Last June, ISIS took Mosul, the militants painted a red Arabic ‘‘n,’’ for Nasrane, a slur, on Assyrian Christian homes. Many residents managed to escape fled to Qaraqosh, less than 20 miles east on the Nineveh Plain, a 1,500-square-mile plot of contested land that lies between Kurdistan and Iraq, Peter van Agtmael.
My tenth-grade American history teacher once told us that in the Civil War, twice as many men died of disease than died in combat.
That macabre Snapple fact is all I really remember from that class. It felt weighty, highlighting something that seemed revelatory because it was suddenly so goddamn obvious: War doesn’t exist in a vacuum. War exists in this world—this brutally unsexy place of sandwiches, video games, baseball, friends, soda, Walmart, foot cramps, allergies, and—of course—cold weather and disease. Maybe I was slow on the uptake, but this blew my little 15-year-old mind.
Now, ten years later, Magnum’s Peter van Agtmael plops his new book Disco Night Sept 11on my desk, and I’m suddenly having the revelation all over again, only this time with a more immediate relevance and bite.
IRAQ. Nineveh governorate. Mosul. 2006. Two teenage boys, one of whom has an American flag stitched into his sweater, watch as an American patrol passes at dusk.
“Three years after the invasion, passing patrols would receive a limited range of responses from Iraqis. Sometimes there would be a studied lack of acknowledgement, or perhaps an angry scowl and shouted words, or just a cryptic, masked expression. Only in Kurdish areas or occasionally among children hoping for candy or soccer balls would U.S. soldiers receive smiles or waves.
The patrol had progressed the same way as most others. Gunshots early on led to a frantic, frustrated search for the gunmen, who quickly melted back into the population. From there a tip was given about a weapons cache buried in an abandoned yard, but a search turned up nothing. The remaining hours of the patrol concluded in a wary walk through the old town of Mûsilê, the soldiers scanning all possible points of attack and occasionally engaging the local populace with questions regarding their needs and frustrations, which were always many and un-resolvable with the tools the Americans had on hand.”
IRAQ. Nineveh governorate. Mosul. 2006. Specialist Lucas Yaminishi holds up the shoe of a victim of a suicide bombing in a café in Mosul. The attack left nine people dead and 23 wounded.
“It happened at the Abu-Ali restaurant early on a sunny winter morning, as policemen were gathering for tea and breakfast. The bomber walked into the busy restaurant, wrapped in a vest filled with explosives and lined with improvised projectiles, the bustling crowd ensuring his anonymity. Stepping into the centre of the cramped room, he blew himself up, and in an instant the café changed from the serenity of a refuge from the war to a blood-bath, the ceiling hanging, power wires dangling, the walls sprayed with blood and the floor with possessions, body parts, and food. The Iraqi police responded quickly, evacuating the wounded to three local hospitals and collecting the remains.
A U.S. patrol came upon the scene and wandered numbly through the restaurant they had passed many times before on patrol, cursing their enemy for its inhumanity. The smell of cordite and blood lingered in the heavy air, and the streets were empty except for a few curious bystanders who stared at the gaping hole in the otherwise quiet block. The patrol moved to the hospital to check the status of the victims.
Ali, the owner, an affable and enthusiastic man, lay shrivelled on one of the beds, his head completely swaddled in bandages but for a his nose and lips, which were still covered in blood. He did not survive the day.”