National Geographic : 2016 Mar
The Other Iraq 119 bewildered kid, weary and barefoot. Soon the police commander, a Kurdish general named Sarhad Qadir, escorted me into a small gar- den where the rest of his night’s catch knelt on bright green grass. They were blindfolded, their hands cuffed. “ What happens to them?” I asked the general. “They go to prison,” he said vaguely, waving a hand. “ What happens next is not up to me.” There is a rumor, persistent, difficult to ig- nore, that Kurds and Arabs routinely execute their ISIS prisoners. I asked my translator about it as we left the police compound. “ What happens to the kid?” “He will be executed, of course.” “How do you know?” “ Why do you care, man? He’s ISIS.” Really, I was thinking of Hussein’s mother, wondering if she would ever see her son again. FOR A FEW WEEKS, I tried following Hussein’s trail. I asked policemen, peshmerga command- ers, politicians, lawyers, even the Kurdish prime minister. No one could—or would—offer any clues. For a while, I became obsessed with his case. It wasn’t exactly sympathy—hard to feel that for an ISIS volunteer. But his story contained all the problems facing Kurdistan, Iraq, the Middle East—the questions of how to build and become a functioning nation, win the support of neighbors, and keep those at home, who- ever they are, from falling, turning, and coming against you. Hussein was just one among tens of thou- sands who’d flocked to ISIS, and when I couldn’t find him, I went looking for others. Many ISIS fighters in Iraq are Iraqi citizens recruited or conscripted from ISIS-held territory. Most are Sunni Arabs, though young Kurds have also gone to the group. In the city of Qeladize, in Kurdistan, a man named Salah Rashid told me of his 18-year-old brother-in-law, Hemin, who’d joined ISIS in 2014. The young man had been drifting, un- touched by Kurdistan’s golden decade, unable to find solid work. Slowly, he’d become radical- ized by a local imam, also a Kurd, who lectured on holy war, martyrdom, and paradise. Hemin and several others followed the man’s Revelers raise beers at Bar 52, a nightspot popular with foreigners, located in Hewler, Kurdistan’s regional capital. The city has enjoyed an oil boom in recent years, attracting many expatriates. Some locals now complain there are too many bars and clubs.