What is it like to be a fixer in Iraq?

Fixers face a raft of dangers and get little credit for helping journalists to report on the devastation of war.

    Getting hit by shrapnel ''was not going to stop me from doing my job'', says Makeen Mustafa [Courtesy of Makeen Mustafa]
    Getting hit by shrapnel ''was not going to stop me from doing my job'', says Makeen Mustafa [Courtesy of Makeen Mustafa]

    Erbil - Every day, dozens of stories are published from the front lines of the war in Iraq.

    And each day, local fixers put their lives on the line to help journalists tell these stories. Without their assistance in securing access and translations, it would be nearly impossible for foreign reporters to do their jobs.

    Makeen Mustafa, a 33-year-old fixer from Erbil, told Al Jazeera that he has been injured multiple times while working. The first time, he was hit in the face with shrapnel.

    "I was working with a journalist on the front line with the Iraqi army in Abu Saif," he said. "We went into a house and didn't know ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, also known as ISIL) was next door. Then ISIS threw a grenade and five people were injured. I was hit in my nose and close to my eye, and we were surrounded for 45 minutes until soldiers were able to get us out."

    Mustafa took one day off to recover before returning to work: "It was not going to stop me from doing my job."

    READ MORE: What will post-ISIL Mosul look like?

    A few months later, Mustafa suffered shrapnel wounds in the back; in other instances, he has been hit in the leg with shrapnel and shot in the arm by a sniper.

    Sangar Khaleel, a 28-year-old fixer, has also been ambushed multiple times.

    "The first 10 minutes are always the scariest, when I'm seeing how journalists react to things, how they handle themselves," Khaleel told Al Jazeera.

    Fixers know which areas of the country are accessible, negotiate with security at checkpoints, translate interviews, and often serve as drivers. Although many have no journalistic background, they use their connections and local knowledge to help drum up or refine story angles.

    Many work while studying, with their fixer income helping to pay for school. It can be a lucrative field, with fixers in Iraq typically earning between $100 and $500 a day, and sometimes more, depending on the story or area.

    Blend Mirawdell, who recently graduated from university with a degree in water resources and engineering, began to work as a fixer when a friend introduced him to a journalist. While the danger and the relentless violence of war initially put him off, he says that he eventually became desensitised.

    "At the start, it was difficult," Mirawdell told Al Jazeera. "You see really disgusting scenes, you see bodies, you see ISIL fighters dead on the ground, you see civilians executed. But you get used to it. Now, it's fine for me.

    "The money is good, but I love it because you get to see a different picture of war, and you meet different people from different cultures and religions from all over the world," he added. "I'm making a good income, but I can also inform the world and help my country. "

    For Mustafa, adrenaline is the primary driver: "I just love the front line. It's an adventure."

    'There will be journalists here always. All generations of Iraq see war after war,' says Sangar Khaleel [Courtesy of Sangar Khaleel]

    Other fixers are motivated by a sense of responsibility. Adiba Qasim, who is Yazidi, fled Sinjar with her family in 2014. In the ensuing months, she lost numerous family members and friends, many of them women.

    "I wanted to be a fixer because of women," Qasim told Al Jazeera. "I was lucky; I escaped, but it could have been me who was raped or tortured like many Yazidi women, and I feel a responsibility to tell their stories."

    The hardest part of her job is when foreign journalists fail to grasp local cultural sensitivities, she added.

    "Sometimes they ask questions like, 'How many times have you been raped, or have you been pregnant?' I tell them you have to have respect," she said. "Most women want to tell their stories, but you cannot make them talk."

    It's not only taking them to the front line, not only crossing checkpoints, but also knowing what they're looking for and knowing how to get the story.

    Sangar Khaleel, fixer

    Navigating checkpoints is another challenge, and sometimes journalists can cause problems, fixers say.

    "There are often moody people [guards] at checkpoints, and journalists will sit there with their legs crossed and act annoyed. They need to be more friendly," Khaleel said.

    Although many fixers view the job as a short-term endeavour - Mirawdell hopes to move on to work for an NGO focusing on water and sanitation, while Qasim wants to study law - others say they will continue to rely on their work with journalists as a steady source of income.

    "There will be journalists here always," Khaleel said. "All generations of Iraq see war after war." 

    EXPLAINER: The rise and fall of ISIL

    Although fixers generally maintain good relationships with journalists, they have a few common complaints.

    "Some people show up and they know nothing about Mosul, but they want to go. Mosul is dangerous; you need to know what you're getting into," Mustafa said.

    Qasim said that reporters' attitudes could be problematic at times: "I just want them to feel a little bit. I hear journalists making fun of front lines and thinking it's a game, but it's not a game - it's people's lives."

    Some fixers said they would like the public to know more about the work they put in behind the scenes.

    "If not for fixers, how could journalists get their story?" Khaleel asked. "Fixers should be listed on the article. It's our right. It's not only taking them to the front line, not only crossing checkpoints, but also knowing what they're looking for and knowing how to get the story."

    Qasim agreed, noting that fixers not only secure access and provide translations, but they often find the stories as well.

    "I think fixers should get credit," she said, "but I'm proud of my job and I want to show the reality to the world."

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera



    How different voting systems work around the world

    How different voting systems work around the world

    Nearly two billion voters in 52 countries around the world will head to the polls this year to elect their leaders.

    How Moscow lost Riyadh in 1938

    How Moscow lost Riyadh in 1938

    Russian-Saudi relations could be very different today, if Stalin hadn't killed the Soviet ambassador to Saudi Arabia.

    The peace games: Dreaming big for South Sudan's youth

    The peace games: Dreaming big for South Sudan's youth

    A relatively new independence and fresh waves of conflict inspire a South Sudanese refugee to build antiwar video games.