'Oprah' Loving Iraqi Interpreter Seeks U.S. Home

"Opie" -- a 22-year-old with a baby face and a soft voice -- was horribly injured by a roadside bomb while helping the United States. Now he wants the United States to help him.

"Opie" was injured in a roadside attack last year while performing one of the most dangerous jobs in all of Iraq -- interpreting for the U.S. military.

Interpreters are at particular risk in their country, as not only do they face the dangers of war but are deemed traitors and collaborators by the insurgency. We can't use "Opie's" real name in this story, because it could put him and his family in real danger.

The troops nicknamed him "Opie" because of his fondness for "The Oprah Winfrey Show," which he watched in Iraq on satellite TV.

"She talks about everything," he said. "She helps many people."

He signed up with the U.S. military as an interpreter shortly after the U.S. invasion in 2003, he said, because he needed the money and believed in what the military was trying to do for his country.

"I want, when I'm married and I have kids, that they'll have a good life," he said. "No bombs and dead bodies on the street. I want peace -- to live in peace."

'They Should Help Us'

"Opie's" dreams of peace have left him in a difficult situation.

Last July, while out on a patrol, he stepped on a roadside bomb. "I saw dark, and I felt myself flying through the air," he said. "When I woke up I asked myself, 'What happened? Am I dying?'"

"Opie" lost his right leg and part of his left in the attack. He also lost several fingers -- and his skin was left covered in burns and embedded with shrapnel.

After the attack, like dozens of other injured Iraqi interpreters, "Opie" was sent to neighboring Jordan for medical care.

He's recovering well, but now faces a fresh set of problems. The Jordanian government does not allow Iraqi interpreters to stay in the country after their medical treatment is completed. But if they go home, their lives are in danger.

Insurgents look at interpreters as collaborators, and scores of interpreters have been assassinated.

"If I go home," he said, "they kidnap me and kill me. Maybe they kill my family too.

The company that hired "Opie" in Iraq has lost 261 interpreters, killed both on and off the job.

Refugees Gaining Support in U.S.

Now "Opie" and many of his fellow interpreters want to come to the United States. "I gave my leg -- my blood -- for coalition forces," he said. "I think they should help us."

We met "Opie" during a recent visit to Amman, Jordan. Also with him were two other young, injured interpreters, who go by the military nicknames "M2" and "Milan."

"M2," a 26-year-old from Baghdad, recently got back in touch with Army Reserve Sgt. Jason Rogers, with whom he served in Iraq. "I really trusted him a lot," said Rogers, "and I know he trusted me."

Rogers is now back in Michigan after his tour in Iraq and has been trying to help "M2" get a visa to come to the United States, but he's run into a series of obstacles.

"It's almost an impossibility to get someone over here who really deserves it," Rogers said.

That may be changing.

The Bush administration announced today it is looking to expand special programs to allow in those Iraqis who, like interpreters, face danger because of their cooperation with the United States.

Assistant Secretary of State Ellen Sauerbrey said they would specifically look to help those that are "under threat.

"We take that very seriously and that's a very significant issue," she said.

Additionally, the State Department said that 7,000 Iraqis would be allowed to settle in the United States in the next year.

Since the start of the war, only 463 Iraqis have been allowed into the country. The administration has been under growing pressure to give more of the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who have fled the country safe haven.

"Opie" said that despite the injuries he's suffered, he'd happily go back to work as an interpreter if he were physically able. "I love it," he said. "I'm in love with my work."

Comments