National Geographic : 2016 Mar
118 national geographic • march 2016 him, set a cup of water there. Hussein appeared unharmed. Only his thumb was discolored— stained with the ink used to sign his confession. A plainclothes detective led Hussein through a list of questions, many of which he’d already answered during an hours-long interrogation. Why did you join ISIS? Are there many foreign fighters among you? What do you do to the Yazi- di girls you capture? That question referred to ISIS’s brutal treat- ment of members of a small Kurdish ethnic and religious group who are not Muslims—and whose fate at the hands of the militants has shocked the world. The detective asked this for my benefit, a reminder to an American of the terror Iraqis had been left to face alone. “The fighters take the Yazidis and do any- thing to them,” Hussein said flatly. He told me he regretted joining ISIS, that its promises of glory and Islamic truth were empty. “They’re not Muslims,” he said, shifting in his seat, staring at the floor. If our roles had been reversed, Hussein might have enjoyed watching me beheaded. Might have done it himself. But now he was a what? For bravery? For patriotism? For a coun- try that wasn’t even a country? But later his father, Mohammed, confided that even during his rage at the hospital he’d been achingly proud of his son. We sat together at a picnic at the family’s home in Kurdistan’s eastern mountains. Evening had come. Bats flitted over a blanket laid with roasted mutton, stuffed grape leaves, and loaves of fresh naan. “ We would all fight for Kurdistan,” Moham- med said. “Even if we don’t always believe in it.” THE DAY SHARBARZHERI was shot, Sami Hus- sein, the Arab who joined ISIS, was somewhere in the area. Possibly on the same battlefield. I met him a couple of months later, the morn- ing after he’d been captured during a police raid in Kirkuk, along with a half dozen other young men. At a police compound near the city cen- ter, Hussein was led into a narrow sitting room lined with couches. There was a scent of co- logne, the stink of cigarettes. He came shoeless and sulking, stooped at the shoulders, wearing a yellow and gray plaid shirt and jogging pants. A policeman placed a small plastic table before A Yazidi family holds photos of male relatives killed by ISIS as they tried to flee the town of Tel Azer, near Sinjar. “I hid under blankets and heard shooting,” said one boy. “I came out and saw everyone— my uncles, father—dead.” Only one adult male in the family survived.