Throughout the war in Iraq foreign journalists have relied heavily on fixers, the local feet on the ground who translate, find sources and help provide safety. Though many have since left the country, for fear that their work with Western media has made them targets, some fixers remain. Hussam Ali al-Mussawi, who worked for The San Francisco Chronicle, New York Times, McClatchy, Newsweek and Der Spiegel, explains his uncertain future.
Artist: by Mount Kimbie
BOB GARFIELD: As the majority of the U.S. troops leave Iraq, so too will most of the U.S. journalists. But the people the foreign journalists have depended on for the past seven years will remain – the Iraqi fixers. Fixers are the local feet on the ground for foreign journalists. They know the language, the culture and often where to go for the story, and where not to go to stay alive. Many have left Iraq for fear that their work with Western media has made them targets. But some remain, among them Hussam Al-Mussawi, who’s worked for The San Francisco Chronicle, The New York Times, McClatchy, Newsweek and Der Spiegel. He says foreign journalists are closing up shop, leaving him and his colleagues high and dry.
HUSSAM ALI al-MUSSAWI: [LAUGHS] I would say unfortunately there are no too much job opportunities here in Iraq, which means we try to find a new beginning.
BOB GARFIELD: A new beginning in Iraq, or a new beginning elsewhere?
HUSSAM ALI al-MUSSAWI: I'm planning to start a new life in the United States because I applied for the International Organization of Migration, but it is now exactly two years and I am still here in Iraq. So I started from being optimistic to leave the country and start a new life elsewhere and now I expect that I am [LAUGHING] going to spend maybe the rest of my life here in Iraq.
BOB GARFIELD: Having worked with the Western press, are you a target for insurgents?
HUSSAM ALI al-MUSSAWI: Well, normal people in Iraq are not safe, but it’s more dangerous for the people who have been working with media. I always leave the house in the morning and I expect I am not going to see my family again, so I always keep saying goodbye to my family in the morning.
BOB GARFIELD: Have you been threatened?
HUSSAM ALI al-MUSSAWI: Yes, many times. It was in 2004 when I was in an Islamic court in Sadr City, because I was accused to be a spy because I was seen with some journalist on TV. We were covering the releasing of some detainees in an American camp in Amari in Baghdad. So the Mahdi Army group thought that I am working with the American Army. They wanted to execute me. But in that mosque, I saw a friend who told the [LAUGHING] Mahdi Army people that I am certainly working for media only, and not American media. He told them I am working for the German media, and this really helped me a lot. Otherwise I would have been killed.
BOB GARFIELD: You have worked for many news organizations in the United States and in Europe. Has any of those organizations tried to assist you? I guess what I'm asking you is are you feeling abandoned right now?
HUSSAM ALI al-MUSSAWI: Absolutely. [LAUGHS] I am really abandoned. What they could do is just write me a letter that I could introduce to the International Organization of Migration just to confirm that I worked for American media. I applied for the program since August, 2008, but it is now two years and I am still in Iraq. And I expect that I would be seen by the insurgents and maybe they target me. So to be honest in answering your question, yes, I am left, I am abandoned and I am not secure. And nobody is protecting me. I am protecting myself. The security companies just protect us when we do some work with the foreign journalists when they are here in Baghdad. Otherwise, we do most of the reporting by ourselves without any protection.
BOB GARFIELD: How old are you, Hussam?
HUSSAM ALI al-MUSSAWI: [LAUGHS] I am 34 years old.
BOB GARFIELD: Are you married? Do you have children?
HUSSAM ALI al-MUSSAWI: No, no. I live with my sister, who’s here in Baghdad. I prefer not to get married because if I am killed I'm going to leave my wife or my kids without any source of getting living. It’s really very tough, very tough to have my own family.
BOB GARFIELD: In the end, was it worth it?
HUSSAM ALI al-MUSSAWI: Well [SIGHS], I would say yes and no. Yes, because I learned a lot of new things I would have not learned if I had not worked for foreign media. After the war, I am able to provide my family with good food. I am able to buy a generator every year so we can get electricity. But now I feel it isn't worth. And if things deteriorate [LAUGHS], I would say it never worth to work for the foreign media. To be an ordinary person who die in an accident is normal, but to sleep your night afraid of the future, to drive your car and keep looking in the mirror to see if you are followed or not, to go into a store and to be afraid that there would be somebody who'll recognize you as somebody work for the foreign media, it isn't worth.
BOB GARFIELD: Hussam, I thank you, and I wish you all the best of luck in health, and a long life for yourself and your family.
HUSSAM ALI al-MUSSAWI: Thank you. You’re welcome.
BOB GARFIELD: Hussam Al-Mussawi has been a fixer for The San Francisco Chronicle, New York Times, McClatchy, Newsweek and Der Spiegel.