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Iraqi Interpreters: Global Linguist Solutions Cost Us Thousands in Rebates

Iraqis who worked as interpreters for the U.S. military say they are owed thousands of dollars after a Pentagon contractor didn't provide paperwork.
Iraqi women look at U.S. soldiers and their Iraqi interpreter patrolling in eastern Baghdad in 2006.
Iraqi women look at U.S. soldiers and their Iraqi interpreter patrolling in eastern Baghdad in 2006. DARKO BANDIC / AP file
/ Source: NBC News

Iraqis who risked their lives working as interpreters for the U.S. military say they are owed thousands of dollars after a Pentagon contractor left the country without providing vital paperwork.

Global Linguist Solutions was awarded a $4.6 billion contract by the Department of Defense in 2007 to supply American forces in Iraq with Arabic-speaking interpreters and translators.

But some of the Iraqi citizens employed by GLS claim they are unable to collect thousands of dollars in social security rebates they were owed.

"I am really frustrated because I put my life in danger and fought side by side with U.S. troops against insurgents and GLS did not appreciate this,” one interpreter named Ra'ad told NBC News, asking that his surname be withheld for safety reasons.

Under the country’s law, foreign companies automatically deduct tax and social-security contributions from their Iraqi employees’ paychecks and give them to the Iraqi government each month.

Iraqis working for overseas firms are entitled to claim back a portion of the social security when their employment with that company ends.

But to get this rebate, their employer must provide a letter of proof to take to the country’s Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs.

Three Iraqis interviewed by NBC News said that in the four years since the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, they have sent dozens of emails to GLS asking for that letter, but received only automated replies in response.

They each said that they personally knew dozens more Iraqis who worked for GLS who were in the same position.

Ra’ad, a Christian who lived in Baghdad before moving to the northern city of Duhok, said he had been left $3,000 out of pocket — the equivalent of almost three months of take-home pay for the role.

The 44-year-old Ra'ad — who was also nicknamed "Jamal” by his U.S. military personnel, described how dangerous the job of interpreter can be.

“In Fallujah I faced death many times, just like U.S. soldiers,” he said. “Many 'terps [industry speak for ‘interpreters’] were killed and injured, some of them were threatened so they left their work, others were kidnapped then were killed by militias because they were accused of being traitors.”

Ra’ad acknowledged that working as an interpreter was “my own choice and I know it was a risky job,” but added he was merely asking for the money he was owed.

Image: U.S. soldiers and interpreter, left, in Baghdad in Oct. 2006
U.S. soldiers and their interpreter, left, in eastern Baghdad in October 2006.DARKO BANDIC / AP file

Muhanad, a 33-year-old from Baghdad, also told NBC News of the perils he'd faced while working for GLS.

“Insurgency groups used to stop vehicles and check passengers, and if they find out that there is a 'terp, they used to kidnap then kill him," he said.

Now all Muhanad wants is the money he says he's owed.

“The company must have our records, so why they do not send us that piece of paper?” he asked. “The Iraqi government will pay me around $2,700 if I have this paper, and this money means a lot to me and my family.”

The experience was the same for 46-year-old Waseem — another Christian from Baghdad who was nicknamed — nicknamed "Joe."

Waseem was stationed at a military base in the Sadr City district of the Iraqi capital, which he said came under attack from “IEDs and mortars.” He then moved to Baghdad International Airport.

“I sent dozens of emails to GLS but I got nothing except for the auto-reply,” he told NBC News.

Based in Herndon, Virginia, GLS is jointly owned by DynCorp International and AECOM. A message on its website says “we regret to inform you” that the process of issuing these "verification of employment" letters “has stopped due to GLS's contract end and departure from Iraq in June of 2013.”

It added: "With the departure of all GLS staff from Iraq, there is no one remaining who can verify your time worked on the GLS contract. All local nationals working on the GLS contract in Iraq were independent contractors and assigned to a variety of subcontractor companies. Because independent contractors are non-employees, employment records do not exist regardless of the company assigned."

The website adds that GLS says it is “not able to provide verification letters of any kind.”

However, in a message directly underneath referring to the letter needed to reclaim the social security money, the website also tells former employees how to “apply for an Iraq tax benefit” and assuring them “you will be contacted by email for further processing information.”

It added: "GLS has no control or influence in this process because this is not a GLS process."

The Gmail address provided produces the same auto-reply message that the Iraqis interviewed by NBC News say they have received repeatedly.

The interpreters said they have never been given any further explanation by GLS.

Ammar Mun'em, the spokesman of the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, told NBC News that “all GLS local employees need to do is bring us a letter from their company and they will enter in the database.”

However, he was not able to give details about how many GLS employees were owed money, nor how many had successfully claimed back their tax.

NBC News received no response from GLS or its majority owner DynCorp despite several requests for comment via email and telephone.

A U.S. Defense Department spokesperson told NBC News "the Department takes compliance with existing labor laws very seriously and will investigate any violations."

GLS received scathing criticism in 2009 from U.S. government officials who alleged it was responsible for tens of millions of dollars of questionable costs and poor management in Iraq.

The Commission on Wartime Contracting said the only reason the company had not been replaced in Iraq because there was no readily available firm to take on the role, according to an Associated Press report of a hearing by the commission.

NBC News' Courtney Kube and The Associated Press contributed to this report.