Daniel Nelson

Armed with clippers and a knife, lurching on his crude plastic prosthetic leg, Fakhir Berwari casually, recklessly, scratches the ground and unearths another pot mine.

Tossing it onto a growing pile, the one-legged mine-defuser pauses a moment and comments scathingly, “The bastards have used up all your pots.”

He’s an action hero come to life, pushing open doors and cars booby-trapped by IS (sometimes at night, by torchlight), getting out of his vehicle to hack away and lift a suspicious paving stone, walking into groups of Iraqis – some of whom would like to see him dead – and scolding them for carrying weapons.

This extraordinary documentary, Deminer, is made up of hours of film found by his family after his inevitable death (“It’s like an action movie, but it’s real”), buttressed by fresh footage. 

Apparently fearless, and wielding his simple tools, he defuses mine after mine, bomb after bomb – 600 in one year in Mosul. He’s a one-man minesweeper who single-handedly saved hundreds of lives and maimings.

He apparently got himself filmed, throughout his army career and and, after being told that the army had no use for a handicapped soldier, as a volunteer.

His fate-challenging bravery is accompanied by the anxiously pleading off-camera voices of the men doing the filming: “Major, please leave it”; “Sir, please be careful, sir”; “Sir, don’t go back in”. They know that if the blast occurs they, too, will be probably be killed.

The film – which captures four explosions, including the incident which destroys his leg – is a remarkable testament to an extraordinary life, to the respect of fellow soldiers and many civilians, to the love of his family, to the brutal legacy of left-over mines and civilian booby-traps.

It doesn’t reveal much about Iraq, apart from details, such as how quickly the reaction to the US-led invasion sparked up, or about his own feelings and views, apart from a revealing interregnum after he was blown up and before he pulled out of despond to return to demining. It also gives a vivid picture of the pain and discomfort of his prosthesis, borne in fierce heat.

The Deminer

The Deminer

Image by The Deminer

There’s a suggestion that his death was caused by pressure to check out one more house, do one more job even when he was clearly exhausted and his alert-level had dipped. You are left wondering whether perhaps he was driven on by a preference for an explosive death rather than a disabled old age in which he was no longer able to do the job to which he was wholeheartedly committed - dodging tripwires and clipping cables to save the lives of others.

Director Hogir Horori’s statement:

Colonel Fakhir had long been a familiar face for me and other Kurds and Arabs. We had seen pictures, short videos about him and his job as a deminer for many years. To me, he was a great leader with a big heart, a hero and a symbol for humanity in the midst of war and turmoil.

I was impressed by what an uncomplicated and nice person he was and how much other people admired him. I had heard of him being the smartest and most skillful deminer who had saved so many other people’s lives, but I wondered who he actually was as a person, what drove him to be a deminer, and how his family dealt with his dangerous job.

Intrigued, I traveled to Iraqi Kurdistan several times to film and to search for material about him, but also to spend time with his family, thereby getting to know them and him on a deeper level. I wanted to understand the commitment and motivation behind his choice to become a deminer, and the more I learned the more fascinated I became.

As a father of eight, Colonel Fakhir brings us hope every day and every single time he disarms a mine to save hundreds of innocent people’s lives. This is not only a documentary about Fakhir’s life for 14 years, but a film about love, hope and human compassion in the face of war and evil.

* The Deminer has a preview screening on 25 April will be in cinemas from 27 April

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