Black Flags: The Rise of Isis review – compelling and authoritative

An Isis flag
Joby Warrick’s Pulitzer prize-winning study of the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham, better known as Isis, has the narrative drive of a thriller. He begins with the emergence of the ruthless Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who pioneered the use of filmed beheadings after the 2003 Iraq invasion: “His brand of jihadism was utterly, brutally original.” In contrast to the leader of al-Qaida, Osama Bin Laden, who regarded himself “as a unifier of Muslims”, Zarqawi also targeted Iraq’s Shias. Such “calculated barbarism” was aimed at provoking civil war, but it was the bitter internal strife of another country – Syria – that provided the ideal environment for Isis to emerge under Zarqawi’s successor, the scholarly son of an Iraqi imam: Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. In war-torn Syria, Baghdadi was able to go further than even al-Qaida, by founding a caliphate, a 7th-century theocracy, in the heart of the Middle East. From the mistakes made before and after the invasion of Iraq, to the continuing tragedy of Syria’s civil war, Warrick’s account is both compelling and authoritative.



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