March 11, 2004: Unknown gunmen kill translators in Iraq

On March 11, 2004 two Iraqi women working as translators for the British army were killed by unknown gunmen in Basra.

BASRA, IRAQ – During a military occupation locals often have to take whatever job they can get: at times that choice leads to their death.

There is an old Italian saying ‘traduttore, traditore‘ which in English is rendered as ‘the translator is a traitor‘. Pretty harsh, eh? In effect what this phrase means is that no translation can ever fully convey the full depth of meaning, emotion, and context as the original work intended.

These shortcomings notwithstanding, translators (and interpreters) are necessary to enable communication among different language speakers. In the absence of a ‘universal tongue’ – Esperanto never got there despite its hopeful creators – those who take input from language A and render it into language B play an important role. And some have paid for this with their lives.

Is Esperanto the Esperanto word for ‘hopeless’? (Photo: By Unknown author – Bildarchiv Austria, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons)

On this day in 2004

Two Iraqi women working as translators for the British army were killed by unknown gunmen, the day after the slaying of two American coalition officials and their translator by attackers disguised as police. The Iraqis were killed as they were driving home in a taxi in Basra when gunmen stopped the vehicle and opened fire on them.

They’ll try to attack what’s been successful for the Iraqis. They’ll try to kill a lot of people without getting injured themselves.

Maj. Gen. Raymond Odierno

While the motive for the attack was not immediately known guerrillas had been targeting Iraqis working with the U.S.-led occupation. In Basra specifically, which was patrolled by the British military, there were a number of killings blamed on Shiite militias enforcing Islamic law. Whatever the reason, two women making ends meet in an occupied country paid with their lives.

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By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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