National Geographic : 2016 Mar
116 national geographic • march 2016 the Iraqi Army abandoned the city, the possi- ble resting place of the Old Testament prophet Daniel, ahead of an ISIS assault. For the Kurds it felt like fate: They have long believed that Kirkuk was rightfully theirs, and Saddam Hussein had for years violently tried to evict them. That June, all the Kurds needed to reset their ancestral stake was to keep ISIS out, and their eager soldiers poured into Kirkuk to fill the breach. It would not be easy. The speed of the ISIS invasion—and the collapse of the Iraqi Army before it—was astounding. The Kurds’ own se- curity forces were, at first, undermanned, ill equipped, and slow to adapt to the fleet enemy. ISIS fighters swept east and north, capturing Iraq’s second largest city, Mosul, and killing more than a thousand civilians. Soon they had chewed into Kurdish territory and advanced to within a morning ’s drive of the Kurdish capital, Hewler (called Erbil in Arabic), and the out- skirts of Kirkuk. Kurds with means prepared to flee. Those without imagined the coming horror. But sol- diers and volunteers, brave and disorganized, believed Islam was under attack. He’d been won over by propaganda on Facebook and other so- cial media and by the sermons of radical clerics. Like Sharbarzheri, he wanted adventure, with purpose, and he knew he’d end up fighting Kurds and fellow Arabs. But while Sharbarzheri was an atheist, Hus- sein considered his choice a revelation of God’s will, at least at first. It is also true that one can- not be lured to ISIS without being seduced by slaughter. There is no ISIS without murder, ruin, rape, and torture. Without a wrathful, merciless God. So where one young man went to defend, the other came to destroy. When he left for battle, Sami Hussein appar- ently also had decided not to tell his mother. He was captured months later, as he sneaked home to see her. KIRKUK, WITH ITS sun-crushed neighborhoods of Kurds, Arabs, Turkmens—and Sunnis, Shi- ites, and Christians—is Iraq in miniature. Centuries of diversity, love, beauty, and old grudges distilled there onto hot plains where the wheat fields meet the oil fields. In June 2014 Masoud Barzani, president of the Kurdistan Regional Govern- ment, visits female officer cadets at a military academy in Zakho. Kurdistan remains part of Iraq, but it has its own parliament and its own military, which includes hundreds of female peshmerga.