National Geographic : 2017 Apr
life after isis 117 by the late Palestinian theorist of jihad Abdullah Azzam. “Honor and respect cannot be estab- lished except on a foundation of cripples and corpses,” he wrote. “Every Muslim on Earth bears the responsibility of abandoning jihad and the sin of abandoning the gun.” The only thing more apparent in Azzam’s words than hatred is self-hatred. This is a poli- tics of profoundest shame. More than homicidal, it is suicidal. So, perhaps unsurprisingly, many of the corpses of ISIS fighters that turned up in the latter months of 2016 were the victims not of combat but of their own comrades. As ISIS retreated toward Syria, evidence of the group’s sadism was on display nowhere so plainly as in Fallujah, the nerve center of Anbari rebellion. In January 2014 ISIS seized Fallujah. In late June 2016, after a month of fighting, Iraqi special-forces soldiers won it back. Days later a group of soldiers and police walked through the wreckage-strewn streets to the Fallujah Women’s Teachers Institute. This had been an ISIS court and execution chamber. The air was heavy with the scent of decaying flesh. In the entry corridor was a cluster of overturned cabinets. Files of the young women who had studied here, their photographs stapled to blue folders, fanned across the floor. As the men came to a small courtyard, they put their hands to their noses in unison. A policeman pushed aside a chalkboard in the dirt, revealing a fibula. The bone jutted from a hole beneath a paving stone. They stepped closer. The hole was full of corpses in such a state of decay—no longer bodies, not quite skeletons—it was impossible to tell how many were there. In an adjoining hall- way was another mass grave beneath the floor, covered over with a carpet and sofa. A police commander said these were believed to be ISIS members, executed on suspicion of cowardice or betrayal or some other infraction. When ISIS had taken the city, its fighters had made for the impressive central hospital and turned it into a headquarters. A group of men inspected the hospital. They walked through a courtyard. Morgue trays were on the ground near a small, newly covered grave. A soldier put his hand down to his waist to indicate the height of the body buried in it. During the fighting it had been too dangerous for locals to take their dead children from the hospital to the cemetery, so they buried them on the hospital grounds, in any space they could find. In the emergency ward, framing and ceil- ing tiles hung down like jungle understory. A policeman—he went by Abu Nebah—searched for keepsakes, placing them in a plastic shopping bag. Taped to the walls were grainy photocopies of the ISIS logo and official memoranda on ISIS letterhead. Phrases hinted at desperate last days in power. “ To all brothers and section chiefs, may God bless them,” read a memo. “All brothers should bring back their families immediately to the Fallujah sector within 20 days from the date of this notice. Whoever violates it will not be al- lowed any time off.” As Abu Nebah looked through his booty—some Kalashnikov shell casings and a black nylon utili- ty belt—he said he’d known the hospital well even before taking up this post. All four of his children had been born here. He’d fled in 2004 during the two battles of Fallujah. Later he became a police- man at the height of the insurgency. “But none of that was as bad as ISIS,” he said. When the jihadists came in, police officers who had the money to flee, did. Those who couldn’t, hid. And those who couldn’t hide gave them- selves up. They were forced by the Hisbah, ISIS’s religious police, to stand up in mosques and pub- lic squares, in front of crowds, and declare their regret for having enforced the laws of the infidel government. Some were killed even after these rituals of public humiliation. Abu Nebah’s family fled with a hundred others, basically his entire neighborhood. He was asked why he came back. “ This is our home,” Abu Nebah said. “Anyway, it’s not as bad as Ramadi.” after the nUrse aYhaM ali and his family made it from Mosul to the soldiers’ post on the mountain, they were driven down to a small com- pound. Out of the grip of ISIS for the first time in two years, they slept through the night.