A gritty account of street combat against the ruthless fighters of the Islamic State group.
In clear, thoughtful prose, Azad presents the experiences of many who responded to the jihadi threat in the Middle East. The author volunteered to join the Kurdish resistance against the Islamic State group in Rojava, a region that declared autonomy in the Syrian civil war, becoming an unlikely bulwark against extremism, especially considering their collective decision-making. “In Kobani,” he writes, “between September 2014 and January 2015, two thousand of our men and women stopped ISIS’ twelve thousand. Six months later, we pushed all the jihadis out of Rojava. Our defeat of ISIS set in motion their collapse.” The narrative alternates between the campaign for the town of Kobani and recollections of Azad’s upbringing, during which his progressive family experienced the territorial conflicts and aggression that have long bedeviled the Kurdish people. Although disillusioned with Iranian rule, Azad was obligated to serve in the military, from which he deserted in 2002, ultimately receiving asylum in the U.K. and learning English. Despite enjoying the West’s openness and opportunity, nearly a decade later he felt compelled to return. “Since my arrival in England,” he writes, “I had abandoned my purpose.” Azad’s small militia gradually secured Kobani despite numerous setbacks. They were aided by coalition air strikes against IS fighters, who were known for routinely committing atrocities. The flexibility of Kurdish defenders—they were able to move the small unit of snipers where most needed—allowed them to gradually seize the military initiative even though many volunteers did not return. “So many of my friends had died,” writes the author, “that I had acquired a new, unwanted duty: to survive, to keep their memories alive.” His ruminative prose reflects the unforgiving chaos of close-quarters battle between ruthless enemies, and he coolly describes the sniper’s isolated, time-consuming experience of combat.
A propulsive memoir that captures the grim reality of small-scale conflict and reveals the fragmented politics of the Middle East today.