Black online Flags: The Rise of wholesale ISIS outlet online sale

Black online Flags: The Rise of wholesale ISIS outlet online sale

Black online Flags: The Rise of wholesale ISIS outlet online sale

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WINNER OF THE 2016 PULITZER PRIZE FOR GENERAL NONFICTION

“A Best Book of 2015”—The New York Times, The Washington PostPeople Magazine, San Francisco Chronicle, Kansas City Star, and Kirkus Reviews


In a thrilling dramatic narrative, Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Joby Warrick traces how the strain of militant Islam behind ISIS first arose in a remote Jordanian prison and spread with the unwitting aid of two American presidents. Drawing on unique high-level access to CIA and Jordanian sources, Warrick weaves gripping, moment-by-moment operational details with the perspectives of diplomats and spies, generals and heads of state, many of whom foresaw a menace worse than al Qaeda and tried desperately to stop it. Black Flags is a brilliant and definitive history that reveals the long arc of today’s most dangerous extremist threat.

Review

Named a Best Book of 2015 by Michiko Kakutani of The New York Times, The Washington Post, People Magazine, San Francisco ChronicleKansas City Star, and Kirkus Reviews

“Gripping. . . . Mr. Warrick has a gift for constructing narratives with a novelistic energy and detail, and in this volume, he creates the most revealing portrait yet laid out in a book of Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, the founding father of the organization that would become the Islamic State. . . . For readers interested in the roots of the Islamic State and the evil genius of its godfather, there is no better book to begin with than Black Flags.” Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
 
“Warrick charts Zarqawi’s rise from booze-swilling Jordanian street tough to one of the most brutal jihadists in the world. He demonstrates how much the militants of the Islamic State owe to Zarqawi, who was killed in 2006—not only their ideology but even the color of the jumpsuits that prisoners wear in execution videos. The militants of ISIS, one of Warrick’s sources explains, are the ‘children of Zarqawi.’” The New Yorker

“A revealing, riveting and exquisitely detailed account of the life and death of Zarqawi, the improbable terrorist mastermind, and the rise of the movement now known as the Islamic State (also known as ISIS).” San Francisco Chronicle

“A detailed, step-by-step narrative demonstrating how repeated miscalculations by the United States, Arab leaders and al-Qaeda wound up empowering the Islamic State. . . . Black Flags provides answers in this still-unfolding history of what happens when religious radicals try to outdo one another for the mantle of God’s favorite.” Dallas Morning News

“Invaluable for anyone struggling to understand the gruesome excesses and inexplicable appeal of ISIS . . . [a] seminal book.” Los Angeles Times

“Warrick’s book might be the most thorough and nuanced account of the birth and growth of ISIS published so far. Black Flags is full of personalities, but it keeps its gaze carefully focused on the wider arc of history.” Boston Globe

“The sort of work every journalist would love to write and few can: a detailed and perceptive analysis that''s also a page-turner . . . necessary reading for anybody who wants to put Islamic State into the context of both contemporary jihadism and the long history of Muslim fundamentalism.” Chicago Tribune

“[Black Flags] is clear and well-told, a good guide for those horrified by the group''s emergence but not familiar with every step of the crumbling of Iraq and Syria over the past dozen years. . . . [It] lays out in strong detail just how rough a neighborhood, both geographically and ideologically, the struggle against ISIS is taking place in.” Associated Press

“Joby Warrick . . . [has] a great eye for memorable characters. In Black Flags he puts faces on the amorphous organizations we hear about all the time, namely ISIS  and the CIA. Learning about the origins of ISIS is key to understanding the organization today—and key to understanding why we failed to halt ISIS’s growth.” GQ.com

“Joby Warrick moves easily through the intelligence warrens of Washington and the shattered landscape of the Middle East to tell this insightful narrative of the rise of the Islamic State. Black Flags is an invaluable guide to an unfolding tragedy that must be understood before it can be ended.” Lawrence Wright, author of Thirteen Days in September and The Looming Tower
 
“Joby Warrick is one of America''s leading national security reporters, so it''s no surprise that Black Flags is the most deeply reported and well-written account we have about ISIS and its terrorist army.” —Peter Bergen, author of Manhunt: The Ten-Year Search for bin Laden from 9/11 to Abbottabad
 
“Joby Warrick weaves Black Flags with the tradecraft of a spy, the mind of an investigative reporter, and the pen of a novelist. The picture that emerges is sometimes hard to bear: of brutal ISIS torturers and Jordanian interrogators, of bumbling U.S. leaders, of American intelligence services that still can''t get it right quickly enough. We should all thank Warrick for telling a hard truth the government will not want to hear: how U.S. policies helped give birth to the so-called Islamic State.” Dana Priest, two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post reporter and author of Top Secret America
 
“Drawing on his unrivaled sources and access, Joby Warrick has written a profoundly important and groundbreaking book, one that reads like a novel, riveting from the first page to the last. If you want to know the story behind ISIS, and all of us should, this is the book you must read.”  Martha Raddatz, Chief Global Affairs Correspondent, ABC News, and author of The Long Road Home: A Story of War and Family
 
“A page-turner and a flat-out great book. This is the inside account of how we ended up with the Islamic State, with one revelation after another. If you read one book on ISIS, this is it.” —Robert Baer, author of See No Evil: The True Story of a Ground Soldier in the CIA''s War on Terrorism

“Joby Warrick is an exceptional storyteller, and Black Flags is both illuminating and spellbinding. No book better explains the miscalculations, wrong turns, and bad luck that led to the rise of ISIS.” —Rick Atkinson, author of The Guns at Last Light: The War in Western Europe, 1944-1945

“[A] crisply written, chilling account. . . . Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post reporter Warrick confidently weaves a cohesive narrative from an array of players—American officials, CIA officers, Jordanian royalty and security operatives, religious figures, and terrorists—producing an important geopolitical overview with the grisly punch of true-crime nonfiction. . . . The author focuses on dramatic flashpoints and the roles of key players, creating an exciting tale with a rueful tone, emphasizing how the Iraq invasion''s folly birthed ISIS and created many missed opportunities to stop al-Zarqawi quickly.”
Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review)

“Joby Warrick has written a penetrating and fascinating look at the birth and evolution of the world’s most violent terrorist network, ISIS, or ISIL. This is an eye-opening book. . . . The author tells his story through rich details and revealing anecdotes that bring you into the violent world of Islamic extremism. At times, you feel as if you’re sitting in a tent in a remote region of Iraq, watching and listening to al-Zarqawi as he claws his way to the top of the terrorist chain. . . .  The writing is crisp, the reporting incredible, a combination of extensive digging and terrific use of sources.” —Buffalo News


 

About the Author

JOBY WARRICK has been a reporter for The Washington Post since 1996. He has twice won the Pulitzer Prize, for journalism and for his book Black Flags: The Rise of Isis. He is also the author of  The Triple Agent.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

PROLOGUE
Amman, Jordan, February 3, 2015

Just after nightfall, a warrant arrived at the city’s main women’s prison for the execution of Sajida al-Rishawi. The instructions had come from King Abdullah II himself, then in Washington on a state visit, and were transmitted from his private plane to the royal court in Jordan’s capital. A clerk relayed the message to the Interior Ministry and then to the prisons department, where it caused a stir. State executions are complicated affairs requiring many steps, yet the king’s wishes were explicit: the woman would face the gallows before the sun rose the next day.

The chief warden quickly made the trek to the cell where Rishawi had maintained a kind of self-imposed solitary confinement for close to a decade. The prisoner, forty-five now and no longer thin, spent most of her days watching television or reading a paperback Koran, seeing no one, and keeping whatever thoughts she had under the greasy, prison-issued hijab she always wore. She was not a stupid woman, yet she seemed perpetually disconnected from whatever was going on around her. "When will I be going home?" she asked her government-appointed lawyer during rare meetings in the months after she was sentenced to death. Eventually, even those visits stopped.

Now, when the warden sat her down to explain that she would die in the morning, Rashida nodded her assent but said nothing. If she cried or prayed or cursed, no one in the prison heard a word of it.

That she could face death was not a surprise to anyone. In 2006, a judge sentenced Rishawi to hang for her part in Jordan’s worst-ever terrorist attack: three simultaneous hotel bombings that killed sixty people, most of them guests at a wedding party. She was the suicide bomber who lived, an odd, heavy-browed woman made to pose awkwardly before TV cameras showing off the vest that had failed to explode. At one time, everyone in Amman knew her story, how this thirty-five-year-old unmarried Iraqi had agreed to wed a stranger so they could become a man-and-wife suicide team; how she panicked and ran; how she had wandered around the city’s northern suburbs in a taxi, lost, stopping passersby for directions, still wearing streaks of blood on her clothes and shoes.

But nearly ten years had passed. The hotels had been rebuilt and renamed, and Rishawi had vanished inside Jordan’s labyrinthine penal system. Within the Juwaida Women’s Prison, she wore a kind of faded notoriety, like a valuable museum piece that no one looks at anymore. Some of the older hands in the state security service called her "Zarqawi’s woman," a mocking reference to the infamous Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who ordered the hotel bombings. The younger ones barely remembered her at all.

Then, in the span of a month, everything changed. Zarqawi’s followers, it turned out, had not forgotten Rishawi. The terrorists had rebranded themselves over the years and were now known in Jordan by the Arabic acronym Daesh—in English, ISIS. And in January 2015, ISIS asked to have Rishawi back.

The demand for her release came in the middle of Jordan’s worst domestic crisis in years. A Jordanian air-force jet had crashed in Syria, and its young pilot had been captured alive by ISIS fighters. The group had broadcast photos of the frightened, nearly naked pilot being paraded around by grinning jihadists, some of them reaching out to embrace this great gift that Allah had dropped from the sky.

From the palace to the security agencies, the king and his advisers steeled themselves for even more awful news. Either the pilot would be publicly butchered by ISIS, they feared, or the terrorists would demand a terrible price for his ransom.

True to form, ISIS announced its decision in macabre fashion. Less than a week after the crash, the captured pilot’s family received a call at home, from the pilot’s own cell phone. On the other end, a stranger, speaking in Iraqi-accented Arabic, issued the group’s singular demand.

We want our sister Sajida,
the caller said.

The same demand was repeated, along with several new ones, in a constantly shifting and mostly one-sided negotiation. All the requests were routed to the headquarters of the Mukhabarat, Jordan’s intelligence service, and all eventually landed on the desk of the imposing forty-seven-year-old brigadier who ran the department’s counterterrorism unit. Even in an agency notorious for its toughness, Abu Haytham stood apart, a man with a burly street fighter’s physique and the personality of an anvil. He had battled ISIS in its many incarnations for years, and he had famously broken some of the group’s top operatives in interrogation. Zarqawi himself had taken several turns in Abu Haytham’s holding cell, and so had Sajida al-Rishawi, the woman ISIS was now seeking to free.

Outside of Jordan, the demand made little sense. Rishawi had no value as a fighter or a leader, or even as a symbol. She was known to have participated in exactly one terrorist attack, and she had botched it. Hardly "Zarqawi’s woman," she had never even met the man who ordered the strike. If ISIS hadn’t mentioned her name, she would likely have lived her remaining years quietly in prison, her execution indefinitely deferred for lack of any particular reason to carry it out.

But Abu Haytham understood. By invoking Rishawi’s name, the terrorists were reaching back to the group’s beginnings, back to a time before there was an ISIS, or a civil war in Syria; before the meltdown in Iraq that gave rise to the movement; even before the world had heard of a terrorist called Zarqawi. The Mukhabarat’s men had tried to keep this terrorist group from gaining a foothold. They had failed—sometimes through their own mistakes, more often because of the miscalculations of others. Now, Zarqawi’s jihadist movement had become a self-declared state, with territorial claims on two of Jordan’s borders. And Rishawi, the failed bomber, was one of many old scores that ISIS was ready to settle.

In summoning this forgotten ghost, ISIS was evoking one of the most horrifying nights in the country’s history, a moment seared into the memories of men of Abu Haytham’s generation, the former intelligence captains, investigators, and deputies who had since risen to lead the Mukhabarat. Once, Zarqawi had managed to strike directly at Jordan’s heart, and now, with the country’s pilot in their hands, ISIS was about to do it again.

---

Abu Haytham had been present that night. He could remember every detail of the crime for which Rishawi had been convicted and sentenced to hang. He could remember how the night had felt, the smell of blood and smoke, and the wailing of the injured.

Mostly he remembered the two girls.

They were cousins, ages nine and fourteen, and he knew their names: Lina and Riham. Local girls from Amman, out for a wedding party. They were both dressed in white, with small faces that were lovely and pale and perfectly serene. "Just like angels," he had thought.

They still wore the nearly identical lacy dresses their parents had bought for the party, and stylish shoes for dancing. Almost miraculously, from the neck up neither had suffered a scratch. When Abu Haytham first saw them, lying side by side on a board in those chaotic first moments at the hospital, he had wondered if they were sleeping. Injured, perhaps, but sedated and sleeping. Please, let them be sleeping, he had prayed.

But then he saw the terrible holes the shrapnel had made.

The girls would have been standing when it happened, as everyone was, whooping and clapping as the bride and groom prepared to make their entrance in the ballroom at Amman’s Radisson Hotel, which was lit up like a desert carnival on a cool mid-November evening. The newlyweds’ fathers, all big grins and rented tuxedos, had taken their places on the podium, and the Arabic band’s bleating woodwinds and throbbing drums had risen to a roar so loud that the hotel clerks in the lobby had to shout to be heard. The party was just reaching its gloriously noisy, sweaty, exuberant peak. No one appeared to have noticed two figures in dark coats who shuffled awkwardly near the doorway and then squeezed between the rows of cheering wedding guests toward the front of the ballroom.

There was a blinding flash, and then a sensation of everything falling—the ceiling, the walls, the floor. The shock wave knocked guests out of their beds on the hotel’s upper floors and blew out thick plate-glass doors in the lobby. A thunderclap, then silence. Then screams.

Only one of the bombs had gone off, but it cut through the ballroom like a swarm of flying razors. Hundreds of steel ball bearings, carefully and densely packed around the bomb’s core, sliced through wedding decorations, food trays, and upholstery. They splintered wooden tables and shattered marble tiles. They tore through evening gowns and fancy clutches, through suit jackets and crisp shirts, and through white, frilly dresses of the kind young girls wear to formal parties.

Abu Haytham, then a captain, was winding down another in a string of long shifts on that Wednesday in early November 2005. It was just before 9:00 p.m. when the first call came in, about an explosion of some kind at the Grand Hyatt across town. The early speculation was that a gas canister was to blame, but then came word of a second blast at the Days Inn Hotel, and then a third—reportedly far worse than the others—at the Radisson. Abu Haytham knew the place well. It was an Amman landmark, glitzy by Jordanian standards, perched on a hill and easily visible from most of the town, including from his own office building, nearly two miles away.

He raced to the hotel and pushed his way inside, past the rescue workers, the wailing survivors, and the recovered corpses that had been hauled out on luggage carts and deposited on the driveway. In the ballroom, through a haze of smoke and emergency lights, he could see more bodies. Some were sprawled haphazardly, as though flung by a giant. Others were missing limbs. On the smashed podium lay two crumpled forms in tuxedos. The fathers of both the bride and the groom had been near the bomber and died instantly.

Abu Haytham assembled teams that worked the three blast sites through the night, gathering whatever remnants they could find of the explosive devices, along with chunks of flesh that constituted the remains of three bombers. Only later, at the hospital, standing over a wooden slab in a makeshift morgue, was he overwhelmed by the horror of the evening: The broken bodies. The scores of wounded. The smell of blood and smoke. The girls, Lina and Riham, lying still in their torn white dresses. Abu Haytham, a doting father, had girls the same age.

"How," he said aloud, "does someone with a human heart do a thing like this?"

Just two days later came the news that one of the attackers—a woman—had survived and fled. A day after that, Sajida al-Rishawi sat in a chair in front of him.

She would surely know something, tied as she was to such an obviously important and well-planned mission. Where would the terrorists strike next? What plans were unfolding, perhaps at this very hour?

"I don’t know, I don’t know," the woman would occasionally manage, in a soft mumble. She repeated the line slowly, as though drugged.

Abu Haytham pleaded with her. He threatened. He appealed to her conscience, to religion, to Allah. Hours passed—crucial hours, he feared.

"How brainwashed you are!" he shouted at one point. "Why do you protect the people who put you up to this?"

The woman would never offer a useful syllable, then or in the months to come, after she was convicted and sentenced to die. Yet, already, Abu Haytham knew who was behind the act. All the Mukhabarat’s men knew, even before the culprit boasted of his responsibility in an audio recording made in his own voice. The signatures were all there: The coordinated blasts, all within ten minutes; the deployment of human bombers, each skillfully fitted with a device consisting of military-grade RDX explosive and enough loose metal to ensure maximum carnage. Most telling of all was the choice of targets—ordinary hotels where, on any given evening, Amman’s middle class would pack a rented ballroom in their finest apparel to celebrate a union or mark a milestone. No intelligence operative or general was likely to pass through the lobby of the Radisson at 9:00 p.m. on a weekday night. But scores of Jordanians would be there, clinging to the rituals of normal life in a country bordering a war zone.

Such hallmarks, like the voice on the audio recording, unmistakably belonged to Zarqawi, a man the Mukhabarat knew exceptionally well. He was, at the time of the bombing, the head of a particularly vicious terrorist network called al-Qaeda in Iraq. But the Jordanians had known him back in the days when he was Ahmad the hoodlum, a high school dropout with a reputation as a heavy drinker and a brawler. They had watched him wander off to Afghanistan in the late 1980s to fight the communists, then return as a battle-hardened religious fanatic. After a first try at terrorism, he had vanished into one of Jordan’s darkest prisons. This time he emerged as a battle-hardened religious fanatic who also happened to excel as a leader of men.

Abu Haytham had been among those who tried to alter Zarqawi’s path after prison. He had been the last intelligence officer to meet with him in 1999, before Zarqawi was granted permission to leave the country for good, headed again to Afghanistan and a future that surely—so the Jordanians thought—offered nothing more than futility and a dusty grave.

Then, in the most improbable of events, America intervened. Few beyond the intelligence service had heard of Zarqawi when Washington made him a terrorist superstar, declaring to the world in 2003 that this obscure Jordanian was the link between Iraq’s dictatorship and the plotters behind the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The claim was wrong, yet, weeks later, when U.S. troops invaded Iraq, the newly famous and well-funded terrorist gained a battleground and a cause and soon thousands of followers. Over three tumultuous years, he intentionally pushed Iraq to the brink of sectarian war by unleashing wave after wave of savage attacks on Shiite civilians in their mosques, bazaars, and schools. He horrified millions with a new form of highly intimate terrorism: the beheading of individual hostages, captured on video and sent around the world, using the Internet’s new power to broadcast directly into people’s homes. Along the way, he lashed out violently at his native Jordan and helped transform America’s lightning victory in Iraq into the costliest U.S. military campaign since Vietnam.

Yet his most significant accomplishment was not apparent until years later. Though some would cast his movement as an al-Qaeda offshoot, Zarqawi was no one’s acolyte. His brand of jihadism was utterly, brutally original. Osama bin Laden had sought to liberate Muslim nations gradually from corrupting Western influences so they could someday unify as a single Islamic theocracy, or caliphate. Zarqawi, by contrast, insisted that he would create his caliphate immediately—right now. He would seek to usher in God’s kingdom on Earth through acts of unthinkable savagery, believing, correctly, that theatrical displays of extreme violence would attract the most hardened jihadists to his cause and frighten everyone else into submission. His strategy shook the region as al-Qaeda never had.

But Zarqawi’s excesses also deepened his adversaries’ resolve. In the immediate aftermath of the hotel bombings, Abu Haytham and other Mukhabarat officers had a simple goal: to eliminate the man who had ordered them. And when they succeeded, in 2006, by providing the United States with intelligence that helped it track Zarqawi to his hideout, the terrorist and his organization appeared finished. Instead, his followers merely retreated, quietly gaining strength in Syria’s lawless provinces until they burst into view in 2013, not as a terrorist group, but as an army.

This time, war-weary America would refuse to help until it was too late. There would be no serious effort to arm the moderate rebels who sought to deny ISIS its safe haven, and no air strikes to harry ISIS’s leadership and supply lines. Twice in a decade, a jihadist wave had threatened to engulf the region. Twice, it seemed to the Jordanians, the American response had been to cut a fresh hole in the lifeboat.

Zarqawi’s successors called themselves by different names before settling on ISIS—or simply the Islamic State. But they continued to refer to Zarqawi as the "mujahid sheikh," acknowledging the founder who had the audacity to believe he could redraw the maps of the Middle East. And, like Zarqawi, they believed their conquests would not end there.

In the prophetic passages of the Muslim holy texts known as the Hadith, Zarqawi saw his fate foretold. He and his men were the black-clad soldiers of whom the ancient scholars had written: "The black flags will come from the East, led by mighty men, with long hair and beards, their surnames taken from their home towns." These conquerors would not merely reclaim the ancient Muslim lands. They also would be the instigators of the final cataclysmic struggle ending in the destruction of the West’s great armies, in northern Syria.

"The spark has been lit here in Iraq," Zarqawi preached, "and its heat will continue to intensify until it burns the Crusader armies in Dabiq."

The Mukhabarat’s men had heard enough of such talk from Zarqawi back when he was their prisoner. Now the brazen claims were coming from his offspring. Thirty thousand strong, they were waiting just across the border, calling for their sister Sajida.

---

The charade of a prisoner swap ended abruptly on February 3, 2015, the day after Jordan’s king arrived in Washingon for the official visit. For Abdullah II, it was the latest in a series of exhausting journeys in which he repeated the same appeal for help. His tiny country was struggling with two burdens imposed from abroad: a human tide of refugees from Syria—some six hundred thousand so far—and the cost of participating in the allied Western-Arab military campaign against ISIS. The trip was not going particularly well. Members of Congress offered sympathy but not much more; White House officials recited the usual pledges to bolster Jordan’s defenses and struggling economy, but the kind of assistance Abdullah most desperately needed was nowhere in the offing.

The king’s disappointment had long since hardened into resentment. During previous visits, President Obama had declined Jordan’s requests for laser-guided munitions and other advanced hardware that could take out ISIS’s trucks and tanks. On this trip, there was no firm commitment even for a meeting between the two leaders.

Abdullah was in the Capitol, making a pitch to Senator John McCain, the Republican senator and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, when one of the king’s aides interrupted him. The monarch stepped into the corridor and, on the small screen of a smartphone, watched ISIS deliver its final statement on the proposed prisoner swap. As video cameras rolled, masked jihadists marched the young Jordanian pilot into a small metal cage that had been doused with fuel. Then they lit a fire and filmed as the airman was burned alive.

By the time Abdullah returned to the meeting, McCain’s aides had seen the video as well. The monarch kept his composure, but McCain could see he was badly shaken.

"Can we do anything more for you?" McCain asked.

"I’m not getting support from your side!" Abdullah finally said. "I’m still getting only gravity bombs, and we’re not even getting resupplied with those. Meanwhile, we’re flying two hundred percent more missions than all the other coalition members combined, apart from the United States."

The king continued with his scheduled meetings, but he had already made up his mind to return home. He was making arrangements when the White House phoned to offer fifteen minutes with the president. Abdullah accepted.

Inside the Oval Office, Obama offered condolences to the pilot’s family and thanked the king for Jordan’s contributions to the military campaign against ISIS. The administration was doing all it could to be supportive, the president assured the monarch.

"No, sir, you are not," Abdullah said, firmly. He rattled off a list of weapons and supplies he needed.

"I’ve got three days’ worth of bombs left," he said, according to an official present during the exchange. "When I get home I’m going to war, and I’m going to use every bomb I’ve got until they’re gone."

There was one other item of business to attend to before his return. From the airport, Abdullah called his aides in Amman to start the process of carrying out a pair of executions. On Jordan’s death row, there were two inmates who had been convicted of committing murderous acts on orders from Zarqawi. One was an Iraqi man who had been a midlevel operative in Zarqawi’s Iraqi insurgency. The other was Sajida al-Rishawi. Both should be put to death without further delay.

The king foresaw that Western governments would protest the executions as acts of vengeance, even though both inmates had been convicted and sentenced long ago as part of normal court proceedings. But he would not be deterred. As far as he was concerned, the appointment with the hangman had already been delayed too long, he told aides.

"I don’t want to hear a word from anyone," Abdullah said.

The king was still airborne at 2:00 a.m. Amman time, when the guards arrived to collect Sajida al-Rishawi from her cell. She had declined the customary final meal and ritual bath with which devout Muslims cleanse the physical body in preparation for the afterlife. She donned the red uniform worn exclusively by condemned prisoners on the day of execution, along with the usual hijab for covering her head and face.

She was escorted outside the prison to a waiting van with a military escort for the drive to Swaqa, Jordan’s largest prison, on a desert hill about sixty miles south of the capital. The vehicles arrived just before 4:00 a.m., as a full moon, visible through a light haze, was dipping toward the southwestern horizon.

Her last earthly view, before she was blindfolded, was of a small execution chamber with white walls and a row of tiny windows, and a few tired faces looking up from the witness gallery just below her. An imam prayed as a noose with a heavy metal clasp was secured, and a judge asked if Rishawi cared to convey any last wishes or a final will. She gave no reply.

She likewise made no audible sound as the gallows’ trap opened and she plunged hard into the darkness. It was 5:05 a.m., nearly ninety minutes before sunrise, when the prison doctor checked for a pulse.

"Zarqawi’s woman" was dead, her execution the closing scene in the worst act of terrorism in Jordan’s history. But Zarqawi’s children were pursuing the founder’s far grander ambitions: the end of Jordan and its king, the erasing of international boundaries, and the destruction of the modern states of the Middle East. Then, with black flags raised above Muslim capitals from the Levant to the Persian Gulf, they could begin the great apocalyptic showdown with the West.

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Robert J. Hard
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A Fast and Furious History Lesson
Reviewed in the United States on January 18, 2016
So far there are two really superb books on the rise of the ISIS menace. One is Will McCants''s ISIS Apocalypse (reviewed by me a couple of months ago. See "Apocalypse Now" in the reader reviews for that fine work.) Black Flags--The Rise of ISIS by Jody Warrick is... See more
So far there are two really superb books on the rise of the ISIS menace. One is Will McCants''s ISIS Apocalypse (reviewed by me a couple of months ago. See "Apocalypse Now" in the reader reviews for that fine work.) Black Flags--The Rise of ISIS by Jody Warrick is the other. Surely there will be a third great book detailing the American-supported effort to crush these vermin, but that story has not been told because it has not yet occurred. But mark my words--it will.

Warrick''s narrative arc begins in Jordan, and centers on the prison where terrorists and suspects are held. The lead characters are Jihadist activists who will go on to play pivotal roles in Iraq and Syria, the redoubtable (if reluctant) King Abdullah II, and the principal figures of the Jordanian intelligence service. Cruel but not sadistic, hard-nosed but still human, dogged but not dogmatic, it is the Jordanian intelligence officials who come across as some of the real heroes of the piece. Warrick''s access to them is a true journalistic tour de force.

The main Jihadist character is Abu Musad al-Zarqawi, leader of something of a break-away faction of Al Qaeda in Iraq and founder of ISIS. A true religious fanatic (there is simply no other word for him), Zarqawi traveled to Afghanistan to fight the infidel Americans and curry favor with Osama Bin Laden. Although his battlefield exploits showed extraordinary courage, Bin Laden and his cohorts disliked and distrusted him and kept him at a far remove. As the Taliban strongholds were wrested free by the Americans, Zarqawi retreated to a lawless enclave of Iraq not controlled by Saddam Hussein''s government, From that inauspicious backwater in 2002 Zarqawi put together the skeleton of a Jihadist militia that would ultimately lead the insurgency against the Americans in Iraq.

With unprecedented access to primary sources, Warrick has been able to produce a detailed profile of Zarqawi''s rise to power--his character, his murderous message, and why that message fell on such receptive ears. (Spoiler alert: It had a lot to do with American missteps in the occupation, but such missteps occurred in a context that was hardly America''s making. Underlying the insurgency, and the subsequent rise of ISIS, is the 1000-year-old Sunni-Shiite sectarian conflict. The Iraqi Shi''ites, long suppressed by the majority Sunnis, were only too thrilled to settle ancient scores. That''s what they were in the midst of doing when Zarqawi''s group essentially rallied them under the banner of "Kill every Shia you can find." Ultimately Zarqawi would die in his "safe house" when it was hit by American 500-pounders. But the bones of his Jihadist organization and its revolting ideology would survive. The best analysis of his successor, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi (the self-styled Caliph) is found in McCants''s ISIS Apocalypse, mentioned above.)

In a delicious irony, Zarqawi''s ragtag bunch of AK-toting thugs was under the watchful eye of a CIA team that had smuggled themselves into Iraq to get a handle on Saddam''s military and its possible links to radical Islamists back in 2002. It was soon obvious that the only only thing that Saddam and the Islamists shared was mutual hatred. (Indeed, Charles "Sam" Fadis, the 47-year-old leader of the CIA team of soldier-spies, realized that a team of under cover Iraqi military men camped nearby were doing the same as he was--spying on the militants to assess how much of a threat they were.) For six months Fadis begged and pleaded with his superiors for a strike that would have wiped out Zerqawi''s whole troop, then numbering just a few hundred at most.

In irony bordering on paradox, his requests were turned down. Initially, Stan McCrystal at the Pentagon proposed a large, complex strike (which Rumsfeld, to his credit, supported), but which Condoleza Rice opposed on political grounds and others felt was just too complex. Fadis proposed a variety of simpler approaches (any one of which could have been decisive), but these too were turned down. The last turn-down came in January 2003. Among the arguments against an assault at this point was that the decision to invade Iraq had been made, but the public rationale had not been. In that a main pillar of the argument was that Saddam was supporting Islamic terrorists (the reality was just the opposite), it would ruin our argument for invading Iraq if the terrorists were eliminated in a pre-emptive strike before the war began. In other words, having terrorists in Iraq was just too good a pretext for an invasion to let it go to waste by actually solving that problem before it got out of hand, the rationale being that since we were invading anyway, we could wipe them out more publicly once we got there.

What the White House war planners failed to appreciate, of course, was that these guys did not have their feet nailed to the sand, and were free to disband and relocate once the invasion occurred. That is what they did, and in the chaos that ensued from our abject failure to plan for post-invasion government, they were well-entrenched in urban areas before we knew they''d left the countryside. Many tens of thousands of lives were lost in consequence, and the ISIS threat emerged from the ruins.

It would be too cynical to suggest that everyone in the White House knew that there was no link between Saddam and the Islamo-terrorists. Some did, but some didn''t, and the loudest voice of denial came from Dick Cheney (misadvised by the equally misguided Douglas Feith). Dick Cheney''s apparent faith in the veracity of this fictional linkage is almost a thing of beauty--if the consequences had not been so ugly and so vastly at variance with America''s best interests. While Cheney plays a very small role in Warrick''s narrative, and is never singled out for any kind of special criticism, it is hard not to see him as either a bullying imbecile or a pathological liar or both.

(In truth, Cheney probably saw Saddam as unfinished business from his time as Secretary of Defense in the first Iraq War in 1991. He longed to finish that business, but there was no serious legal basis for starting another war. In that context, 9-11 came like a gift from the Almighty, providing a rare opportunity for an historic do-over. If, that is, Saddam was somehow instrumental in 9-11. Hence Cheney''s pathological need to connect the dots, even when it was manifest that the dots were on completely different pages and written in different books. To the degree that Islamic extremists are a threat to Western values, Saddam''s secularist regime was one of the better allies we could have had, but such was the prevailing arrogance and almost willful blindness, this practical political reality was rejected out of hand.)

For Warrick there are definitely some heroes in this page-turning tale. One is Nada Bakos, the 20-something CIA analyst who made a specialty of profiling and tracking Zarqawi. How a farm girl from Montana (there were only nine boys and girls in her high school class) has the chops to sift thousands and thousands of pages of raw intelligence to limn an accurate picture of a major terrorist about whom no one else in the Agency had any inkling is something of an enduring mystery. But there it is, and it says something good about the CIA that it could still find and cultivate talent of that ilk. (Cheney tried unsuccessfully to bully her into silence, and was still badgering her to establish an Iraqi link to the terrorists of 9-11 two years after the invasion of Iraq!) In yet another irony of history''s turning wheel, numbers of Baathist soldiers whom we stripped of all power and prestige after the invasion have now re-emerged among the ranks of ISIS, giving ISIS a level of military competence they never would have had if we had just left things alone.)

Another hero (not dwelt on but certainly of serious note) is Gen Stan McCrystal, who led the Special Forces in Iraq. This was urban fighting at its toughest and dirtiest--house to house, room by room, usually in the dark of night. Maybe it was atonement for not coming up with a better plan to kill Zarqawi in 2002, but McCrystal led numbers of these urban attack squads personally.There aren''t many in the Pentagon with such a valid claim to gallantry.

President Bush does not come off that badly. While Rumsfeld is locked in denial that an insurgency is even occurring, Bush sadly realizes that everything has gone terribly, terribly wrong and does his level best to right the ship that he has inadvertently steered onto the rocks. President Obama comes off less well, hoping that diplomacy and some sort of mythical public pressure will force Assad of Syria from office without his having to commit American troops. Most particularly grievous was (and remains) the failure to arm the Free Syrian Army (the non-Islamist Sunni opponents of Assad) in a timely manner.

Such an opportunity was presented, and rejected by Obama, in the summer of 2012. I thought Warrick was a bit one-sided in his argument in this section, failing (as he did) to mention that the President was locked in a tight re-election race at the time. In that getting our troops out of war in the Middle East was a central tenet of his campaign message (as it had been in 2008), it struck me as a tad unreasonable to expect the man to completely reverse himself in the middle of a campaign and fan the winds of war. The exigencies of politics aside, the President''s continuing refusal to get involved a year later, in 2013, is something else again. The facts on the ground had changed, and seriously worsened, and by then he would have had enough political cover to change course and do something constructive (meaning destructive, where ISIS is concerned). Interestingly, among those arguing unsuccessfully for a more aggressive approach was Hillary Clinton. Consequently, I would surmise that no matter who wins the 2016 Presidential sweepstakes, U.S. forces will be taking a more active role in Syria in 2017.

But I digress. The arc of Black Flags takes us back to Jordan where it began. And Warrick argues convincingly that that''s where our key alliance must begin. That King Abdullah was in Washington in mid-January 2016 and did not get to meet with the President, signals to me that he is still substituting hope for experience, which may make the next President''s job--and the lives of Syrians and Iraqis both--a lot tougher than they absolutely need to be.

It will not be easy. It is not simply a matter of dropping a bunch of bombs and then walking away triumphant, as some simple minded souls seem to believe. The lesson of the Iraq fiasco is that once the bombs stop falling, you need to pick up the pieces: Restart the water and food supplies, provide at least basic medical care, get electricity and phones working, provide a police force that is at least reasonably honest, courts of justice, and prisons that aren''t training grounds for the next generation of terrorists. We are talking about the work of years, not weeks or months. Obama doesn''t think that the American people wish to bear that burden. For all I know, he''s right. But we really ought to talk about it.

In conclusion. Black Flags reads like a fast-paced novel: part spy thriller. part war story, part political intrigue. I really wish it were fiction, but it''s not. It is the sad and tragic history of our immediate past and present, with insights into our future.
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Aaron P. Jackson
3.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
A biography of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi with a little bit about ISIS tacked onto the end
Reviewed in the United States on December 27, 2019
My expectations of this book were quite high given that it won the Pulitzer Prize and was recommended to me by a colleague whose judgement I hold in high regard. Frankly, for two reasons the book did not live up to these expectations, and was a somewhat disappointing... See more
My expectations of this book were quite high given that it won the Pulitzer Prize and was recommended to me by a colleague whose judgement I hold in high regard. Frankly, for two reasons the book did not live up to these expectations, and was a somewhat disappointing read.

The first reason is author Joby Warrick’s excessive focus on the early life, rise and career of Abu Musab al-Zaqawi, the Jordanian founder of Al Qaeda in Iraqi and its leader from 2004 until his death in 2006. It is telling that Warrick states in the acknowledgements section of the book that: “The idea for this book about the origins of ISIS began taking shape before there was a terrorist organization called by that name. It arose in part from a long interest in Abu Musab al-Zarqawi...” (p. 325). This interest is evident in the book’s presentation of a highly detailed account of Zarqawi’s life and exploits, which is the focus of the first (and longest) two of the book’s three sections. Warrick then tacks onto the end of this a relatively brief discussion of the transition of Al Qaeda in Iraq into Daesh (also known by the title Warrick uses, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS), and the subsequent rise of Daesh up until the time the book was published in early 2016. This third section seems like something of an afterthought. It is rushed in its execution, and it lacks the same depth that characterizes the first two sections of the book.

The second reason this book did not live up to my expectations is its frustrating style of prose. It is written in a narrative style that would be better suited to fiction than to the non-fictional historical account that this book presents. As a result of this style the book often takes a few pages to present information that could have easily been condensed into a few paragraphs if the author had chosen to write in a style more conducive to the subject matter, and I found myself frequently wishing that Warrick would hurry up and get to the point.

The combined result of these two aspects of the book is that it contains relatively little information about Daesh itself, which it takes a long time to covey. This is offset to some degree by the extent of the information given about the early rise of Takfiri terrorist groups, particularly in Jordan from the 1990s and in Iraqi in the early-to-mid 2000s, although Warrick still takes longer than necessary to convey this information.

Indeed, there is a lot of background information in this book that helps to explain the spread of the Takfiri philosophy underlying Daesh’s religious views, and how this became manifest in Al Qaeda in Iraq and subsequently in the formation of Daesh itself. The book would have lived up to its full potential if this had been balanced by inclusion of detailed discussions about the operational and tactical aspects of Daesh’s activities. In particular, the battlefield aspects of Daesh’s victories in Iraq in 2014-15, the Iraqi political and military situation at that time, and how this situation enabled Daesh to win the victories that it did against the Iraqi Army, are all areas of discussion that are notable in their under-development.

Among the background information included in the first two sections of the book, the parts that discuss developments in Jordan are arguably the best executed and most detailed. The book successfully conveys a Jordanian view of events in the region, while also emphasizing the often-understated Jordanian role as a key American regional ally. In terms of the key characters described in the book, Jordan’s King Abdullah II emerges as a wise ruler in troubled times, and he is convincingly portrayed as an undervalued American ally against the various Takfiri terrorist groups that are active in the region. When Warrick finally turns his attention to Syria he also does a good, if less detailed, job of describing President Bashir al-Assad’s motives and actions, and how these contributed both to the start of the Syrian civil war and to the subsequent conditions under which Daesh was incubated in Syria before it invaded Iraq.

In light of the extent and quality of this background information, one is left to conclude that the main problem with this book is that its title is misleading. This is because the title creates an expectation that the majority of the book’s attention will be focused on Daesh itself, instead of the extensive background information that it contains about the rise of Takfiri Islamic extremism from the 1990s to the death of Zarqawi in 2006. This book will no doubt be of interest to readers largely unfamiliar with this history, and for the same reasons that I found it frustrating, the book’s narrative style is likely to make this history more easily accessible to a general audience. On the other hand, for those seeking details about Daesh itself, particularly during and after its invasion of Iraq, the book is of much more limited value.
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Mamlukman
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Reads like a novel, but is full of information
Reviewed in the United States on March 10, 2016
Generally I''m fairly critical, and I find mistakes or things I don''t like. Not here. This is as good as it gets--it reads like a novel. If you come to this book knowing nothing, you will know a lot after you read it. If you come to this book as an amateur expert, there''s... See more
Generally I''m fairly critical, and I find mistakes or things I don''t like. Not here. This is as good as it gets--it reads like a novel. If you come to this book knowing nothing, you will know a lot after you read it. If you come to this book as an amateur expert, there''s still a lot here. In short, a fantastic book. One of the few I can unreservedly recommend.

One of the major themes of the book is something I have said for about 50 years: The people on the front line, the actual workers, know what''s going on. The further up the chain of command you go, the more information gets twisted and distorted. By the time you get to the president (of a corporation or the USA), ignorance reigns supreme. There are exceptions, but they are rare. (In a personal example that seems like a Dilbert cartoon but is true, I once made the huge mistake of talking to a VP while waiting for the elevator. Within minutes I was in my supervisor''s office being chewed out for not going through the chain of command. But if the president only talks to senior VP''s, who only talk to the VP''s, who only talk to the senior directors, who only talk to the directors, who only talk to the managers…ignorance prevails.)

King Abdullah of Jordan makes appearances throughout the book. He warns of things to beware of, he suggests courses of actions, he pleads for help. He is ignored--constantly. Why the West is not listening to him and supporting him in every way possible is a mystery. Did you know about the "Amman Message" Abdullah issued in 2004? I didn''t, and I''ve studied this subject for 20 years. It has its own web site: Amazon won''t let me post it, but you can search for it.

Various people (for example, State Dept. spokesperson Marie Harf in 2015) have blamed socio-economic problems for the rise of Islamic extremism. Read what the extremists say about themselves (for example, ISIS publishes a slick monthly magazine called "Dabiq" that''s available online (again, do a search). Not once do extremists complain about the economy, jobs, discrimination, or all of the Western hit list of societal ills. So what motivates them? Religion. It''s that simple. So if the West offers them democracy, free speech, and better jobs, Islamic extremists just mock them if they take any notice at all. Anyone who thinks this isn''t about religion simply hasn''t read or listened to what the extremists have to say. So propaganda aimed at non-religious issues just misses the mark and bounces off its intended targets. What the West should be supporting wholeheartedly are religious arguments (as in "The Amman Message" or "Open Letter to al-Baghdadi"). These religious arguments should be given full page advertisements in major newspapers and magazines, should be discussed constantly, and should be reproduced and dropped as leaflets oven extremists territory. They should also be reproduced and distributed in every mosque in the world--Muslim countries and non-Muslim countries alike. Every dollar spent on these activities would be better spent than a million dollars on bombs.

Another hero of the story is Nada Bakos, a CIA analyst assigned to track Zarqawi. She writes reports to her superiors, who alter her reports to suit their own bosses, who alter them to suit their own bosses…. you get the idea. Page 97: "Bakos often found herself yelling at the television screen, as though she were contesting a referee''s blown call in a football game. Now Powell, like Cheney, was "asserting to the public as fact something that we found to be anything but," she later said." Bush and the boys twisted her reports 180 degrees, turning black into white! Good job.

Another revealing incident is when the CIA operatives and some Kurds have Zarqawi and his group in their sights in a hideout in N. Kurdistan. They plea for an air strike to take him out. Nope, do can do. Then they plea for better weapons to take him out. Nope. Then they plea for permission to just go in with what they''ve got. Nope. Political considerations. And so it goes…Zarqawi of course got away by the time Bush decided to act--after the 2004 election. But hey, that didn''t matter did it? Just the foundation of ISIS, a few thousand deaths, the destabilization of Europe, mass terrorism, you know, the usual.

One can only hope that in 10 years it is not necessary to write a book detailing all the missed opportunities and the ignorance of leaders.
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joel wing
1.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Becomes a train wreck of a book because author can''t stay focused on topic
Reviewed in the United States on September 30, 2020
Black Flags, The Rise Of ISIS by journalist Joby Warrick purports to be about Abu Musab al-Zarqawi the founder of Al Qaeda in Iraq and his legacy the Islamic State. The problem is that Warrick let his sources shape his writing, meaning the major players he talked with... See more
Black Flags, The Rise Of ISIS by journalist Joby Warrick purports to be about Abu Musab al-Zarqawi the founder of Al Qaeda in Iraq and his legacy the Islamic State. The problem is that Warrick let his sources shape his writing, meaning the major players he talked with including people like Jordan’s King Abdullah, former U.S. Ambassador Robert Ford, retired General Stanley McChrystal and others determined what he wrote about whether they were relevant to his topic or not. It makes for a very uneven book that becomes more discordant as it progresses.

The best part of Black Flags is the middle which is about the rise and fall of Zarqawi. It begins with a biography of the terrorist with his troubled upbringing in Jordan where he was constantly in trouble. It was his mother that pushed him towards religion in the hopes that it would straighten him out. Instead it led him to go to Afghanistan in 1989 where he got his first taste of combat and jihadists. He returned to Jordan in 1993, formed a group called Bayat al-Imam with his mentor Abu Mohammed al-Maqdisi, but was arrested before he could do anything. His imprisonment would make him a leader, and when he was amnestied in 1999 he returned to Afghanistan. There he got funding from Al Qaeda while being able to maintain his independence. After the Taliban were overthrown he went to Iraqi Kurdistan to prepare to fight the Americans. The U.S. made him a celebrity with Secretary of State Powell’s speech to the United Nations in 2003 claiming he was the connection between Iraq and Al Qaeda. After the U.S. invasion he carried out a series of bombings that warned Arab states not to have embassies in Iraq, for international and humanitarian organization to leave the country, and started sectarian tensions between Sunnis and Shiites. He effectively undermined the U.S. occupation in a matter of months. This is mostly common history and Warrick doesn’t add much, but it collects it all together in one tome. If the author had been able to just stick to Zarqawi and the organization he gave birth to which became the Islamic State this might have been a worthwhile book. Instead it went completely off the rails.

How Warrick’s sources shaped his book are apparent right at the start. His beginning appears to be more about Jordan than his topic. There’s an entire chapter on how King Abdullah came to power in Jordan for instance. It covers a female suicide bomber that failed in her mission and was captured in Jordan. Years later in 2014 the Islamic State demanded she be released in return for a Jordanian pilot it captured. Again, the entire story is told from the Jordanian perspective because Warrick interviewed several members of Jordanian intelligence and the king. The author’s intent seemed to be if he interviewed someone then he was going to include their stories narrative be damned!

The last third of the book gets even worse. Warrick starts skipping from topic to topic seemingly losing complete focus upon his topic of the Islamic State, and again letting his sources drive his writing. For instance, he covers the U.S. re-establishing diplomatic relations with Syria in 2011 because he talked with Robert Ford who was sent to Damascus as the ambassador. Then he switches to Jordan’s King Abdullah attempting to reach out to the Assad government which failed. Finally, the Islamic State emerges with the rise of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi to be the leader of the group, but then it’s back to the Obama administration and Syria and Jordan as well. The book even ends with the Islamic State burning the captured Jordanian pilot in 2014 and claiming that was the real turning point in the fight against IS that year. Most of this is completely irrelevant and meanders back and forth between his favorite sources. It’s so bad that if the reader skipped the last one hundred pages of Black Flags they would probably be better off.

Overall, this makes for a very disappointing read. The history of Zarqawi is good, but not something that can’t be found in other sources. The fact that Warrick couldn’t stay focused because he was so reliant upon his sources eventually made for a train wreck in the last third of Black Flags.

Musings On Iraq Blog
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Lionel S. Taylor
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
How One Man Started A Terrorist Group
Reviewed in the United States on September 22, 2018
This book is a history of ISIS and how it was started by one man in a Jordanian prison. The author argues that the rise of Zarqawi was a confluence of chance events and mistakes made by several governments. Zarqawi and Isis are unintentional products of the 2002 Iraq... See more
This book is a history of ISIS and how it was started by one man in a Jordanian prison. The author argues that the rise of Zarqawi was a confluence of chance events and mistakes made by several governments. Zarqawi and Isis are unintentional products of the 2002 Iraq invasion. This book traces Zarqawi''s start in a Jordan as a common street thug to Iraq where he blends his taste for thuggish violence with a particular brand of Islamic fundamentalism. His movement was based on shocking sensational violence that appealed to young men who were not particularly religious but were attracted to the violence and action that ISIS promised. Even after his death other people stepped into Zarqawi place to continue his movement.
What i found most interesting about the book was its explanation of how many of the member of this movement are islamasized radicals rather than radicalized Islamist most were petty criminals and thugs who were looking for a cause to follow and killing its members as the sole strategy will not put an end to this movement. The conditions that give rise to is must also be stopped. This book would be of interest to anyone who wants to understand the recent history of the Middle East and the aftermath of the Iraq War.
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J. M. Alexander
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
An Important Book for This Dangerous World
Reviewed in the United States on May 24, 2016
This is a very pertinent book about the rise of the terrorist group that we most commonly call ISIS. Much of it focuses on two very important characters in this tragedy, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (given name Ahmad Fadil al Khalayleh), the founder of al-Qaeda in Iraq, the... See more
This is a very pertinent book about the rise of the terrorist group that we most commonly call ISIS. Much of it focuses on two very important characters in this tragedy, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (given name Ahmad Fadil al Khalayleh), the founder of al-Qaeda in Iraq, the forerunner to ISIS; and King Abdullah II, the fourth sovereign of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. My treatment will be more on Zarqawi, but Abdullah is definitely the only “hero’ in this tale.
Zarqawi was born in Jordan on October 30, 1966. His family was working class, his father a municipal worker and his mother a devoutly religious parent. As a young man Zarqawi was introduced to radical Islamists when he traveled to Afghanistan in 1989, weeks after the Soviets had withdrawn, but just in time to join the assault on the pro-Moscow Afghan government that was left to fend for itself. By the time he left Afghanistan in 1993, he was a combat veteran with a few years of battlefield experience. He had been steeped in the doctrine of militant Islam, learning at the feet of radical Afghan and Arab clerics who would later ally themselves with the Taliban or with Osama bin Laden. He firmly believed that the victory in Afghanistan was granted by God.
When Zarqawi returned to Jordan he wanted to continue the jihad he had carried out in Afghanistan, but quickly ran afoul of the Jordanian secret service. He was jailed, and after some time was transferred to a notorious prison that had been recently reopened. He was accompanied by a number of other jihadist, most of whom were common street thugs. However, he was also housed with Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi, a firebrand preacher who advanced an austere brand of Islam which he had invented. In his view, each Muslim bore a personal obligation to act when confronted with evidence of official heresy. It wasn’t enough for the faithful simply to denounce corrupt rulers. They were compelled by Allah to slaughter them. Maqdisi was the leader, and told the inmates what to think. But he was also a polite intellectual, not the right mix for controlling the hard men he encountered in prison. Maqdisi needed an enforcer. In Zarqawi, he found the perfect helper: a man with the distinction of being at once slavishly devoted and utterly ruthless. Maqdisi may control what the prisoners thought, but Zarqawi controlled everything else. The harsh conditions in the prison may have been meant to break the jihadists, but they instead cemented their devotion to their cause, to each other, and especially to Zarqawi. Although a tough, frightful individual, Zarqawi displayed great loyalty and kindness to his fellow prisoners. He was the man they would follow.
Zarqawi seemed destined to a long imprisonment until the death of Jordan’s King Hussein in February of 1999. Surprisingly, the king had named his son, Abdullah, to ascend to the throne, even though it had long been assumed that the king’s brother, Hassan, would be his successor. Abdullah took power determined to continue the good works of his father. One of the first issues facing the young king was a long standing tradition dating back to Jordan’s founding whereby new kings were expected to declare a general amnesty in the country’s prisons, granting pardons to inmates convicted of non violent offenses or political crimes. This was a way to “clean the slate and score points with important constituencies, from the Islamists”, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, “***to powerful East Bank tribes.” Parliament was given the task of nominating release worthy prisoners and drafting the particulars of the amnesty. In the end, the list, now with more than twenty-five hundred names, was endorsed by Parliament and sent to the palace for the final approval. The king, then just six weeks into his new job and still picking his way through a three-dimensional minefield of legislative, tribal, and royal politics, faced a choice of either adopting the list or sending it back for weeks of additional debate. He signed it. Among the names was that of Zarqawi.
Zarqawi needed to go where he could advance the radical causes that he had become inculcated with in Afghanistan and in prison. He thus returned to Afghanistan to link up with his prior mentor, Osama bin Laden. But, rather than being accepted, he was snubbed- he was probably too violent and too stubborn to be part of al-Qaeda. Indeed, while bin Laden had sought to liberate Muslim nations gradually from corrupting Western influences so they could someday unify as a single Islamic theocracy, or caliphate, Zarqawi, by contrast, insisted that he would create his caliphate immediately. Zarqawi also saw a future when not only would ancient Muslim lands be reclaimed, but he and his followers would also be the instigators of a final cataclysmic struggle ending in the destruction of the West’s great armies at a grand battle in northern Syria. But, rejected by bin Laden, where could Zarqawi find the environment for his revolution? The event following the attack of 9/11 provided the answer-Iraq.
Secretary Powell’s speech to the UN linked Zarqawi and Saddam, saying that the dictator “harbored” Zarqawi, an associate of bin Laden. The CIA intelligence expert who had studied Zarqawi cringed at the statement, knowing that although there may be some technical element of truth- Zarqawi was hiding in a remote area of Iraq- there was no evidence that Saddam was aiding him in any way. Indeed, Saddam despised Islamists and had tortured and killed many. With Powell’s statement, he tried to link al-Qaeda to Iraq, but unwittingly transformed Zarqawi from an unknown jihadist to an international celebrity and the toast of the Islamist movement. In deciding to use the unsung Zarqawi as an excuse for launching a new front in the war against terrorism, the White House had managed to launch the career of one of the century’s great terrorists. We thus initially empowered Zarqawi and then, in the environment following the tragic invasion of Iraq, provided him with the turmoil necessary for his movement to thrive. Al-Quaeda in Iraq became a reality and a grave threat to American troops, and to any hope of peace in he region.
The subsequent invasion of Iraq began a series of blunders that Zarqawi was able to exploit to the fullest. The Americans were in fact treated well immediately after the fall of Saddam. However, that warm welcome quickly cooled for at least two reasons. One was the failure of the US to anticipate the breakdown of civil authority that followed the invasion, This was a serious planning omission that caused a great deal or resentment in the Iraqi people as they watched the looting and plunder that followed the invasions. The second was an act of commission when the Bush administration decided to disband the Iraqi army and ban all Baath party members from positions of authority. Since anyone seeking a management job under Saddam was required to join the Baath party, excluding all such trained individuals from the new government essentially removed the pool of qualified applicants from any significant jobs, including those in the security agencies best equipped to preserve order. Disbanding the army essentially left thousands of disgruntled soldiers who were ripe for recruitment, many of whom rose to positions of leadership in Zarqawi’s army. As the author so aptly pointed out:
“If Abu Musab al-Zarqawi could have dictated a U.S. strategy for Iraq that suited his own designs for building a terrorist network, he could hardly have come up with one that surpassed what the Americans themselves put in place over the spring and summer of 2003.”
Zarqawi was able to inflame sectarian violence between Shiite and Sunni factions in Iraq and place the Americans in the midst of a three sided war.
Zarqawi approached the insurgency in Iraq with ruthless intensity. Not being an Iraqi, he had no qualms about the country being essentially destroyed by violence. If fact, such turmoil was consistent with his objective to raze and tear down the country, leaving it too depleted to support the return of a secular country called Iraq. He countenanced and encouraged violence against other Muslims, especially Shiia’s. Meanwhile, the internal insurgency saw Shiias rising against the minority Sunnis who had long dominated under Saddam. Many Iraqis saw the foreign Islamists as preferable to the Americans, especially as the US soldiers became more and more disenchanted with their role, and, perhaps more significantly, after the debacle at Abu Ghraib. But Zarqawi would ultimately be a victim of his own bloodthirsty tactics. Killing other innocent Muslims is, for most Muslims, inconsistent with the Koran, regardless of whether they be Sunni or Shia. Nor could the destruction of Mosques be countenanced. However, Islam has no centralized religious hierarchy to settle theological disputes. Instead, Muftis, Sunni clerics of a certain rank, can issues religious edicts called fatwas, even though they may disagree wildly on the same topic. Thus, Zarqawi was able to enlist such clerics to justify his barbarity against other Muslims. To combat this heresy, King Abdullah brought together more than two hundred Islamic scholars, representing more than fifty countries, to gather in Jordan and craft an expansive statement declaring that it was impossible to “***declare as apostates any group of Muslims who believes in God.” The King then called on all moderates, of all religions, to speak out against the barbarity of the extremists.
Despite such warnings, and the disenchantment of Muslims, Zarqawi continued this attacks, perhaps culminating, at least for Jordanians, in the bombing of a wedding party at the Raddison Hotel in Amman. Thereafter, the Jordanian secret police began to cooperate with the American special forces in gaining intelligence and conducting raids against terrorist cells in Iraq. One such bombing raid killed Zarqawi in June of 2006. But he left behind a dangerous legacy. Indeed, Zarqawi’s foreign-led terrorist network had morphed into something more insidious and homegrown, as scores of jihadists stood ready to take up his mantle.
But these forces were not unchallenged at the time of and after Zarqawi’s death. The Muslim world had tired of the barbarity of Zarqawi’s tactics as videotaped suicide bombings and beheadings became more commonplace. More importantly, as described above, “fusion cells” comprised of US special forces, largely teams of Navy SEALS and Army DELTA Force, were becoming more and more successful in their pursuit of Islamist militants. Their tactics had been honed to a fine edge enabling small units of a half dozen commandos to carry out multiple raids on a single night. These operations worked on many levels. The accelerated tempo of the nightly operations kept the terrorists off balance, unable to coordinate or plan sophisticated attacks. The raids also produced torrents of fresh intelligence, including insights into the recruitment and training of suicide bombers. The US forces also discovered that, although the jihadists were skilled butchers, they were not good soldiers. By the end of 2008 Zarqawi’s old organization was significantly weakened.
By then it had transformed into the Islamic State of Iraq, and would ultimately be what we now know as ISIS. The first leader was one Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, who headed the organization form 2006-2010. His successor was Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. This second Baghdadi had the same soaring ambitions as Zaqawi, foreseeing a caliphate stretching through much of Syria and Iraq, and envisioning the apocalyptic defeat of the West in a grand battle in northern Syria. However, in late 2011 his boasts were as empty as the group’s coffers. The Islamic State of Iraq lacked resources, fighters, and sanctuary. And, perhaps most critically, it lacked a cause—a single big idea with which it could rally its depleted forces and draw other Muslims into the fold. As Zarqawi found a fertile ground for his jihad in war torn Iraq, Baghdadi would find a similar environment in the ascending turmoil in Syria.
The much heralded “Arab Spring” had spread from Tunisia to Egypt and threatened other parts of the Middle East and beyond. It first appeared as if Syria, led by Bashar al-Assad, might escape its reach. The country’s economic and political elite was solidly behind the ruling family, and the government’s officially secularist policies and brutal secret police kept ethnic and sectarian tensions bottled up. But as tensions rose elsewhere, they finally spread to Syria. By March of 2011 protests sprung up in many cities throughout the country. They seemed genuinely peaceful at the start, but Assad, contrary to what he viewed as failed attempts at appeasement in other countries, decided not to accommodate the protester’s demands for political and economic reforms. He would instead try to “***bludgeon, gas, and shoot his way out of the crisis.” Similar protests had arisen in Jordan, but King Abdullah quickly instituted reforms that quelled the uprising. Seeing the danger with the pending violence in his Syrian neighbor, and the threat to both his country and the entire Middle East, Abdullah tried to convince Assad to consider similar actions, but to no avail. Assad would fight on. Throughout 2011 the US refrained from intervening in the conflict, not only because of the limited options, but also because the conventional wisdom predicted Assad’s impending fall.
Attempting to gain support against the opposition, Assad painted them as terrorists. This was initially not true, but, by early 2012, became more credible as Baghdadi and ISIS flowed into Syria to oppose Assad. Its goal was not to save Syria, but to rekindle the ambition for a new Caliphate in the region. Now there was a credible force aligned against Assad. Baghdadi had fighters, and now money came flowing into his coffers from wealthy Sunni Arabs and governments who saw a chance to dethrone the Shia regime of Assad. But Assad also had powerful allies in Iran and Russia, as well as Hezbollah fighters. The stage was set for the bloody stalemate that has devastated the country.
As the conflict wore on, there were more calls for intervention by the US, including requests from Abdullah of Jordan. However, President Obama continued to be wary of being drawn into another Middle Eastern war, an attitude held by most of Congress and the electorate. The threat from ISIS became more telling as it made significant gains in IRAQ in 2014. In the late spring, the troops of the Islamic State surged across western Iraq and into the consciousness of millions of people around the world. Moving with remarkable speed, ISIS vanquished four Iraqi army divisions, overran at least a half-dozen military installations, including western Iraq’s largest, and seized control of nearly a third of Iraq’s territory. These rather recent events are fresh in many memories, especially as we saw the Iraqi army, trained and equipped by the United States, swiftly defeated by what seemed a rather comparatively ill-equipped and trained adversary. ISIS’s capture of Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, was especially troublesome, as a small rebel column of reportedly 1500 men quickly defeated an Iraqi force estimated at 25,000. But the author points out that the Iraqi forces were actually much smaller, perhaps no more than 10,000, and terribly ill equipped. The loss of men was largely due to desertion, and most of the heavy arms and equipment had been moved back to defend the threats to Baghdad. ISIS quickly took the city and with it, control of a great deal of resources. But there was another story behind these successes.
The sectarian problems in Iraq had never been resolved after the withdrawal of the Americans. The Shias now in power were “settling scores” with the Sunni minority who had controlled the country under Saddam. This split was not only religious, but also tribal. The author points out that, not only in Iraq, but also throughout the region, tribalism is still a strong unifier, and thus also a divider. The Sunni tribes were especially resistant and opposed to the Shia government. Their cooperation with ISIS was a major factor in much of its success. Indeed, the author noted that
“in the end, the movement’s greatest military success was less a statement of ISIS’s prowess than a reflection of the same deep divides that had roiled Iraq since the U.S. invasion in 2003.”
But the tribes had no intention of being subjugated to the type of governance that ISIS envisioned. They saw the rebels’ gains as more temporary But ISIS, once entrenched, gained a great deal of traction. It’s expansionist ambitions continued, matched by its continued savagery that had already worn thin with most of the Muslim world. Continued attacks on Jordan steeled the resolve of the people and of Abdullah, who joined with the US and other allies in conducting bombing strikes against ISIS. During a raid a Jordanian pilot, a Sunni Muslim, was shot down and captured. In a horrific display of violence ISIS burned him alive as videos streamed their cruelty across the globe. This may well have been a momentous point in the conflict. The author notes that
“ it was the death of the young pilot that sparked a change among ordinary Arabs. From Jordan’s cosmopolitan capital to the conservative Wahabi villages of Saudi Arabia came howls of condemnation and rage. The beheading of prisoners, brutal though it was, was specifically countenanced by the Koran and regularly practiced by the Saudi government as an official means of execution. But with the burning of a human being—and, in this case, a practicing Sunni Muslim—the Islamic State had broken an ancient taboo.”
Whether this change of attitude signals a change in the turmoil is something that is far from clear.
This book is an exhaustive, informative, and compelling work about a subject that occupies much of the public forum here and abroad. There are many facts revealed and questions raised and perhaps answered. I have always wondered what exactly ISIS wants, and if it can somehow be mollified. It’s goal as expressed by the author is the establishment of a caliphate and the ultimate defeat of Western forces in a grand battle in the lands now a part of Syria. This seems to lead one to the conclusion that, as has been said so often by the President and others, “ISIS must be destroyed”- not an easy task. Another question that I have asked is why Muslims are not more vocal in their opposition to ISIS, or do we not hear such news when they are. This book delves into the first by revealing the tribal and sectarian divides that underlie this entire region as perhaps lessening Arab protests. But she also reveals that the opposition by most Muslims, and particularly by Abdullah, is shown to be quite strident, at least in the author’s reporting. (Abdullah seems to be the only rational and thoughtful player on this stage of horrors.) Yet this is a story that is ignored by American media. We certainly hear of every bombing or other savage act– what not the condemnation by Muslim scholars? Another strong conclusion that one reaches from the book is that we do not, and can not fully understand the complex social, ethnic, religious, and tribal divides within the region. The author points out how such divides have been often exacerbated by a history of conquest by other Arabs, and, of course, by the Western colonialism that only ended after WWII. When one throws Israel into the mix, it only demonstrates how very complex the situation is. It also emphasizes the need for local remedies and the limits to the exercise of American power. In my opinion, we can do very little in the short term, and perhaps even less in the long term. The players in the region will have to resolve how they are going to live together, if they choose co-exist at all. All that we can do it make all possible efforts to protect our own country and people from a threat that, although small is scope, is real. ISIS is not, and could never be a force that could challenge us in a national sense, but, as we have seen, their brand of fanatic terrorism can inflict terrible individual carnage.
The always present threat of apocalypse lies with possession of a nuclear weapon. God forbid!
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R. Patel
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Excellent, Easy-to-Read Work on the Origins of ISIS
Reviewed in the United States on April 5, 2016
After reading "Rise of ISIS: A Threat we Can Not Ignore", I was sorely disappointed to end up with hard-sell propaganda about Hamas instead of a scholarly work. "Black Flags", on the other hand, is a fantastic, easy-to-read narrative that actually focuses on... See more
After reading "Rise of ISIS: A Threat we Can Not Ignore", I was sorely disappointed to end up with hard-sell propaganda about Hamas instead of a scholarly work. "Black Flags", on the other hand, is a fantastic, easy-to-read narrative that actually focuses on the origins of ISIS for those of us interested in really understanding where the movement originated. Sure, you can see their recruiting techniques and activities any day on the news. This book is not heavily focused on that, but really what brought us to this moment: The collapse of post-Saddam Iraq, civil war in Syria, simmering ethnic and religious sect rivalries and two key figures who we get a first-hand look at through a prison doctor. Warrick is a good story-teller and it was easy to follow along with the facts and individuals who make up this story and really put together all of the factors at play on how ISIS has become so powerful, and to also really understand why we shouldn''t simply label it is just another Al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, Hamas, etc...because the goal of this book is to tell you - it really isn''t at all. What the book does not get into is every single detail about the war ISIS has unleashed against Iraq, Syria, the West and a number of other civil societies, but the author picks some good illustrations, such as the invasion of Ramadi and how it reflects the ISIS style of governance. As I said, this is really historic background and a relatively short book for those of us fascinated by the topic.
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CJ
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Excellent Read - Just don''t lose this book at the Airport
Reviewed in the United States on August 16, 2016
Excellent, detailed, and thorough break down of how things went from bad to worse. Great description of the characters and actions surrounding the rise of ISIS. Funny story about this book - I was on travel to a conference and lost this book at the airport. I... See more
Excellent, detailed, and thorough break down of how things went from bad to worse. Great description of the characters and actions surrounding the rise of ISIS.

Funny story about this book - I was on travel to a conference and lost this book at the airport. I thought that I''d left it at the security check point so I went back there to ask if they had found a book. The TSA employee asked me the name of the book...it is Black Flags - The Rise of ISIS. You should have seen the look he gave me! Well the book wasn''t there and I realized that I left it at the ticket counter on the other side of security. I had the gate attendant call back to the ticket counter and ask if they found the book and they said yes they have a book on ISIS and they''ll hold it for me...again the look I got from the gate attendant was priceless. So now she tells me that they don''t have anyone available to bring it to the gate so if I want the book I have to go outside of security and get it myself and then go back through security again. So I do, I retrieve my ISIS book from the ticket counter...and get more priceless looks and make it back to the gate just in time to board. It was worth it. Great book!
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John Brand
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
and in this brilliantly written and thrilling narrative he traces the origins of ...
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on August 12, 2016
Names such as Abu-Musad al-Zarqawi, ISIS, al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and al-Nusra have become very familiar to anyone keeping abreast of world affairs. They are all players within the seemingly evermore turbulent and violent landscape of the Middle...See more
Names such as Abu-Musad al-Zarqawi, ISIS, al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and al-Nusra have become very familiar to anyone keeping abreast of world affairs. They are all players within the seemingly evermore turbulent and violent landscape of the Middle East. Yet, I suspect that very few of us understand the relationship between the various factions and key players of these Islamist groups, how they have come into being and what their distinctive ideologies are. Joby Warrick is a Pulitzer Prize winning, American journalist who is the national security reporter for The Washington Post, and in this brilliantly written and thrilling narrative he traces the origins of ISIS from the brutal activities of the sadistic Jordanian, al-Zarqawi who established Jama’at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad, the first incarnation of the ISIS we are so familiar with today. As well as describing the rise and spread of ISIS and the other militant groups, Warrick remorselessly reveals how western action, or often inaction, contributed to the flourishing of this vile regime. Reading it, as I did, very soon after the Chilcott report on the war in Iraq, was timely to say the least. Warrick’s research and inside knowledge is remarkable and expansive, but in no way does it make the account turgid. In fact, I had to keep reminding myself that this was a work of non-fiction and not an action-packed novel. It is, to use an old cliché, a page-turner, and, from the very first page, when he recounts the order for the execution for the female bomber involved in the carnage of Amman’s Raddison Hotel in 2006, I found it utterly compelling as a read. It has made me much more enlightened about the context of current affairs and I strongly and unreservedly commend this book to anyone who wants to get a better handle on these world-shaping events and people. Indeed, I would go so far as to describe it as indispensable.
11 people found this helpful
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mjk
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Highly recommend!!
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on May 31, 2018
Such a well-written book about ISIS. I like that it was written without judgement. I read this to learn more about ISIS and the root of this current crisis in world affairs. He did an incredible job of unpacking everything, revealing details that are absent in the media....See more
Such a well-written book about ISIS. I like that it was written without judgement. I read this to learn more about ISIS and the root of this current crisis in world affairs. He did an incredible job of unpacking everything, revealing details that are absent in the media. There were so many characters, but the writer reminded us who they were in a very simple, well-flowing manner. Highly recommend!!
2 people found this helpful
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Victoria
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Absolutely Gripping.
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on July 12, 2016
What a page-turner ! Not something I''d usually say about a non-fiction book, but this is extraordinarily compulsive reading material. Fascinating, insightful, educational, riveting. I didn''t realize it had won the Pulitzer prize until it arrived with a sticker on the front...See more
What a page-turner ! Not something I''d usually say about a non-fiction book, but this is extraordinarily compulsive reading material. Fascinating, insightful, educational, riveting. I didn''t realize it had won the Pulitzer prize until it arrived with a sticker on the front saying so, and it totally deserves it. Buy this right away, it''s a story we should ALL be informed about .
7 people found this helpful
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great_nessula
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Really good, slightly biased in places
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on September 23, 2016
Really good, although slightly biased in some places, felt it had been edited roughly around some of the controversial parts. Learned a lot, well written and readable/accessible without being dumbed down.
3 people found this helpful
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Anonymous
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
This was a really great book - found it hard to put down
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on April 27, 2017
This was a really great book - found it hard to put down, meticulously researched and with a great narrative voice to make it read like a thriller. I get the impression that some things may have been left out or simplified for the sake of narrative, but it definitely covers...See more
This was a really great book - found it hard to put down, meticulously researched and with a great narrative voice to make it read like a thriller. I get the impression that some things may have been left out or simplified for the sake of narrative, but it definitely covers many of the key events well, and is a good read for those who a nice introduction to this fascinating, and horrifying, subject.
2 people found this helpful
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