[Editor’s note: Many readers keep asking me to explain just what a fixer is, so here is a short piece about the role of fixers in Iraq. Also, Eid, the Muslim holiday to mark the end of Ramadan, has brought an unusual peace and relative calm to Baghdad, more about that late tonight or tomorrow morning.]
Best friend, confidante, problem-solver, right-hand, no, not your fiancée or sibling. This is your fixer. A good fixer knows everyone. A good fixer has street smarts and the ability to judge the risk of a given situation in an instant.
The war in Iraq has made the role of the fixer essential for solid reporting. Many fixers in Iraq work as freelance journalists themselves, so they have an intimate understanding of the particular needs and difficulties of this profession. There has also been a good deal of crossover from professional translators/interpreters.
The skills required of a translator and a fixer are quite different, and this can cause some unique difficulties. After “major operations” ended in Iraq in May of 2003, the special circumstances of occupation and reconstruction began. There was a high demand for translators due to a lack of Arabic speakers employed by the United States Government and corporations involved in the reconstruction contracts. Unemployed Iraqis took jobs as interpreters in the first months of Summer in 2003 because they were easy and plentiful. Iraq’s educated and professional class is quite large, and due to twelve years of sanctions and the recent war, they have been hard-pressed to find employment. As time progressed, and it became apparent that the war would continue for some time, a semi-permanent contingent of war correspondents set up camp in the Green Zone.
At the same time, groups battling the United States’ Coalition began to employ tactics such as kidnapping and targeted killings. They targeted Iraqis seen as collaborating with the United States, not only focusing on government or military officials, but also on those assisting the Occupation’s day to day functions as well. Interpreters made up a large portion of this group. Most interpreters lived outside the secure Green Zone and would travel home each night to their family in various neighborhoods around Baghdad.
The danger increased at the same time that alternative opportunities for interpreters rose, the solution was easy to see for many Iraqis doing this work. As the needs of journalists and major media companies increased, the role of the “fixer” was pushed to the forefront of war correspondence regarding Iraq and the ever-changing “War on Terrorism.”
Fixers have become an indispensable asset to the contingent of war correspondents who’ve taken up residence all over Baghdad. As the danger of kidnapping has increased, journalists have retreated into their secure compounds, relying on fixers to arrange brief interviews around the city, while they are escorted in armored car convoys. More often than not, fixers have even become proxies for the reporters themselves, doing much of the legwork on stories around Baghdad which are later collated and written by the western journalists, safe within their hotel rooms.
For the few journalists who still travel outside these secure compounds on a regular basis, their fixer functions as closely to them as their right hand. The fixer is the person who communicates with the outside world. The fixer makes arrangements for meetings and measures the situation outside before the meeting is to take place. The best knowledge about whether to go to the interview or stay locked safely inside for another day will come from the fixer.
The fixer has become much more than just an interpreter; he is a journalist’s lifeline to the outside world. In the murky city of Baghdad, where nothing is as it appears, the fixer provides a light of clarity. If you come to Baghdad, your fixer will be your best friend and confidante. At the very least you should treat him as such, your life will depend on it.