Despite Incredible Loss, Iraqi Refugee Thankful For Her Life

Host Scott Simon talks with a 29-year-old Iraqi refugee who now lives in the U.S. She worked for the U.S. Army in Baghdad but had to flee Iraq because it was too dangerous to stay.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

We reached out to a 29-year-old Iraqi woman who's now living in the United States and says she does not intend to return to Iraq. Ten years ago, she was a university student living in Basra. Later, she worked for the U.S. Army until it became too dangerous. To protect her extended family still living in Iraq, she asked us not to use her name. We asked what she felt 10 years ago at the start of the war.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: I would say confusion for the most part. We were very helpful that finally there is a potential for change. Finally, someone will help us to get rid of Saddam Hussein. But at the same time, I was born during his ruling. I never knew anything different. And we went through another attempt to remove him but it did not have a chance to succeed.

SIMON: When did you begin to figure out that this would not be a clean, clear-cut victory and back to normal life?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: I would say when I went back to the university. It was guarded by the militia, major army militia, and we started seeing people from Mehdi army coming after us, asking us whether we are Sunni or Shia.

SIMON: Did you feel that your security was in danger?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Oh yeah, definitely. After the war in 2003, somebody ignited fire in our garden. We were one of only two Sunni families in our neighborhood. And I think that's when we realized our life is threatened. And then in 2004, I was engaged to a businessman. He was Jordanian businessman but he worked for American-British company and he was actually kidnapped. So, I realized things are not safe.

SIMON: How dangerous was it to work with the U.S. Army?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: It was so dangerous. My father never knew I worked for them, and he passed away in December 2012. I told him I'm going to work in a communication company in Baghdad. My mom was the only one who knew the nature of our work, me and my sister.

SIMON: Why did you do work that dangerous?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: It started by the feeling I wanted to help. I'm young enough. I felt I have the skills that is needed to help. But then when I started working with them - I was with the civil affairs - I just loved my team. I was their interpreter. And I cared about them enough, I did not trust anyone else to go out with them.

SIMON: These were Americans you're talking about.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Yes.

SIMON: What finally led you to leave in 2008?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: This will make me sound like a coward. We had a lot of attacks on our own vehicle. And in every attack, we survived, nobody got killed. But in the latest attack, it was a very complex ambush. And two interpreters got killed, an American soldier. It was so bad. We literally were picking up his pieces from the street. And another soldier was shot in the face. Two other soldiers got burnt. And all of that happened right in front of me. And I kept going out with them on missions but I just could not function. The whole time I'm thinking: the IED is going to go off now. We're going to get attacked now. It got to a point I felt I'm just being a burden on them. I just had to leave.

SIMON: Do you sometimes wish the war had never happened?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: No, never.

SIMON: Despite all the pain, all the suffering?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: A very high price was paid for this war. Thousands of American men and women gave their lives for no obvious reason, unfortunately. We lost hundreds of thousands. I lost my fiance. If the war never took place, that man would have been among us here today. But also a lot of positive things came out of this war, and one of them is my life here. And I cannot deny this fact that we do feel free and there is a potential for improvement that it did not exist in the past.

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SIMON: An Iraqi refugee and former interpreter for the U.S. Army. She now works on contract for the U.S. State Department in the U.S. We agreed not to use her name for the safety of her family back in Iraq.

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SIMON: You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News.

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