By Translator
NBC News
updated 3/19/2004 9:52:41 AM ET 2004-03-19T14:52:41

Ali, Jassim, and I, three young men who come from different parts of Iraq, first met at the Baghdad University where we were studying English in October, 1989.

We joined university with big dreams to travel abroad and work as translators in one of the international organizations such as the United Nations, or the Red Cross, or a well-known media agency.

Unfortunately our dreams disappeared with the wind.

Due to the foreign policy of our government, the invasion of Kuwait, and the imposition of U.N. sanctions our country was cut off completely from the international community

Before, the future was bleak
After graduation each one of us made his own way in life. Ali became English teacher. Jassim became a farmer on his 24-acre farm.

I am the lucky one among us as I managed to get a job as a translator in an Indian import/export company working in Iraq under the U.N. food for oil program

We kept in touch every weekend when would meet at the book market. There you can find the old cafes where most of the Iraqi intellectuals gather. We would meet at 10 a.m. and walk the streets to select the best books in light of our taste and pocket money.

We used to see a lot of western journalists who came there to write stories. We were quite keen to talk to them, but we did not dare to. They were always escorted by a government media guide who doubled as a secret police agent. The idea of being taken away in a secret police car and put behind bars was an obsession haunting us.

The fear stayed with us even when we finished our walk and went to the old cafe, a quiet spot where we used to sit and chat about our gloomy future.

We would criticize government policy especially about the approaching war with the United States.

We all shared the dream of getting rid of Saddam and his nightmare regime. The three of us even argued, but quietly. At the next table there might be a secret police informer who would report our discussion.

Life after the war
For a few months after the war we couldn't see each other as regularly as before.

But when we met we realized that each one's life had changed dramatically.

Ali is still in his job. Not only has his salary been raised enormously and he can fulfill some of his dreams, but more importantly for him, he can practice the freedom of expression now.

Jassim, like many cosmopolitan Sunnis, was happy right after the war as he thought that his life would change for good.

He could not keep his job as a translator with the U.S. Army in his district for more than two months.

Although he developed good relations with the U.S. Army, his neighbors became hostile toward him. They believe that anyone who worked with the Americans is a spy. Consequently, he is now unhappy because he could not continue his job and enjoy the benefits.

As for myself I joined NBC News as a translator.

Financially I am doing well, but I am not happy because I see oppression replaced by lack of security and the iron fist of the regime replaced by chaos everywhere.

The three of us used to gather around to discuss our desire to get rid of the old regime.

Now, after the war, we have different viewpoints about the future of the country. Although our viewpoints vary, we are still good friends.

Ahmed Taha is a translator in the NBC News Baghdad bureau.

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