The grim details of ISIS’s rule come to light
James Verini wries in the National Geographic:
The Kurdish soldiers stood on a berm, next to a gunner’s dugout, in a corner of their position. It was one of several forward positions on a front line that ran along the crest of a mountainside and faced west onto the Tigris River Valley. The sun had set on a late summer day—the driest season in Iraq, when land and sky seem to merge. Still, through the thickening dark the soldiers could make out, on the river’s near bank, the lights of the city of Mosul. Though this was a vista they could have described in their sleep—for months these soldiers, who were with thepeshmerga, the army of Iraqi Kurdistan, had surveilled and mapped and discussed every inch—its fascination and menace never dimmed. Everything they looked at belonged to the Islamic State.
The battle for Mosul, long rumored, was finally at hand. An international invasion force had assembled. The Iraqi military had beaten ISIS out of Fallujah and was now fighting its way north toward Mosul. The peshmerga was pushing in from this mountain. U.S. troops were massing, as were Iraqi militias and foreign fighters from Turkey, Iran, and elsewhere.
Inside Mosul there was panic. The United Nations was expecting a humanitarian crisis. More than a million people would be displaced by the battle, it estimated. Civilian casualties would be grievous: ISIS was busy mining streets and booby-trapping buildings. Residents were fleeing the city by any means they could, and this Kurdish position was the terminus of a popular route of escape. Almost every night people scrambled up the mountainside and arrived here with only the clothing on their backs.
Tonight the soldiers were expecting a family of seven. The father, a nurse, had phoned a cousin who lived near the mountain. The cousin had notified the commander. Now cousin and commander stood on the berm together.
The family’s journey would be treacherous. If they were caught by ISIS trying to escape Mosul, they might be jailed, beaten, beheaded, or all three. If they got out of the city, that was only the beginning: Next they would have to get to Fazilia, the village the position overlooked, at the foot of the mountain. ISIS controlled Fazilia and sent up the slope homemade artillery—including, lately, crude chemical missiles—snipers, and suicide bombers. (Recently a pair had gotten to within 50 feet of where the soldiers now stood before blowing themselves up.) If the nurse’s family made it out of Fazilia, they would have to negotiate the mountainside’s boulders without aid of trail or light. With so much dust in the sky, not even the moon would help. . .