AMMAN - Ahlam Najam just needed a job. At 25, she had a university degree in
education but could not find work as teacher.
When Kellogg Brown and Root (KBR), a subsidiary of the U.S. firm Halliburton,
offered her a job as a security guard at a U.S. base in Iraq, she took it.
On May 18 last year, she was shot twice in the head as she waited for a taxi
to take her to work. Her injuries left her blind, and she lost her sense of
"Many people were working with the Americans, so I felt it would be okay,"
Najam, now at a Saudi-funded organization in Amman that assists blind Arab women
"My two bosses at KBR, Mr. Jeff and Mr. Mark, used to be very good and
gentle with me," she said. "They told me it wasn't dangerous to work
Najam worked for KBR three months before she was shot. She was taken to hospital
in Hilla, about 100 km south of Baghdad, and kept there several days. But her
good bosses never contacted her, she says.
She was later moved to a hospital in Baghdad. Here she was told there had been
a call from "Mr. Jeff" (she was never given the last names of her
bosses). She was too much in pain to be able to take the call. Her employers
never called again. Attempts to find their last names, e-mail addresses, or
phone numbers have been fruitless.
"I sent two e-mails to the KBR public relations person last June. But
they never replied. I don't know what to do now, I can't go back to Iraq because
it is too dangerous."
Najam feels hurt in many ways. "I was very good with them. Always on time,
never left early, and they were happy with me. But when I needed them most,
they were not there."
KBR has an e-mail address where questions about employees in Iraq are said
to be answered within 12 hours. E-mails to that address were not returned.
Ahlam Najam went to work as a security guard in a country where unemployment
is more than 50 percent and prices are rising. Like Najam, many have no choice
but to work in situations of grave danger. And the security situation is getting
Car bombings and other attacks have killed at least 80 U.S. soldiers and more
than 800 Iraqis in the last month alone.
It does not help that U.S. President George W. Bush sees it differently. "I
am pleased that in less than a year's time there's a democratically elected
government in Iraq, there are thousands of Iraq soldiers trained and better
equipped to fight for their own country [and] that our strategy is very clear,"
Bush told reporters in Washington.
In the last two weeks, at least 35 U.S. soldiers have been killed in Iraq,
with 1,670 killed since the invasion of Iraq in March 2003.
Vice President Dick Cheney, who used to head Halliburton, which has been awarded
massive contracts in Iraq, has also offered an upbeat assessment. He said during
an interview on CNN that insurgency in Iraq was in its "last throes."
But after a meeting with U.S. military commanders in Iraq, Senator Joseph Biden
from Delaware said, "The idea that the insurgents are on the run and we
are about to turn the corner, I did not hear that from anybody."
(Inter Press Service)