Monday, June 4, 2007

BAGHDAD — With pressure building in Washington for an American troop pullout, Iraqis who have worked closely with U.S. companies and military forces are begging their employers for assurances that they will be able to leave with them.

“They must take care of the people who worked with the Americans,” said Hayder, an Iraqi who has worked for several U.S. companies since coalition forces entered Iraq.

“I work with them, I support them, I protect them. They must give us something,” he said as he sipped tea in a small cafe in the fortified Green Zone.

Like most Iraqis working with the Americans, Hayder insisted that his full name not be published. Those known to cooperate with U.S. forces and companies are regularly targeted, threatened and killed by both Sunni and Shi’ite extremists.

Most Iraqis try to keep their relationship with the coalition forces secret, not even telling their children or families where they work.

Hayder said he offered to work for no pay with the U.S. military for two years only if they would take his small family out of the country.

“When the Americans leave, the war will start, and they will kill all of us, all who worked with the Americans,” he said.

Even with U.S. forces in Baghdad at elevated levels because of the U.S. troop “surge,” Iraqis associated with the United States face extreme danger.

A terrorist group claimed responsibility last week for the kidnapping of an Iraqi husband and wife employed by the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and said it had killed them.

A U.S. official was quoted by Reuters news agency as saying that the husband disappeared earlier last month and that when the wife went looking for him, she also turned up missing.

“God’s ruling has been implemented against two of the most prominent agents and spies of the worshippers of the cross … a man and woman who occupy an important position at the U.S. Embassy,” the self-styled Islamic State in Iraq said in a statement published on the Internet.

“The swords of the security personnel of the Islamic State in Iraq … are with God’s grace slitting the throats of crusaders and their aides and lackeys,” it said.

A woman who has worked closely with the U.S. military said she was deeply worried about what will happen when the Americans leave.

“Who is going to protect us?” she asked during an interview near her home in downtown Baghdad.

When the Americans leave, all those who worked with them “must leave also,” said another woman who has been forced to move to Jordan. She asked that her name not be used in order to protect her extended family still living in Baghdad.

Americans and other Westerners rely on Iraqi men and women who serve as interpreters, engineers, repairmen, security guards, computer and telecommunications technicians, drivers, cooks, cleaners and so on.

Private security companies and contractors working to support the military and rebuild Iraq’s teetering infrastructure also employ thousands of locals.

Many have risked their lives on a daily basis for years to get to work and to protect their U.S. colleagues. But American officials say it is unlikely that the United States will open its doors to all of them.

“They are not going to the United States,” Command Sgt. Maj. Jeff Mellinger told The Washington Times in an interview in late April.

“We don’t have a plan to do anything with them. They are Iraqis, and this is their country,” said Sgt. Maj. Mellinger, at that time the top enlisted soldier in Iraq.

For one former Special Forces operative who has worked closely with Iraqis for three years, any U.S. pullout that fails to protect Iraqi allies would bring unhappy memories of the final withdrawal 32 years ago from Vietnam.

“When we leave, all these people that helped us and fought for us will be hunted down and exterminated just like the Montagnards and South Vietnamese,” he said in a telephone interview.

“In many ways, this is my second Vietnam,” he said bitterly.

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