Uncle Sam casts 600 Arabs in 'Hollywood war'
Allan Hall, Berlin theage
February 10, 2007
AMERICAN forces in Germany have placed newspaper advertisements seeking Arabs to join them in war games before troops are shipped out to Iraq.
In Berlin and other large towns this week, the US military set up a casting agency to hire 600 Arabic speakers.
From March 20 to April 11 at a base in Germany, the American army is creating a "mini-Iraq", with the emphasis being on making it as close to the real thing as possible. Arabs who sign up will live for three weeks at the High Rock Combat Manoeuvre Training Centre between Nuremberg and Regensburg.
Ten villages have been erected on the 20,000-hectare training area to resemble Iraqi communities. "Volunteers are required to play the role of Arabs in Iraq for 24 hours a day," the newspaper ads say.
But recruiting hasn't been easy. Germany in general, and its Muslim population in particular, oppose the war in Iraq. Media reported many Muslims walking away from the agencies in disgust when they found out what they were being asked to do.
The "extras" for this US Army Hollywood-style effort have been told that all women must wear head scarves and all men turbans. A mosque, a brothel, barracks of the sort US troops occupy in Iraq and many other features have been built to mimic daily life in the war zone.
Some Arabs will play the bad guys — laying roadside mines, attempting suicide bombings — others will play the good ones, teaching "grunts" how to behave and to respect the traditions of Islam and the Iraqi people. Most of the 19-to-24-year-old soldiers to be trained have never left America before. "The Arabic speakers are seen as an essential component in training these troops for their role in the country," a US military spokesman said.
Those signing up for the short-term service of Uncle Sam will receive 90 euros ($A150) a day.
One fear expressed by Arabs about the scheme is what happens if things go wrong? One Lebanese man told a Berlin newspaper: "What if we get shot accidentally? What guarantees do we have that we will be helped? What do the Americans care about another dead Arab, whether it's in Iraq or Germany?"
A lawyer employed by the US military at the recruiting agency in Berlin said: "The highest standards of safety will apply." But he said no media would be allowed into the training area while the role playing goes on.
Palestinian Mohamad Kabouli is one of the few who agreed to the terms this week. Aged 27 and jobless, he said: "I just want to make some money and go home."
Timothy Good, responsible for the "civilians on the battlefield" plan, is not too optimistic that all the places will be filled. "There is a lot of animosity towards the US," he admits.