BAGHDAD, Iraq – Even neighbors don’t know what Abdul does for a living.

He sleeps with a pistol within reach and takes a different route to work every day, always watching to see if he’s being followed.

He surreptitiously tries to recruit other Iraqis to work for him, knowing that those who decline might expose his double life. And if some people find out what he really does, they’ll try to kill him.

Despite what his clandestine lifestyle might suggest, “Abdul” (he asked that his real name not be revealed) is not an espionage agent, or an undercover cop. He’s a labor contractor and fixer at a U.S. military base in Baghdad.

But working for Americans can be a very dangerous job, at least in Iraq.

Several assassination attempts against high-ranking officials in the emerging Iraqi government, some successful, have been widely publicized. But insurgents also are waging a campaign of intimidation and assassination against Iraqis who work for the U.S. in relatively low-level jobs.

Dozens have been killed: laundry workers, interpreters, construction workers, security guards and general laborers. Low-ranking police officers and soldiers in the Iraqi National also are targets, even when off-duty.

“The majority of Iraqi people want us to be here,” said Capt. Micah Nordquist, 26, of Bismarck, N.D., logistics officer for the 1st Cavalry Division’s 2nd Battalion, 82nd Field Artillery Regiment. But a small percentage of hard-core former regime loyalists, he said, are willing to “do anything and everything to prevent us from succeeding.”

Several Iraqi laundry workers at Camp Steel Dragon, the regiment’s base of operations, were shot and killed recently.

The slain workers lived in Baghdad’s Al-Dorah neighborhood, an area rife with anti-U.S. sentiment.

“They threatened them before,” Abdul said. “They said, “You must quit.’ They didn’t quit so they were killed.”

Other laundry workers also were threatened with their lives. More than 40 of them decided to quit. Fearing for his own life, the laundry’s manager, Majed Saad, 29, left his home in Baghdad and began sleeping on the couch in his office.

Robert Tindall, who serves with the 3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment in Baghdad, works with a translator whose sister recently was killed. The sister, who also worked as a translator, had been warned to quit working for the Americans.

“They broke into her house while she was sleeping and shot her,” said 2nd Lt. Tindall, 25, of Columbus, Ga.

There was a time when such work wasn’t so risky.

“At first, everyone wanted to jump on the bandwagon,” Capt. Nordquist said. “You could work with the Americans and nothing happened. You didn’t have to worry because everyone was trying to come together.”

Some workers said they wanted to help the U.S. effort to transform Iraq into a very different country from what it had been under Saddam Hussein. Many were attracted by the wages, which, by Iraqi standards, are very generous.

Regardless of their motivations, the workers caught the attention of insurgents, who apparently decided that trying to runoff the Americans’ labor force was one way to impede progress.

“Last June and July was good,” Abdul said. “Everybody wanted to work. But everything changed. The terrorists became more and more dangerous, and the coalition forces became more tough in response.”

There was, Abul said, “a lot of hate.”

But Abdul, a mechanical engineer by training who’s in his mid-20s, wanted to continue working. So he began taking extraordinary measures to keep what he did a secret.

In addition to changing his route to work when he drives his own car, he enters different gates into Baghdad’s International Zone (formerly the “Green Zone” and home to many U.S. military units and Iraq’s emerging government). Sometimes, Abdul walks a mile or more from his house and catches a taxi.

When making purchases in the market, he never reveals that he’s buying supplies for the soldiers’ use. He never buys anything for himself that’s too ostentatious, so he won’t have to explain where the money came from.

Abdul also risks the violence that is directed against U.S. forces. He was injured when a car bomb exploded on the fringes of the International Zone, and, in another incident, survived a roadside bomb explosion.

“It’s very hard,” Abdul said of his work. “It’s becoming harder and harder.”

Both Abdul and Saad say they would like to leave Iraq.

“I’m expecting a bullet or a bomb every second, 24 hours every day,” Abdul said. “I’m just waiting for the day when I will get killed.”


Saad said he can’t leave the International Zone without being at risk. He doesn’t know what will happen if U.S. forces pull out, or no longer need his services.

He said he wants peace, a life “without bullets.” And he’d also like to leave Iraq.

“Kuwait or Afghanistan or the moon, I don’t care,” he said. “I will go.”

Other workers are determined to stay.

A translator who goes by the name of “Hollywood” regularly accompanies U.S. troops on patrols in some of Baghdad’s most dangerous neighborhoods. He said he knows that insurgents may someday follow him to his house and try to kill him – and perhaps his whole family.

But the 25-year-old civil engineer is no fan of the former regime or the diehard loyalists that continue to make trouble. He said that because he is Shiite, he had a hard time getting a job when Saddam Hussein was in power. He hopes that Iraq’s new government will be better.

“I do my job to help my country,” he said.

(c) 2004, The Dallas Morning News.

Visit The Dallas Morning News on the World Wide Web at

Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.


PHOTO (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): usiraq+workers

AP-NY-07-26-04 0631EDT

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.