were told never to approach, never to think about, America.

Everything around me was changing. I had a job. I was getting paid well. I managed to cover my expenses. I gained my freedom, but I lost many of my friends and I eventually lost my sense of security. The insurgency started and interpreters and innocent people began to fall as victims.

I was threatened many times and warned to quit my job with the infidels or lose my life. I did not understand this insurgent mentality. I almost lost my life when my patrol was attacked by insurgents in west Baghdad. This made me reconsider my job with the Army, but my motivation to speak the language and the income I was getting were bigger than the danger I was facing.

So I kept my job, but when the insurgents threatened my family, I had to stop. I was filled with grief to end what had been the best 14 months of my life. I managed to get a new job, this time with the media. I was taught how to deal with the truth instead of bullets. I started reporting about the U.S. Army in Iraq. I started reporting things I had experienced, like the insurgency and casualties.

It was an easy job in the beginning compared to patrolling day and night with soldiers, but then the work became difficult. I realized that the truth is not an easy thing to get. The more media work I did, the more I realized that no one has the full truth. Sometimes, the truth is here and sometimes it is there. I was happy to keep chasing the truth, but I was scared it might cost me my life just as it had for some of my colleagues.

I'm not sure if life will get better or worse. Everyone says something different. I have lost many friends. I'm not sure if I will lose more friends. What I am sure of is that my life will be completely changed with no American boots in Iraq, as it was changed when those same boots first entered Iraq eight years ago.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's producer in Baghdad, Ghassan Adnan.

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