Arabic translator flees Iraq, lands in NYC

January 7, 2008 7:20:18 AM PST
Khalid Abood believes he would be dead by now if had stayed in his native Iraq. He says he is alive because he fled after a neighbor tipped him that a death squad was waiting at his Baghdad home. Abood says he later learned insurgents had marked him and one of his four daughters for death because of their jobs as translators for the U.S. Marines. "They said anyone who works with the U.S. military is a traitor and must be killed," the silver-haired Iraqi said.

Abood managed to escape the violence and has found a job in the United States under much safer conditions - working as a translator in the Manhattan district attorney's office.

Before coming to the United States, Abood took refuge in Jordan as one of the thousands of Iraqis who say have fled their homes for sanctuary in other countries. Fewer than 1,000 of those have gotten visas in the past year to come here.

Abood, 60, said his immigration with his wife and two of his daughters was due mostly to the efforts of Marine Capt. Zachary Iscol, for whom Abood worked in 2003 and 2004. While Abood was a refugee in Jordan, "The Iscol family supported me, sent me money," while the captain lobbied for him in Congress.

Describing his life now, Abood said, "I am in a great situation. I am very grateful to America and to the people who have supported me." And he said this includes District Attorney Robert Morgenthau: "He has given me a great honor with this job."

Abood says it was Iscol's father, a Morgethau family friend, who told the district attorney about the Iraqi after the death in 2007 of the office's Arabic-speaking investigator.

Besides helping detectives and prosecutors with investigations, Abood will also interpret for Arabic-speaking crime victims and suspects.

Abood says Iraqis are simple people who want to live in peace, "but 35 years of Sadaam made some of the old leaders like beasts. You could often see children crying for their fathers who are killed for criticizing Sadaam."

Abood says his relationship with Americans began in June 2003 when he, after effectively retiring from full-time work, heard that the Marines needed a translator for work around Baghdad and Fallujah. He said he had studied some English in high school and had never been to an English-speaking country.

"Like Abraham Lincoln, I was mostly self-educated," he says.

Despite death threats, Abood refused to quit or hide. He said that when he was with Americans, he heard comments such as, "Look at the Marines with their spy."

While on his way home in November 2006, Abood said, a neighbor warned him to stay away. "He said men had come to get me and it was better not to go my house," he said.

Abood called Iscol, who told him to get out of Iraq immediately and go to Jordan. "The next day I left Iraq. My wife Batoob and three of my daughters came to Jordan about a week later.

Abood and his family left Jordan in June 2007 and now live in the Bay Ridge section of Brooklyn in a neighborhood with a few Moroccans and Egyptians.

Abood said he expects his 24-year-old daughter, Sha'ma, one of three who live in the United States, may soon be hired by Morgenthau as an interpreter.

Two of Abood's four daughters - Sha'ma and Nadia, 30 - live with him. Another, Abeer, 28, is married to a U.S. serviceman, and the fourth, Hiba, 26, lives in Poland where she received a scholarship to study.