The Digital Journalist
In the Shadows: Ashcraf's Bullet
July 2004

by Sherrlyn Borkgren

Twenty-eight-year-old Ashraf Al Giwari took a stand for what she believed in and got a bullet in the head. That is what happens daily here in Iraq. Interpreters are targets, like contractors or anyone else who does not go along with the zero tolerance policies of the Islamic radicals.

Ashraf was one of those exceptional people who made the rest of us better when she was around. She had that essence of loveliness that radiated upon all of us who came in contact with her.

The Iraqi Police found her body this morning laying inside her oversized 4-wheel drive year 2000 Cherokee. She loved that car and she said once, "I love the independence in my mind and the concentration I put into driving my car."

Ashraf began her job as an interpreter with the 91st Engineers March 14, 2004. Her real dream was to work as a journalist in Iraq and use her college journalism training. Meanwhile she said she could do many good things to help her own people and learn about Americans by working as an interpreter.

She worked various jobs from helping with their newspaper to working in the soldiers' Internet café. One evening a few weeks ago, we were driving through downtown. She was worried about me and kept reminding me not to speak English when we were stuck in traffic. I asked her why she takes the risk of working for the army. She came from a wealthy upper middle class family and she didn't need the money. She explained, "I love my people and what better thing can I do with my skill than to help the Americans and Iraqis to understand each other."

June 17, days after her death in downtown Baghdad, a conversation with some Iraqi men. One explains to me his opinion of Ashraf's death: "She was asking for that bullet."

"She have no respect for the values, she work for army and many say she do more for army men than translate."

I ask him exactly what he means by "more . . ." He tells me such things cannot leave his lips because he is Islamic. I ask him if he means "sex." He does not deny nor affirm, but repeats that he cannot speak of such things. "And you see her?" he asks me. " "You see how she drives her car, and she wear nothing on her head and she say she Muslim?" he continues, "We holy people and she make us like (he stutters his voice much louder now he is unable to find the English word he wants use) like fun you know I mean like ridiculous us people."

The day after Ashraf's death another woman is found, decapitated. She too was an interpreter. A man is found dead, a bullet in the head. He was interpreting for the new Iraqi army, Iraqi Civil Defense Corp. Another interpreter for the Americans, Jamal, originally from Sudan is kidnapped during the same week. It's been days and there is no news about him. We later find out that Jamal was murdered.

Today, Tuesday, another dead body is found, a foreigner. The Bravo Company of 91st Engineers finds him in a orange uniform near the Ghazalia district with his head lying beside him. This news is quiet until the ID is confirmed. It is Kim Sun-il, the Korean hostage.

It is early morning and a 24-year-old man; a lanky built guy with a baggy checked shirt is waiting for the Lieutenant outside the offices at North Victory. They greet one another and he quietly asks the LT if there is a place for him to stay the night on the base. He says he feels scared to drive on the street. He doesn't want to leave. The LT has a temporary place for him to stay.

Other interpreters from Iraq complain about the lack of care from the army. "When we are with the soldiers we not afraid because they protect us." Two men nod, agreeing. "But when we leave here (the base) we are targets. We have no bodyguards, no pistol. We are too vulnerable". They talk about quitting. "It is not worth to die for especially when no one cares for us." One translator cuts in. "It is really Titan the company that hire to us that must really give us bodyguard and protection."

The other 20 or so Iraqi interpreters on the camp are nervous. Some have not showed up for work for 3 days, but they have not quit. Today a female interpreters talks about her work as tears fill her eyes.

"I love my work. For once in my life I am doing something that truly helps people. But I am so afraid. Every minute I think they will kill me." I ask her why she doesn't quit and just get a safer job. She replies, "Why don't you?"

So we laugh through the tears and I think of Ashraf who was brave.

© Sherrlyn Borkgren

Sherrlyn Borkgren is a freelance photojournalist for Reduxpictures. She has been embedded with Bravo Company, from the 91st Engineering Battalion, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division in Iraq for nearly 3 months. Her website is