Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Monday, July 30, 2007

The life of an Iraqi fixer

In an article in Sunday’s New York Times Magazine, Ayub Nuri tells his story of life as an Iraqi “fixer.” A fixer in a war zone, according to Nuri, “is a journalist’s interpreter, guide, source finder and occasional lifesaver.” Fixers are the eyes and ears of the media and are often the only ones that can venture out into the streets, collect information, or function at all without being detected by opposition. Without the fixers, much of the coverage in Iraq would not even be possible.

Nuri’s story begins when he was a small boy growing up in the city of Halabja in Iraqi Kurdistan. Attacks authorized by Saddam Hussein left over 5,000 Halabja residents dead, and left Nuri without part of his right knee. Years of war forced him to become a refugee in Turkey, but he returned to Iraq in 2003 when he got word that the U.S. was set to invade to oust Hussein. Upon his arrival, he was hired as a fixer because of his knowledge of English, which he acquired during his training as a teacher.

During his time as a fixer for various journalists, Nuri learned how to conduct interviews, record radio broadcasts and write newspaper stories. Time passed, and the situation in Iraq went from bad to worse. Western journalists were forced to leave the area, and many fixers were being threatened or murdered. Despite their invaluable service to the media, news agencies could offer little or no protection for the fixers, not even so much as providing rushed visas for entry into another country.

Near the end of 2004, an American reporter for the BBC, Quil Lawrence, told Nuri that it was time for him to start reporting his own pieces. Nuri had been working with Lawrence for over a year at the time. Nuri took the advice and became a BBC reporter doing stories for the radio, but wanted to improve his writing in order to become a print journalist. With some help from his American friends, he applied to Columbia University and after much waiting and negotiating, finally arrived in the U.S. to begin his studies this past fall.

“When I interviewed people there, I did not understand many of the things they said” explained Nuri. “In class, I would sit with a dozen American students, and the professor would be talking about something, and suddenly everyone was laughing – but I had no idea why.”

Nuri is here now. Like many other fixers that left Iraq, he cannot follow through on his plan to return because it is too unsafe. He was lucky, however, as many of the fixers that remain in Iraq must do so in order to provide for their families. Others simply refuse to leave and are committed to reporting the stories that no one else will.

For the full article, click here.

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