Attrition: Arab-Americans in Combat

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August 26, 2006: American operations in Iraq have created a huge demand for Arab speaking soldiers, or Arab-Americans willing to serve in Iraq as government or contractor interpreters for the military. Since 2003, just about every Arabic speaking soldier or marine has served at least one tour in Iraq, almost always as an interpreter. While thousands of Iraqis were hired as interpreters, there was always a security risk with hiring Iraqis. Even if they were loyal, they were subject to threats against themselves or their family, and that was a constant source of disloyal interpreters. So Arab speaking American troops were the most preferred interpreters, but there were never enough of these.

Of the 3,500 American Moslems who have served in Iraq, only about a thousand of them spoke Arabic. Most of the Moslem troops were African-Americans, and many others were from places like Pakistan, Afghanistan, Southeast Asia and Africa. Moreover, efforts to recruit more troops from among the Arab-American community has been difficult because most of the satellite delivered news they receive from the Middle East is decidedly anti-American. Many young Arab-American men and women still join up, but they do so in spite of negative attitudes towards the American military in their communities. Hundreds of Arab-American civilians have been hired to work as translators in Iraq. But that's a tough sell as well, and not just because dozens of them have been killed or wounded in action.

The "conventional wisdom" in most Arab-American communities is that the war in Iraq is wrong. This is mainly because the war is seen as part of the battle between Arab Sunni Islam, and Iranian Shia Islam. America is seen as taking the side of the Iranians against Sunni (Saddam's) domination in Iraq. Most Americans have a hard time grasping that, but Sunni Arabs the world over take it for granted. For many Sunni Arabs, a Sunni tyrant is preferable to a Shia dominated democracy.

 


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