Moving reportage by an American journalist who embedded with the Iraqi Counter-Terrorism Service and with Kurdish peshmerga forces fighting the Islamic State group.
Coming from Brooklyn, George Polk Award–winning journalist Verini—a National Geographic contributing writer and frequent contributor to the New Yorker and the New York Times Magazine—was determined to serve a kind of “penance” when he arrived in Baghdad in the summer of 2016 for the first time; he was ashamed that he had been “too scared” to go to Afghanistan fresh out of college after 9/11. This time, he traveled in the wake of the Iraqi army as it moved on IS, which had captured Mosul two years before and declared a triumphant caliphate led by insurgent Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Throughout the taut narrative, Verini brings us vivid and often heartbreaking stories of everyday Iraqis, occupied and humiliated for eons, enduring yet another war “that nevertheless would not be happening, at least not in this way, if not for the American war that preceded it.” The invasion of Mosul was conducted by the Counter-Terrorism Service, which “had put the first real puncture in the [IS] defenses” in 2016, as well as multiple divisions of the Iraqi army, the Iraqi federal police, and international forces. The official end of combat, in Mosul, occurred in July 2017. Verini’s account is startlingly candid and informed, and the author has clearly benefited from some years of distance. He manages to effectively convey the complicated mess on all sides: American, Iraqi, IS. After the months of fighting, Mosul “looked as though a vindictive god had wiped his hand across the city.” In the battle, writes the author, “twelve hundred Iraqi soldiers were killed,” and while “no one will ever know how many civilians died, it was certainly in the thousands.”
A deeply thoughtful boots-on-the-ground work about a topic that many of us have stopped thinking about.