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Empire’s End

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I asked a young man in Mosul what his opinion was of ISIS. I tried to be as humble as possible. “Good?” I said with my thumb pointed up, “Or bad?” inverting my hand. “They killed my mother, my father, my brother, and they torched my car” he said in perfect English—no thumbs necessary. He then went back to playing PUBG on his iPhone, a video game I’ve seen elsewhere in the Middle East, where the goal is to kill everyone participating.

Mosul was the most beautiful place I saw in Iraq and also the most damaged. Although Mosul was safer than Baghdad, it was my first day spent with Ahmad, a guide named Ahmad. Ahmad works as a doctor which is equivalent to thirty dollars. One day. He’s hoping to leave his career as a healer entirely and become a full-time guide of what he calls “dark tourism.” (You can only sell what you have.) He makes at least fifteen dollars a year as a guide. Per hour.

Ahmad had attempted to flee the city while it was under ISIS control. Ahmad’s clever plan was to smuggle himself across a border into Aleppo, then into Turkey and then back into Iraq, where he would hide in Baghdad. But…



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