ADC in the News: Segregation at American base offends Iraqis
By MIKE DRUMMOND
This and other U.S.-only signs have generated resentment among Iraqi interpreters working with U.S. troops.
FORWARD OPERATING BASE WARHORSE, Iraq | The sign taped to the men‘s latrine is just five lines:
“US Military Contractors Civilians Only!!!!!”
It needed only one: “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 for breakfast, lunch or dinner. American troops get three hours. Iraqis say they sometimes wait as long as 45 minutes in hot lines to get inside the chow hall, leaving just 15 minutes to get their food and eat it.
It has been nearly 60 years since President Harry S. Truman ended racial segregation in the U.S. military. But at Forward Operating Base Warhorse, it is alive and well, perhaps the only U.S. military facility with such rules, Iraqi interpreters here say.
Precisely who ordered the rules is unclear.
“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 or the 3rd Stryker Combat Brigade of the 2nd Infantry Division from Fort Lewis, Wash., the other major combat force here, was based at Warhorse.
There is also disagreement on the reason.
Marquez cited security. “We are at war, and operational security and force protection are critical in this environment,” 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. “It‘s not because we‘re segregating.” Garcia said that some Iraqis squatted on the rims of unfamiliar American-style toilets or used showers as toilets.
Another soldier at the administrative hub cited conflicts over hygiene habits.
“We can‘t accept people washing their feet where I brush my teeth,” he said.
Army Capt. Janet Herrick, a public affairs officer, said: “It‘s to keep problems from happening. It‘s a preventive measure ? so no one gets belittled.”
But the Iraqis – who are paid $80,000 to $120,000 a year for their interpreting services – are offended.
Ahmed Mohammed, 30, called the signs – in English and Arabic – racist.
He has worked as an interpreter for the U.S. military since 2004. He is college-educated and well versed in the ways of Western plumbing. He said that Warhorse was the only American base where he had encountered such U.S.-only signs.
“I live in the same tent with 80 Americans,” he said.
Mohammed said he intended to quit soon and emigrate to Germany. The latrine policy is part of the reason, he said.
Officials did not respond to a request for comment.
“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.‘ It‘s a mixed message we‘re sending.
“I don‘t understand having separate bathrooms. It seems to go against everything that the United States stands for.”