This book covers the critical three years after the election of Donald Trump as
US president in 2016. Its central themes are the US-Iran confrontation, the defeat
of Isis and the fall—some say betrayal—of the Kurds. The election of Trump
coincided almost exactly with the start of the nine-month siege of Mosul by the
Iraqi army, which was to be the decisive battle in the defeat of Isis. The terminal
date of the book is early 2020 with the assassination of Iranian General Qasem
Soleimani by the US in Iraq and the impact of this in Iraq and Iran. This
followed closely on Trump’s announcement in the fall of 2020 of US military
withdrawal from Syria and opened the door to a Turkish invasion of northern
Syria. At the same time, mass street protests in Iraq and Lebanon were beginning
to shake the political dominance of Iran and its allies in the Shia heartlands.
Much that I wrote during this period concerned the rise and fall of the de facto
Kurdish states in Iraq and Syria and the final elimination of the self-declared Isis
caliphate, which culminated in death of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
As in a previous volume, I look at events from two angles. One is
contemporary description using writings and diaries I produced at the time; the
other is retrospective explanation and analysis from the perspective of today.
Both have their advantages: it is important to know what events looked likewhen they were still happening, but also to see retrospectively “how things
panned out” and what was their true significance. As historians have often said,
it is important to remember that past events were once in the future.
I have tried to give a voice to what Syrians, Iraqis, and Kurds felt about
events as they unfolded around them. Their instincts, honed by decades of
danger to themselves and their families, were often sharper, or at least different
from mine. I always try to keep in mind the warning of an Iraqi friend who told
me, as we drove through a particularly violent district north of Baghdad, “Take
off your seatbelt—no Iraqi ever wears one and it identifies you as a foreigner.”