Reporters on the Job

Interpreters Needed: Correspondent Jill Carroll is embedded with US Marines who are conducting Operation Steel Curtain in western Iraq. But she found herself with an ethical dilemma as US soldiers patrolled the streets of a town recently flushed of insurgents.

"I stopped to talk to people on the street. And once they found out that I spoke Arabic, I was swarmed," says Jill.

None of the US soldiers on her patrol spoke Arabic. There is one Arabic interpreter assigned to the company, and multiple squads go out on patrol 24 hours a day. Jill was told that more Arabic interpreters are coming. But for now, most of the soldiers patrol without any way to communicate with Iraqis.

That put Jill in an uncomfortable position of doing a job that should be done by US military personnel. "If I begin to interview anyone, others gather around and ask for help. Mostly, they want to know if there will be compensation for the homes that were destroyed. One woman, with blue tattoos on her face, her tribal markings, said her son had been detained by US forces. She wanted to know how to find out what had happened to him," says Jill.

"The captain told me to tell her that there would be teams coming in soon that would help. He told me to tell them that these marines look for bombs. Others would come to help with their houses and families."

Jill says that the marines often misunderstood as people approached them. "They think the residents are angry at them. But culturally, it's normal to get close and touch someone when asking a question. This is how you ask for help here. They're not hostile, just upset."

"As a journalist, I worry about the precedent I'm setting. I don't want Iraqis to think that journalists secretly work for the military. We're supposed to gather information and be neutral, like the Red Cross. But under the circumstances, it's hard not to facilitate communication if it defuses tension," she says.

David Clark Scott
World editor

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