The Miami Herald
August 4, 2007 Saturday
Segregation occurs at U.S. base in Iraq; At a U.S. base, Iraqis are forced to use separate latrines and get limited time in the dining hall.
BYLINE: MIKE DRUMMOND, McClatchy News Service
SECTION: A; Pg. 18
LENGTH: 587 words
The sign taped to the men’s latrine is just five lines:
It needed only one line: “NO IRAQIS.”
Here at this searing, dusty U.S. military base about four miles west of Baqouba, Iraqis — including interpreters who walk the same foot patrols and sleep in the same tents as U.S. troops — must use segregated bathrooms. Another sign, in a dining hall, warns Iraqis and ”third-country nationals” that they have just one hour to eat. American troops get three hours. Iraqis say they sometimes wait as long as 45 minutes in hot lines to get inside, leaving just 15 minutes to get their food and eat it.
It has been nearly 60 years since President Harry Truman ended racial segregation in the U.S. military. But at Forward Operating Base Warhorse it’s alive and well, Iraqi interpreters here say.
It’s unclear precisely who ordered the rules. ”The rule separating local national latrines from soldiers was enacted about two to three rotations ago,” Maj. Raul Marquez, a spokesman for the 3rd Brigade Combat Team of the 1st Cavalry Division, from Fort Hood, Texas, wrote in an e-mail. That was before his brigade from Fort Lewis, Wash., the other major combat force here, was based at Warhorse.
There’s also disagreement on the reason.
Marquez cited security. ”We are at war, and operational security (OPSEC) and force protection are critical. . . .,” Marquez wrote. “We screen all our local nationals working and living in the FOB, however, you can never know what’s in their mind.” Other soldiers traced the regulations to what they called cultural differences.
”We’ve had issues with locals,” said Staff Sgt. Oscar Garcia, who mans Warhorse’s administrative hub. “It’s not because we’re segregating.” Garcia said some Iraqis squatted on the rims of unfamiliar American-style toilets or had used showers as toilets, forcing private contractors to clean up after them.
Another soldier at the administrative hub who declined to give his name or rank cited hygiene conflicts. ”We can’t accept people washing their feet where I brush my teeth,” he said.
But the Iraqis who are paid $80,000 to $120,000 a year for their interpreting services are offended. ”It sucks,” Ahmed Mohammed, 30, said of the latrine policy. He called the signs — in English and Arabic
He has worked as an interpreter for the U.S. military since 2004. He’s college educated and well versed in the ways of Western plumbing. He said Warhorse was the only American base where he had encountered U.S.-only signs on latrines and country-of-origin restrictions on dining hours.
”I live in the same tent with 80 Americans,” he said.
Mohammed works for L-3 Titan Group, a unit of New York-based L-3
Communications. He declined to have his picture taken for publication.
He fears for his life. He said his brother was killed last year in Baghdad for working for an American company.
Mohammed has sold his house and has squirreled away enough money to buy visas for his family of four. He said he intended to quit soon and emigrate to Germany. The latrine policy is part of the reason, he said.
L-3 officials didn’t respond to a request for comments.
”On one hand we’re asking Iraqis to help us,” often at great risk, said Laila al Qatami, spokeswoman for the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee in Washington. ‘But at the same time we’re saying, `We want to keep you at a distance.’ ” “I don’t understand having separate bathrooms. It seems to go against everything that the United States stands for.”
The Miami Herald