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Jul 23, 2007

Our Iraqi Employees In A Snapshot


If you never came across George Packer's article in the New Yorker back in March (Betrayed: The Iraqis who trusted America the most), it's a must read.  The piece chronicles the tortuous fate of various Iraqi nationals who gave, then lost everything for their duty inside the Green Zone.  Even more fantastic, however, is how the situation has decayed since the exposé.

The news dripping out of Iraq in the past month demonstrates this meltdown into hell.

Two weeks ago, for example, the NYT reported the murder of an elderly couple working for the U.S. embassy.  The husband was killed by kidnappers, and the wife was killed trying to deliver his ransom.  That the U.S. could offer no protection offered a pitiful follow-up to the Packer piece.

The last desperate straw (if not shades of the fall of Saigon), however, was the WAPO piece reported yesterday.  Titled "Envoy Urges Visas For Iraqis Aiding U.S.: Targets of Violence Are Seeking Refuge," the story has two equally abysmal elements.  First, were learn of the U.S. Ambassador Crocker's suddenly urgent effort to secure exit visas for Iraqi workers as presumably the only condition left by which the dwindling number of Iraqi helpers will even stick around.  Second, we are offered a thoroughly embarrassing overview of Iraqi - U.S. immigration policy and statistics.

More than anything, however, I wanted to concentrate on this stunning photo by James Nachtwey that accompanied the George Packer piece.  As an American, I believe a consideration of this piece of narrative is practically obligatory.  The caption reads:

An Iraqi interpreter wears a mask to conceal his identity while he assists a soldier delivering an invitation to an Imam for a meeting with an American colonel.

The way the Iraqis, including the interpreter, are lined up in a diagonal row, with the American the only one offset, is a fateful piece of geometry given the failure of the U.S. to line up with or get behind its in-country support.  The way the interpreter is so completely "out front" is another angular expression of the fateful situation.

More than anything, though, the brilliance of the image/message derives from the contrast between the translator and soldier.  The fact the tension is so unilateral -- between the incredible stress in the eyes and body of the interpreter, and the matter-of-fact, and less than attentive response of the soldier -- is simply incredible.

The result -- in light of how the American government has allowed these Iraqi employees live, and die on the vine -- throws the glare on us.

(image: James Nachtwey. Iraq.


...such a haphazard mask, an improvised concealment... far too many metaphors applicable to a foreign policy based on make-believe and pretend-monsters. History doesn't become legend; legend doesn't become myth. What happens is that history and legend and myth become entangled.

A great find of an incredible image. Truly painful, awful. The interpretor looks as if he already is being tortured, and ill-fitting body armor only heightens the vulnerability of his uncovered head. And as the BAG suggests, the tableau clearly shows who will prevail. The American military presence is alien and ephemeral, while an Iraqi Muslim stands securely in the doorway and behind him we see a deep well of culture.

Not given the explanation that the masked man is an interpreter the impression would be:
The masked man appears to have been captured and interogated by the occupation force soldier....
Wow, what a way to present an invitation! Those getting it should be wary! The occupiers want something from them, their soul and their homeland!
Wasn't it that way in Americas too, the settlers and the natives!

Amazing photo. Stunning.

At first glance, the face of the interpreter looks deformed, mutilated, as if he's a burn victim. In light of Michael's comments, those who work with the US are metaphorically being burned.

The eye in this photo is so intense, showing the desperation of those who are teetering on the brink of annihilation. The power lies with the soldier - but all the consequences are going to befall the others in the shot. His posture and extreme glare says, "Well, what do you have to say for yourself?" I just wish Bush were put on the spot the way his men in the field are...

The little boy peeking from behind the door show how the general population is intertwined with the millitary action--in harm's way and vulnerable at all times.

Possible captions...

Faces: Can't you tell your Friends from your Foes?

In Iraq: Are Friends and Foes the Same?

When enemies and friends where mask, who can the U.S. trust?

Like the others, I thought that the translator looked like he was being detained; with no sign of his arms, he could be handcuffed. He looks like he's the one who's beaten down, while the guy in the doorway still has some dignity. His face is covered with some old piece of cloth - they can't get him anything better? - but the top of his head is bare and completely vulnerable...

If this is how it looks when they go out to deliver an invitation...?

This photo brought back an old childhood memory of mine when I had the wits scared out of me the first time I saw "The Mummy". As I recall, the pharaoh was still alive as the mummification process began. I remember his terrified eyes begging through the wrappings, and then finally covered. That's nightmare stuff for a 6 year old.

Of course, the Mummy returned to go on a killing rampage.

Now I am 54, and the nightmare is still here. Except that it's real this time, and it doesn't have an ending. There will be no credits scrolling up the movie screen. The only list of names will be the one of the growing numbers of dead.

The interpreter, normally an excellent job in high demand is a marked man. Like a mob informant. Working for the american's is a fatwah. This picture is over 4-5 months old. You are looking at a ghost who has been dead for just three weeks short of that time. I thought you might like to know.

I find it sad that it appears the US soldier has his blood type on his helmet.

I believe though it is also listed on their dog tags.

What's going on? The photo above now just shows the U.S. soldier and the Iraqis to whom the message is being delivered; it seems to be a completely different image than the one that was on the blog ad that led me here, and to which commenters above are reacting.

Is there a place to click for the image under discussion?

Nell - is your browser window open fully? I've seen some cropping on the Bag if your window is too small... you wouldn't be reading the Bag at work, now, would you??


I wonder if this image will get into wider circulation. If it were [mistakenly] to appear next to any article regarding the new US Soldier/Sunni Extremist alliance, it would really raise some eyebrows. Here's a guy who's obviously "cooperating" because he's in the picture, but his stare says something else, something much much darker--something about revenge, hatred and the untethered rage that war breeds.

Even knowing that this is an interpreter, the image doesn't speak of trust or progress at all. I could hardly dream of a more hellish face. To know that he died shortly after this photo [according to Blake, above, anyway] just makes it worse for me.. to think that this guy was dragged through hell itself, risking his very life and indeed, loosing it. Anyone who is touched by this war suffers. All the dead are dead for no gain. All that have sacrificed have nothing to show for it. Widows and orphans weep and wail. Crippled men and children forever ruined cannot forget. Bush is no exception; this is his baby, this war. His suffering will be the deepest of all, and there is no escaping it. I honestly feel immense sorrow for George Bush. He overrode the firecracker/frog lesson as a boy, and now he's beyond 'neck deep' in torture, murder, deciept and blasphemy. No mirror will reflect a clean image. I wonder if he sees this interpreter's masked face when he looks in the mirror at night. (I wonder what Laura sees, too.) He's a monster.

Ah. Need to read more carefully; the photo's at the Packer New Yorker link.

Gasho, thanks; I never make browser windows full-screen and rarely have problems. Guess I'll have to remember that when visiting here. And no, I'm not at work, and can't quite see what that has to do with the size of the browser window...

Gasho, I don't think Bush suffers at all. He smilingly relates to us how well he sleeps at night. He is on vacation more than any president ever.

Is that suffering? He didn't override his firecracker/frog days, it is a telling symptom of what he really is, and that's a sociopath. He is a serial killer by long distance, remote control, and he is enjoying himself very much. It's particularly obvious when he begins grinning and smirking whenever he makes comments in his speeches about torture and death.

"I am not an animal... I am a human being..."
- Reminds me of The Elephant Man

I just realized something - on the side of the soldier's helmet is written 'O pos'. Is that his blood type?!

This picture is horrific in more ways than just the cursory glance yields. Just what the f*ck are we doing there?

Yes, but as Zow pointed out, the blood type is also on the dog tags... Which seems a better idea, since helmets could get knocked off or mixed up.

At least the soldier has a helmet.

This photo has haunted me for two days. I think it's the fear evident in the covered face, or rather head. It's iconic, in a sense. The power is with the soldier, even though he's almost out of the frame. The covered head represents the Iraqis working for the Americans and living in constant fear. The man in white cap with the paper represents those who must rebuild Iraq after the Americans leave. He is trying to hold the center of the country. In the background, inside the door, is the old man who watches his country disappear and the boy who has lost his future. It's almost a generational depiction of what is happening to Iraq. Powerful image.

It is an extraordinary image. Like others, before I read that the man in the elephant-man mask was an interpreter, I thought he was an Iraqi who had been taken prisoner. His pose is the same as that of a captive accusing his captor. His eyes seem to glare and his head is somewhat forward. What we can see of his arms suggest that his hands are shackled behind his back.

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