Attrition: What Is A Life Worth?


February 3, 2009: Because Iraq has become a safer place to work, and the worldwide depression has made more qualified people available, the U.S. is cutting the pay of American translators in Iraq by about a third. The U.S. has 1,800 non-Iraqi translators in Iraq, who currently receive $108,000-175,000 a year (including "danger pay" and other bonuses, for those who qualify). There are more than twice as many Iraqi translators, who each receive about $14,000 a year. The American translators (usually Arab-American), are needed for sensitive jobs (requiring a security clearance or working with sensitive information.) Iraqi translators are subject to threats (to them and their families) or bribes by terrorists, criminals or government officials. This is much less of a problem with American translators. The U.S. translators have threatened to strike, but this is unlikely, because they can be replaced. Most have admitted that they will sign on at the new rates, because it is still good money.

Some American translators have been killed, but that has always been rare. The American translators are more frequently used for intelligence work at headquarters, or to accompany senior officers (who don't go on raids or into very dangerous places.) Most American translators are not completely familiar with the unique Iraqi accent. Written Iraqi is more like "Standard Arabic", and the American translators spend a lot of time on captured documents. Outside the wire (outside bases), Iraqi translators are preferred. Not just because they know the dialect, but because they know the culture, which is quite different (especially after three decades of Saddam's tyrannical rule.)





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