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This is JoCo podcast's number 271 with Echo, Charles and me, Jocke Willink. Good evening.


Good evening. First, they put us in a school in Tal Afar and held us for 20 days. They didn't let us eat or drink, only the children were given a little bread, but we had to go to the bathroom to share it.


If they caught us sharing, we were tortured. The children were dying, starving. They wouldn't drink the little amount of dirty water, so we found some toothpaste and put it in the water to pretend it was milk so they would drink it and not die from dehydration.


Doubled of emotion, Basma recalled everything down to the most minor detail, how they were transferred to Mosul in cattle trucks and stashed in a traditional ceremony hall, how the elderly had to give their children urine to drink to keep them alive after ISIS cut their only water pipe. How everyone became so sick and malnourished that clumps of their hair would fall to the floor.


But the worst was yet to come. In the middle of the night, the ISIS men were coming in and yelling to know who was still a virgin, but Sima whispered. And from the age of eight, they were taking girls to the market to sell for a cigarette. However, Bessemer and several of her siblings fought up a plan to avoid being violated. They tried to look like ugly boys by using a piece of broken plate to shave their heads and dressed in the men's clothes they found hidden away.


We thought if they mistook us for boys, we would be taken out and killed. Rather than raped, she explained. But instead, when they knew our trick, the men came in and stripped us in front of everybody. In front of everybody. Hundreds. They touched us everywhere, sexually abused us. My father and brother had to watch. And that was the last I saw of them. But CEMA did not shudder when she talked about the abuse.


She was telling her story, but she was also telling somebody else's story. She was telling the story of so many other women. Perhaps that is how she was able to get through it with strength by separating herself from the narrative.


When initially snatched, Gazal was with her six month old son, Bachtiar, and five year old daughter Darran when Gazal while Gazal clutched her screaming son.


But CEMA claimed to be the mother of Darran in hopes that the ISIS operatives wouldn't sell her if it was clear she was no longer a virgin. Gasol spoke of her ordeal in a tempered rhythm, relentlessly tugging at her dress and glaring at her raw cracked hands. At first, she said she refused to go with the wily. But he dragged her by her hair and took her to her and Bachtiar to the Syrian city of Manbij near the Turkish border.


They were yanked into a house like the headquarters where there were already two other Yazidi slaves and a constant ebb of foreign fighters. The Wolley said, I must marry him. But I refused, so he took my son and I didn't see him for two days. After that, I begged and cried. He started torturing me and said I had no option but to marry him. Only it wasn't a real marriage. There was no ceremony. It was just rape.


I was forced to be a Muslim. To pray five times a day. The coalition bombs soon started falling on ISIS installations, bases and homes, but they also fell on people who were already scared and suffering, who had no arms and no choice but to be there. After Gazal was gone, Besim said that she and scores of others, including young Darren, were wounded in an airstrike on the prison.


Shrapnel pierced her head, but as only treatment was her long, Ebonie locks getting shaved off. She received no medicine. The slaves were propelled down 20, two skewed steps into an underground weapons storage filled with guns and bombs, which would become their living quarters for more than a year. We were tortured. There were no toilets, we had to eat, sleep and do the necessary all in the same place. All kinds of insects and flies were in their.


They forced us to convert to Islam. We were made to look at beheaded bodies through the little window. We didn't know when our time was up. All we could think about was whether it was better to live. Or to die. What is a war? It is trying to remember those we treasure who are taken while at the same time trying to let them go. What is war? It is waiting to kill or is waiting to be killed.


What is war? War is a war inside the war, which the world cannot see. But sometimes if you get close enough, you can hear it. It is inmates being endlessly beaten, lashed, maimed with sadistic tools and kept in small cages.


What is war? A human shell might have made it through the storm in one piece, but what is inside will forever be filled with a dull pain of waiting, waiting for evil to enter, to violate the person they once were one more time. What is war? It is ugly, it is lies. It is ugly lies, what is war? War is distrust, dishonesty, skepticism. What is war? War is a vision of agony that becomes normal.


That's what war does to people, what is war? Everything you could imagine held to be. Only worse. And those are some excerpts from a book called Only Cry for the Living. Which, as you can see, is a harrowing book about the absolutely savage reign of terror perpetrated by ISIS. In Iraq and Syria and throughout the book, it ask that question over and over again, what is war?


And that is a complex question and it requires answers from many different angles. And this book does an incredible job of giving us some of those answers.


The book was written by an Australian American journalist, by the name of Holly McKay, who spent time on the ground in Iraq, in Afghanistan and Syria, has been embedded with Australian and American troops, sat through military tribunals.


And interviewed hundreds of soldiers, civilians and government officials before, during and after the horrors of war. And it is an honor. Tonight to have Holly here with us to share some of her experiences and some of the things that she learned along the way.


Holly, thank you so much for coming down to join us. Thank you for having me.


This is definitely a very rough subject that you dove into and that you pursued.


And, you know, I didn't know you or anything about you really, until I started reading through the book. I just basically knew that you were a journalist.


But there are some interesting the pathway that you took to get here, as I kind of explored that is is interesting. And before we jump into the book. I just want to kind of get some of your background, you know, I was going to say most books, it's true. In most books people, at least people write books and they say they're not about themselves, but they write about themselves.


Right. And you actually don't spend a lot of time writing about yourself from this book. So just a little background before we jump in about, you know, so. So you were born in Australia?


Yes. So I was born in North Queensland, in Australia. And my dad was in the mine. So we moved around a fair bit. And then when I was very young, I became very, very heavily involved in ballet.


And so when I was 15, I went to a boarding school.


It was kind of a fame school in Sydney where we could train full time in different sort of arts. And then we did our sort of schooling on the side as well with that. And we could all work professionally. And so it was it was just a very interesting way to to study and grow up. And I really thought that that was the career that I was going to go into. I was going to be a ballet dancer, was going to be ballet or something.


That is a psycho, totally, totally psycho psycho.


And I you know, but what I always say and people think it's just it was the best training ground for what I ended up doing because you you learn to just.


To push yourself beyond any kind of boundary that you ever think, and that's just normal, and when you're that young, you just it's normal to be 15 hours a day in these crazy shoes with bloody feet and being yelled at and being told, you know, you can only eat this, this and this and you have to say this. And it's just this so much discipline involved in it. And it really was the most amazing training ground. But on top of that, what it did was it really taught me so much about the world that I wouldn't have known in my Australian bubble.


When you say what you just realised that through ballet there was all these different. Yeah, we were all countries. Yeah.


Like I guess like for me growing up, the little New England kid, it's like, OK, cool, this is the world.


Yeah. And it's you know, I learned about the civil rights movement through Alvin Ailey, who was this incredible. He's got an art center in in New York City. And and that's how he had this amazing piece called Revelations. And I just remember being about 16 and just watching it and just the music. And it was gospel music. And I learned about this sort of whole culture. And we did that with so many parts of it.


I think the Rolling Stones, that was this amazing ballet with that that a Canadian company had set to the Rolling Stones. And so I learned about hedonism and all these different things and areas that I really didn't know.


And it really sparked this insatiable appetite for the world. And that was through the music and this sort of deep of beyond that. And I really that was what I wanted to pursue.


And that's sort of why I guess I left I left home very young to go and study.


I broke my ankle. So that sort of set back some of the immediate professional ideals that I had. And so as soon as that kind of healed a bit, gone to university, an opportunity came up to go to New York to I got a scholarship. I could finish my degree there.


And so I thought, you know, I'll finish a degree. Maybe I'll go back into the arts.


I didn't work out that way. I ended up in a journalism career and it was not planned at all.


But when you went to New York, did you go to study dance still?


No. So I was studying at a small university just off Wall Street called Pace that was affiliated with my university in Sydney. And I was studying it was media arts, but I had a specialty kind of in writing was what I loved. And I I wasn't sure what direction I was going to take that or whether I was going to go back into to the ballet field.


So being in New York City, I got a chance to do both, you know, sort of the hub of creativity, really, and and kind of study and have a really great time. I turned 21 in New York.


And then then so did you would you end up getting your degree in media, arts and production with a specialization?


You know, it's it's a it's a fancy, but it's I specialized in instead of writing and human rights issues.


So I always had that sort of passion of trying to understand the world in a little bit of a deeper lens, I guess, at that point.


So what year did you graduate from college? Two thousand and three. And then did you go back to Australia?


So no. So when I was in New York and I, I arrive and then everybody is talking about these internships and I had no idea what it was in Australia.


We just work, you know, you work, you go to school, you whatever.


So they're talking about internships. I want to do one of those things. What are they? This sounds fascinating.


And I, I went to a bunch of websites and I stumbled across a Fox website, and I didn't I didn't even know what Fox News was at that time.


And it was early digital era.


And I taught myself to Web code just for fun, one at school. And so they said, oh, well, we're building up a digital thing.


You know, you obviously seem to like that kind of thing. Would you like to do that? So I thought, yeah, I'll give this a go. This sounds great.


And so I joined the newsroom there.


And I really I fell in love with storytelling in a different way. I was so used to doing it through dance, through through physically, through my body, through others and and being able to kind of be there.


And it was much more literal than what I used to.


But I really I fell in love with it and being able to write. And this whole new medium was just beginning.


And I just I really threw myself into it and I loved it. And then at the end of it, you know, as I said, I was 21 and they said, we'll sponsor you if you'd like to come in and work full time.


And so that sort of made up my mind pretty quickly that that was a pretty amazing opportunity. And the dance career might might have to be for another life.


So, yeah.


So I was sponsored and they said, would you like to go to L.A.? And I was I was really in love with you, but I said, sure, let's go to L.A. and let's do this. And so I went to L.A. and I guess by default being in Los Angeles, there was, you know, the entertainment hub of the world. And so that sort of seemed to be and I had my own column, which, again, was sort of a bit of a baptism by fire.


I was just immediately thrown into this cage of of you know, I describe it when I got there, JoCo, it was the summer of 2007 and Paris Hilton had just gotten out of jail. And somehow I'd made friends with an assistant of hers and she was living in this beach house down in Malibu. And so every day we'd go to these parties at Paris's and it was the paparazzi were lining up on the beach.


And I just remember thinking, this is the biggest circus I've ever seen.


Like, this is this is ridiculous. And it stayed that way for me. And I think even though I had some really incredible opportunities and to to meet really amazing people, too. And I don't think I really at the time, you know, when you get to sit down for 20 minutes with Steven Spielberg or something, I don't think I really, you know, value I think it was I just I was too young to kind of understand this is pretty cool, but I just got to meet so many people from different walks of life.


I would be I'd be covering a Shogunate trial in Compton. And then the next minute I'd be, you know, driving to to a choreography session with the Spice Girls reunion tour.


It was just this real crazy you that I'd be, you know, diddies party and then I would be, you know, some other cool place.


And but to me, the funny thing about it was I always felt I was the outside looking in at something. I never felt part of it. I just felt like this was this it was a launch pad, but it was this incredible stepping stone.


And I guess similar to the ballet, it told me something really crucial, which was to snuff out the B.S. And that's something that's I don't think there's a better training ground for that then than being in that entertainment world, because you learn to see through people so quickly and you learn to really navigate.


There's so many layers around these people. They have publicists, managers. There's just so many layers and a lot of intimidation. People trying to stop you from running a story, people trying to spin this this way, that way. And it really taught me from a very young age to be very resilient against that to be.


No, that's not that's not what I saw. That's not what happened. That's not what the situation is.


Why are you doing that? And I think yeah, I can't imagine that's something that's really served me, served me really well.


So that the name of this what was the name of your column? Pop Tarts.


As my old boss. I don't know where that came from. He just came up with it one day and said, this is what it's going to be and let's do it.


Did you isn't it as a reporter, aren't you supposed to feel like an outsider? Aren't you supposed to be on the outside looking in?


And technically, yes. But in the entertainment industry and this is one thing that always bothered me about it, was that.


People were so busy trying to be friends with these people and I could never get my head around that, I was like, they're not my friend. I don't want to be their friend. I have my own friends.


And so I think people always automatically assume that you must. Yeah. That you must, you know, want to be this friend and everyone's kissing each other's ass on the red carpet. Don't you look great tonight.


No. You know, so people get totally sucked into the whole totally sucked in.


Yeah. And that was what. Yeah. That was one thing that annoyed me. I remember being about twenty two and one of those big entertainment shows, a producer approached me and said, you know, we'd love to talk to you about a job and this and that and probably stupidly because the money was supposedly quite good.


But I said, oh no, not interested, thank you. And that was about my immediate reaction was I would just have to sit there and basically be nice to you all the time.


And that wasn't that wasn't the person I was.


I wanted to understand the real story behind it and. It's hard to do that in Hollywood without sort of being being shunned, I guess, and anyone who does kind of do that, they are shunned. They don't get the access they want to the places and things. And I think people are really drawn to that world because they want to feel that that being part of something.


So at what point did you sort of envision where what you really wanted to do?


So I think it was a slow process. I started to do a lot more sort of investigative work and then I would sort of pick up different politics stories. I was always very vested in world affairs and that was a great a foreign correspondent in our bureau. And he'd spent a lot of time living in Pakistan and and just had incredible stories.


And he really and I sat with him and he really gave me that encouragement that I needed.


And that was just you just have to go and do it. You know, you love to travel. You've traveled to all these places. And I and I traveled a lot and I sort of learnt to speak a little bit of Arabic. It's gone now, but growing up, I'd learn to speak.


And I just had a real appetite for understanding different parts of the world and kind of growing up, growing up in the time when Afghanistan and Iraq and a lot of friends of mine that were my age were kind of being deployed. And so I always really wanted to understand it.


And then with his name is Dominique. And his support was was just you just got to go and do it. And so I just I really just had to put myself out there. I had to be that annoying person to my bosses. I want to do this. I want to do this. I want to do this. And luckily, I had people in in New York that supported me, that looked at my work and thought, well, we've thrown her on so many different stories and she's always managed to come back with something.


And she knows how to investigate. She knows how to work independently. So why not? So that was sort of my my Segway into it. And I really reached a point where I knew I had to leave that entertainment thing. And did you create enemies in the entertainment thing?


I wouldn't say I created enemies.


I mean, there were certain you know, I definitely had a few run ins and I definitely spoke my mind probably more than it seems like if you had the attitude, like, I'm going to tell the truth and people are trying to adjust your stories and you're like not not complying with what they want you to do.


It seems like it'd be a pretty easy environment to make people mad.


Yes. Yeah, it did. It did. And then to sort of I guess toward the last year or six months, I was doing it, I, I probably, looking back on it, had checked out a little bit.


But yeah, you do. You create enemies as you go. And again, I just I think I just slowly was removing myself at that point anyway.


So what was the first did you get like an assignment to duck your first assignment that started to move you down this path of this going to war?


So I was I was in and I sort of been traveling through the area and then I ended up doing some work that was, I guess the the biggest one was I was in the Middle East during when 2014 the war broke out in Gaza. So I was sort of going back and forth between Israel and and Gaza and sort of being able to cover it because I was there. That was kind of my baptism by fire.


What were you doing there? I was there.


I was I was vacationing, visiting friends in Jordan. I was hanging out with Bedouins in a Bedouin tent and, you know, notebook and a pen and a notebook and I'm on.


And then you have contacts back in your news station. So here's what's going on.


And I wrote some stuff there. And then I sort of went back and I thought this was just and at that time, that was also when I said sort of really sparked, I guess, in in in the Middle East.


And I've been covering a closely sort of following the Arab Spring, which was all in those years prior to that.


So I just I was so invested in it, I guess, and I harassed and harassed and then made contacts with with different people and fixers on the ground in Iraq.


And, yeah, I went for to cover ISIS, I guess after that would have been the fall of 2014. So that was the very beginning stages.


I mean, I'm just sitting here thinking we everybody kind of knew what ISIS was. It's a very courageous move to say that's what I'm going to go do, go find out what these folks are up to. Yeah. And I use the term folks very loosely with them.


You know, I'm going to and and, um, as I read through the book, which I'm going to.


I'm not going to do it justice because, you know, we're obviously not going to read the whole thing right now, the the book is, you know, I got the manuscript, I don't know, in a year ago, six months ago, a year ago, something like that, because we ended up publishing it at JoCo Publishing, which was awesome.


It's when I read like the first seven pages and just said to myself, are you kidding me? This thing, this story needs to get out.


So with that, I always have to make that caveat that when I read this thing, it's if it seems like it's oh, wait, where'd that come from or who's that character? It's because I'm not reading the whole thing.


And you have to get the book to really to follow your story. And it is chronological. You know, it starts off in November of 2014 and it ends up with close to 12, 19, I think.


But it is chronological. But it's also it's it moves around from location to location, story to story, because sometimes you're in Baghdad, sometimes you're in Raqqa, sometimes you're on the outskirts of Mosul. You're traveling to all these different places.


But it's it's way more evident when you read the whole book rather than me just sitting here reading chunks of it. So that's my caveat.


When you are traveling over there, just are you just traveling or are you traveling on an American passport?


So I became an American citizen in twenty seventeen. So initially I was just Australian. I was a green card holder and then I got my citizenship in twenty seventeen. So.


And then when you're traveling into a country.


So I was in the military and so we would have an unofficial passport.


So not a diplomatic passport, which was a black passport, but not a regular American passport, which is a maroon passport.


We would have blue passports which said that we're official, I guess, government Americans. Is there anything that you have that that gives you some kind of indication as press?




Journalists are just regular citizens, like nothing special.


You're rolling in there. Yeah. Who's supplying you with gear? Who's giving you body armor? Who's giving you helmets?


Stuff like that. So very, very I did I did have my wheel generally as journalists, we all have our own or I arranged to wherever I'm going if I get any training.


Yeah. Yeah. What kind of training.


Just sort of basic, you know, hostage training. Just kind of the basic first aid. You just kind of have to do a few basic things go. But most of my training was really on the ground and the approach that I decided to take really early on, which I think served me, and it's probably the approach that I will always take, is very under the radar.


So I would see people that went in with specially and it's very difficult with television because television crews have to go in with cameras and they go in with a lot of security and you become very visible for me. I went in, I would organise to meet with locals wherever it is I was going, my local fixer, a local house I'd be staying in, and I would just very much go under the radar. And to me, that was always the way that I felt that I could get the story.


And even though people thought, oh, you have to have security, you have to have this, you have to have that.


I never felt I needed that. I felt that that would have made me more of a known presence, which would have been, you know, more dangerous for me as a writer.


I felt that I didn't need a lot of those things. And that was always, you know, and I discussed those things with my with my superiors and ahead of time.


And that was always something that they took, you know, enabled me to make those decisions and and be that independent.


How good was your Arabic was like for a while where there were, you know, I grew up, so where I was going to school was a sort of there was a big Lebanese community there.


So I was just so interested. I just would have people teach me. And so but I always worked with a translator because I couldn't pick up the dialects. I mean, the dialects were just so confusing.


And I didn't want to risk ever, I guess, getting something that would have been crucial in getting it wrong.


Yeah, I know the the locals ability to understand and give you these nuanced things.


You know, the interpreters that we had would you know, because we'd have we'd have Americans like SEALs that had been trained to speak Arabic.


I God bless them.


They do their best. Like you just they they'd be standing side by side with a native speaker.


And, you know, my SEAL interpreter would say, hey, the local guy said this. And then the the the native speaker would say, hey, here's what he actually means. And there's just a little bit that you're just not going to catch, you know, it's just not going to happen. So you definitely. It's like trying to trying to tell the difference between, you know, someone that's from New York and someone that's from New Jersey, right.


There's people that can go all the guys from Jersey, that guy from New York, you know, and the same thing overseas.


And you are correct. Here's here's the weird thing about what you said about security is. A low profile, 99 percent of the time is going to be better and no one's going to notice you, no one's going to care what people freak out about it. There's that one percent of the time and then what do you do? And then you weigh those out, because if it's only if there's only a tiny chance of something happening and then you're in a really bad situation because you don't have any security, that's horrible.


But when you have security, you increase the chances so much that it's a gamble. This is always a gamble.


And I always felt very comfortable in the fixes and the people that I used locally that that they had sort of the know how to at least, you know, with exit plans and other things like that. And I always had contacts in the U.S., in the region and other places that if I was desperate that I could I could turn to if I if I needed to.


How do you go about finding your fixers in general? I mean, it depended the sort of assignment by assignment, but I usually went through either other journalists who gave referrals of people that they'd worked with or people that I knew that were living there with other businesses that had to use different interpreters. It really, really depended on on that. But usually it's always word of mouth. I would never just pluck somebody off Facebook and expect them to to be a fixer.


It always be several layers of people who could sort of vet and work for them and then do a little bit of my own background digging on them and just try to make sure and you can never get it right. I mean, there's plenty of situations and unfortunately, where journalists have been sold out and other things. And we saw that a lot in Syria with ISIS. But in in my case, I always worked with some really just incredible people.


I've got all kinds of scenarios running through my head right now, and I, I when I look back at my life, my whole life is my entire life from the time I was born until like two days ago. I always think about all the things that I've done where I look back and say, man, that wasn't too smart.


How good do you do that? I was I was in bad shape that I thought the things that I did, not just in Iraq, but in other places in Yemen and Afghanistan and in my 20s. And I just would never do them now. I would never do them. Now I look back and I think, what what were you thinking? Or I guess when almost in the beginning and this is where experience comes into it, you almost maybe it's not it's naivete.


You don't always know what you're getting yourself into and you get out of it and you're fine. And then I look back on it now, and I think that was stupid. What were you thinking like? That wasn't always the story.


You mean did you even get a story out of that? Like.


Yeah, yeah. As I read your book, I mean, that's what I was thinking. You know, there's a lot of you got lucky a lot, which is awesome. You know, you had a massive amount of courage goes into these, which is awesome. And I was I wanted to ask you that, like, did you feel do you feel looking back like now like you you were a little naive at the time. And obviously sometimes a little bit of naivete and arrogance is really nice when you look back at it.


If it went well.


Yeah. Which it certainly did for you. Awesome. All right. I'm going to jump into this book.


The first boy to introduce himself was a nine year old named Abdullah. He struck me with his light eyes, gap-toothed smile and spattering of freckles across his nose. There was a gentleness to it, to his demeanor. I wondered how such gentleness could come from a child that had been ripped from his home by war.


Abdullah told us that he was a Muslim from Sinjar. Or single, as they say, in Kurdish, he had been forced to flee two months earlier when ISIS invaded his village, he insisted on showing us around the camp annotator, annotating like a proud tour guide. He explained the different people who live there and where they were all from. He explained how they had been confronted with the same vicious enemy and how they coped in different ways. Some ISIS we knew, Abdullah said some of our neighbors became ISIS, too.


I did not know then that such a phrase would be repeated time and time again as the years went on. I did not realize then the importance of that phrase.


The clefs and all the conspiracies that would come from it, that one phrase would come to represent the fears of a country that I wasn't sure could ever be put back together. Our neighbors became ISIS, too.


And, you know, there's something that I failed to do as I put these notes together is is you throughout the book, you pick these characters and you revisit them.


And I get some of them, but I don't get all of them. I'm not sure if I get back to Abdullah, but that's what you do. So as people hear me sort of talk about these different characters, look, the book is four hundred and fifty pages long. And so if people are wondering, like, oh, I wonder what happened to that kid or what happened to that character, many of the characters that you become close with, you revisit over the years.


And as I said, the length of the book is five years or four, four and a half years, something like that.


There's a lot I mean, think of a kid that's, you know, 10 years old, becomes 14. That's a big difference.


And and obviously, there also are characters that. You never see again and God knows what happens to them. Fast forward a little bit here.


The soldiers at the Mosul dam greeted us warmly. The Peshmerga began this. I'm giving everyone a background in Peshmerga. What you do. And look, you give all kinds of nice little history lessons in here to the Peshmerga began as something of a mountain militia in the 1920s when the push for Kurdish independence began. In recent decades, they had faced unrelenting persecution from the Baath loyalists and of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. One Peshmerga fighter told me they don't suffer from psychological issues pertaining to combat because they have grown up around fighting and have developed an early understanding that it is just what we have to do to them.


PTSD was something of a first world phenomenon. We worked with Kurdish soldiers sometimes in the Iraqi army, and they were just really good and they just were really good. They have that.


That's why that that that's what they do. They grow up fighting. That's sort of their thing. It's like when you're in the US military and you meet someone that's from, you know, Wyoming and they grew up hunting and living out in the land and they're going to be good soldiers. That's just how it is. Somebody from Alabama that grew up in the woods, they're going to be a good soldier. That's just how it is. That's that's how you feel about the Kurds.


That's how I always felt about the Kurds.


And just because they say they don't suffer from any psychological problems doesn't mean they don't.


And that's just a very different relationship that they have with it. And not just the Peshmerga, but in a lot of the, you know, in the Middle East, in those in the armies and things, it's just not something that they they acknowledge or really talk about.


Yeah. And in many ways, it's something that we haven't talked about up until these most recent wars. You know, even though it's always been there. You continue on here.


The Peshmerga soldiers range from around 18 to more than 70 years old, with many coming out of retirement in the quest to defeat ISIS threat. During days of intense conflict, the Peshmerga are lucky to return to their base for two or three hours of sleep and a quick bite to eat before venturing back to their fighting locusts as it stood. A prominent portion of the fighters are not soldiers, but what they call security advisers who don't take a salary and volunteered simply out of devotion.


There are special forces that have been arranged for these people, they don't register their names and don't sign contracts, they just want to serve in Kurdistan. One Peshmerga soldier explained how ISIS commanders often drug young fighters with special tablets that leave them disoriented and shooting wildly into the night, sometimes they were able to keep going despite being shot several times, taking upwards of 20 bullets before they went down. For those who survive, and that's in reference to the ISIS fighters, when they realize what they've done, they sometimes regret it.


And you say here, almost every Kurd wants to share their history, history of their people and their oppression, but the string that could be weaved through and through was that they did not expect to be granted freedom for nothing.


They knew they would have to fight for every fight for it, every step of the way. The secession of letdowns of losses and gains was all part of the rough climb up the rope of revolution.


At the top, they would find their independence when they referred to their soldiers killed on the battlefield, they sometimes said that they were martyred and sometimes said that they were murdered. I wondered how differently Americans would see wars if the press and the people spoke of our troops in the firing line as having died in a homicide rather than killed in action.


And now you kind of reflect on this battle that had taken place. The rain fell harder, the bullets flew wildly into the growing darkness that hid the dead ISIS bodies nearby. Hungry, untamed dogs had gouged into the skeletons almost immediately. Some had been dead for days. Some had names and others had been left nameless. Some Macu, aided by the creatures howling at the moon. Had no faces. So you jump right into this stuff with I mean, this battle that's taking place up at the Mosul dam, you're seeing the ISIS fighters.


This is a long way from Paris Hilton's Malibu beach parties, I guess, definitely, and when I first went in, I didn't go with the intention of of going to the front lines.


I really went with the intention of trying to understand, I guess, the human cost of war.


And I really just wanted to go and talk to people that live there.


I wanted to understand what it was like to to be a displaced person, what it was like to to sort of have everything and then have nothing.


And I just happened to sort of make a good connection through through somebody. And then when I went to meet him, it was a crazy story.


He he came, he picked us up the car, got stuck in the mud, and there was sort of a lot of fighting going on. And so we sort of had to go to go in a different direction. And then we ended up sort of on the front line. So it wasn't something that even really planned. And I'm sure my bosses would have had a heart attack if I'd sort of told them in advance.


But yeah, it was it was a it was a very eye opening and. Even when I I guess the times that I've spent with the Peshmerga or with other soldiers, Iraqi soldiers on the front line, it's always still been that same thing for me of wanting to get that human cost.


So I'm much more interested in in those stories, I guess, from my perspective, than than what we call the bang bang is what journalists usually call the sort of the military aspect of it.


I wanted to understand who who they were, who their families were, what their motivation for being there was.


As you said, it's, you know, these people coming out and volunteering and and they're not getting paid and they're bringing their AK 47 from home and they don't really have much more beyond that. And I just that to me was fascinating.


What is it? What is motivating you? What is driving you?


What what are you sacrificing to do this? And do you plan to just keep doing this over and over again? And I think for me, that was always the question that I was trying to.


Trying to understand or trying to piece together in my head, yeah, as I'm sitting here thinking about you on the front lines for the first time sort of, and then going back to the conversation we had about being naive. And I just I just remember the conversation. First of all, I've had this conversation with a bunch of.


Veterans, but the one that came to my mind was a guy by the name of Dean Ladd, who is a Marine in World War Two, who went on the island campaign and he was going into Tarawa as a Marine, as a Marine platoon commander, a company commander, I forget which.


But there was this was an insane operation. They could tell it was going to be insane. You know, they're going to storm the beaches where the Japanese had been dug in for three years. And he did this over and over again. But, you know, I said, well, did you think anything might happen to you? He said, that's always going to happen to the other guy, which is what everybody thinks, which is what everybody thinks.


And, you know, that's what I thought. I think, you know, that's going to happen to somebody else, but not me.


And I think just I guess by nature, you know, with a lot of journalists, whether they've had, you know, tremendous years behind them doing this or not, it's I guess it's that same notion of, you know, we're not working for the government, we're not working for anyone in particular, you know, beyond our organizations.


And so you sort of have this kind of strange freedom.


Now what it's telling you what to do, you know, and and for me, I guess I really wanted to take advantage of that and just yeah, I remember one time being it.


Did you ever go to Taji Airbase just outside of Baghdad?


I think I flew through there, but I never spent it. And I spent a bit of time there and I was with the Aussies. And then I was supposed to go to El-Sayed and on the at the Marine base there.


And there was just dust storm off to dust storms. Every flight was getting cancelled. I was like, I just want to go back to Baghdad. I was trying to get an interview with Sadr and I was just let's just go to Baghdad.


And I couldn't couldn't get back to Baghdad. And so I was literally just calling a cab from Taji to like, come and get me so I could drive back to my hotel and meet my fixer in Baghdad. I remember the Aussies standing there going, you're just crazy. And it's Bill really jealous.


I was like, yeah, I can I can do that.




And what's interesting, going back to the earlier conversation, if you were to take a convoy back from there to Baghdad, you would probably be at greater risk, much greater risk than if you were in a cab, an orange and white opal freakin taxi cab that are driving all over the place.


Yeah, yeah. And I would do that. The rock I remember going through, like all these Iranian militia checkpoints, I was would be in these Yazidi cars with a baby on my lap pretending I was a Yazidi. You I put the scarf over my head as a baby in my lap.


I think I managed to get through about 100 of these Iranian Shia checkpoints and not one of them questioned me.


And I remember just getting out of that, being like, oh, had I and I know of other journalists. I knew a couple of people. And they they got busted at checkpoints and turned around and turned in or whatever it was. And for me that was going under the radar.


I got to where I needed to be had I even got to the checkpoint. Permission slips that you supposed to get, I would I wouldn't have gotten through.


So sometimes you just got to not play by the rules under the radar.


That's the thing that I got one more. Maybe it's not the last one. But earlier in the book, there are some history lessons. Like I said, even though most of the book is more just interviews with people and and what you're actually seeing. This is a little history lesson on March 17th.


Nineteen eighty eight, the morning after Saddam Hussein's Baath Party unleashed a tirade of chemical weapons and killed five thousand Iraqi Kurds in the city of Halabja, Halabja, Halabja, Halabja, a few brave photojournalists ventured into the city to ensure that brutal dictators atrocities would be documented and exposed to the world.


And you're now interacting with one of them.


Akram looked at me shyly, extending his hand. Nearly twenty seven years later, he was working at the memorial site known as the Halabja Monument and Peace Museum, constructed in 2003 on the anniversary of the attack in two thousand six residents, thousands of residents rioted at the site, protesting what they thought was to be capitalizing on the tragedy and misusing aid funds, destroying many of the archives. The monument was rebuilt into a hub of reflection and solace, poised against the serene Iranian mountainside with several abandoned Baath Party tanks sitting idly to one side inside.


The iconic photographs taken in the pallid aftermath of the attacks had been recreated as life sized images and statues. A mother clutching her dead baby, lifeless children strewn across pavements.


And here's Akram talking, We need to remind the new generation about what happened to this town and we need to keep reminding them so that it doesn't happen again. Sometimes I can't stop crying every day I look at the pictures and I am reminded that it is my family in those pictures and quote.


There there was such a depth of sadness in the way he shared his story, constantly relieving a curse or reliving a curse cursed history. Saddam had ordered the chemical attack amid the Iran-Iraq war following intel reports that Iranian soldiers had been implanted inside the Kurdish city. Akram still didn't seem quite sure how or why his life was spared or why he was the only survivor within the proximate area, he recalled, having instinctively placed his mother's scarf around his mouth for protection the moment something felt wrong.


He recalled throwing up blood into the scarf, which still smelled of his mother, even though she was dead beside him.


He recalled the way the vision, his vision blurred, slowly fading into blackness.


He remembered cars rolling over bodies as other victims in their last few minutes on Earth vomited chunks of green. Some were visibly burning their skin boiling with bubbles. Others laughed uncontrollably, an eerie side effect of the lethal chemical cocktail of Vicks PVCs, sarin, tabun and mustard gas. That's a chilling vision. What kind of health was this guy in now? Was he scarred? Yeah, he definitely OK. I mean, he was looks normal, but there was something about him.


I can't put my finger on it, but that was definitely something that that was wasn't quite right. Fast forward a little bit. There's a section called The Faces of Evil. This is November 2014. Some ISIS soldiers will tell you that the reason they joined were simple, straightforward, woven into the web of basic survival, money, protection, food. Other times, the reasons to pledge allegiance to the terrorist group or complex, deep seated in sectarian, tribal and historical grievances dating back centuries.


So what is war? War is a composite of individual stories and reasons, one rarely the same as the other. And, you know, I pointed out in the introduction that you asked this question over and over again more times than I read. Maybe that's the first time you have to ask the question, but.


That's what's interesting about that answer. It's a composite of individual stories and reasons, and that's what this book is, is like.


You're compiling all these different perspectives that people have, what they've been through and how they ended up here. Did you have that intent?


When did this work that you were doing start to formulate in your head as a congruent story that you could put together in a book? You know something?


I guess it's funny. Most of this book was written handwritten in notebooks. So you can imagine how many of those are sitting in storage right now.


But yeah, I think from sort of the first in twenty fourteen, I was trying to craft together how I wanted to weigh these stories and what how to make it a bigger story.


And I just, I knew that I didn't want to write something that was political or policy driven or I just, I didn't feel that that was my job as a journalist. I wasn't here to change laws.


I wasn't here to to become or to be a quote unquote expert in anything.


My job was to tell a story. That was what I knew and that's what I knew that I could do.


And so for me, it was it was early on that I started to shape that idea and I didn't quite know how to put it together.


And then I guess around 20 end of 2015, I thought, you know, this is the approach I want to take with it. I really have to be patient because you're going to have to stick this out for a few more years. This isn't something that you can work on and finish in the next couple of months. So I had to give myself a good lesson, lesson in patience and and just continue to to spend the next few years just going back and forth and and spending as much time as I possibly could on the ground.


And then I guess I felt that I had and I could have kept going. That was the thing. I just I could have kept going. I could be there now and keep going and still have these incredible stories. But at some point I had to realize, OK, you need to stop.


And, you know, there are other other things you need to do that other places you need to focus. But there also has to be a beginning and an end to this. So, yeah, I guess I was sort of twenty nineteen that I decided that I think I had enough to, to put something together. But. But have you ever read Hiroshima.




It's one of the most incredible, incredible books about Japan.


And it was a journalist who'd gone back and he was telling stories, these individual stories decades after it, and it had such a lasting effect on me growing up. And that was sort of, I guess, one of the biggest motivations in the style that I took with it was.


Again, that human cost and then just telling telling the very narrative story from as many perspectives as possible and.


And as much detail as I possibly could as well, and I think that was something I wanted to bring out, was it's the small details that make up the big ones. And I, I think it's the individual stories that tell a big picture. And sometimes we can look at statistics and we can look at these things that really distance us from a conflict because it's really easy to do that. You can say, OK, well, two hundred and two people died in that suicide attack, but you tell a story of one person who died in that suicide attack and it's probably going to have a much more profound impact on you.


And that's what I wanted to drive home, was how the individual stories make up the big story.


It's the micro in the micro. Yeah, and that's very reflective of the way I work with this podcast. Of course. Do we cover some big, you know, general patent's books? Yes, we do, but. The majority of the books that we cover on here are written by a lance corporal or a corporal or a private that's out there in the front lines carrying a machine gun, because once again, when you when you're talking about what the general saw, what the general did, there's a there's an altitude there.


There's a lack of connection in many cases as to what actually is happening on the ground and and what that looks like down there.


So, yeah, your your effort to do that absolutely came through. And that example of the suicide bombing, I see a statistic of two hundred two people were killed in a suicide bombing. You can read that and you can move on. You can you can read see that headline and read, you know what city was in and cool. You got the information.


You can move on when you read about one of those victims, their family, how it's going to impact them, what, Mark, it's going to leave, how they ended up there in the first place, what their goals and dreams were like. That's that's the impact. And by the way, it's not always good, as is the case here with Omar back to the book. Omar, a twenty five year old ISIS fighter from the Iraqi village of Dorje Salahuddin, admitted that during ISIS's first month in Mosul, he had killed scores of his countrymen and foreign contractors on their behalf.


Quote, They came to our area and forced me to protect their lands, Omar said flatly of his ISIS commanders, his thick mono brow remaining frighteningly still a physical manifestation of the emotionless figure before me. After a while, they told me, when are you going to start protecting your own land? His eyes burning into mine, he went on to describe the words of his superiors, they told me to do it or die, and then they killed people in front of me.


By his count, he had racked up 70 executions in a matter of months. He mandated that he killed his victims with rifle shots and was chillingly candid about why he did it. Yeah, it's fascinating that you're sitting face to face with these these individuals, and obviously you have a knack for getting people to talk because throughout the book you're getting people to explain things to them, to you that are either A, incredibly painful or, B, incriminating like that.


Somehow you're getting these people to talk. It's very impressive.


You'd be surprised how many people want a platform, you know, get them to talk.


And they they they want to. And often I think a lot of it came down to they just haven't talked to anyone for a while. So they were ready to talk to someone and they wanted to tell their story. And you get them going for a minute and they're spilling their life to you because they've been locked up or whatever the situation is, and people like to listen to themselves speak.


And that's what I've certainly found in interviewing a number of different jihadists.


And they want to talk. You say here, the facility's director of security noted that most ISIS fighters were uneducated and easily led down the grisly path of violent jihad. Some regret their actions, some do not. The guards said to me earlier nonchalantly, understand that most are young and have no information. They are impressionable. They listen to the second life paradise story, 72 virgins, rivers of wine and staying young forever. That is all they know. And you look, there's there's so many interviews in here with all these different people, you've got to get the book to read through them.


They're powerful, I guess I got drawn into this section, a star spangled love.


The notion of giving thanks to the red, white and blue was not lost on the people of Kurdistan, the bald eagle, old glory and the almighty American dollar. Working in the Kurdish part of Iraq, most ethnic Kurds did not hide their affection for the U.S., a concept that had become rare in the predominantly anti-American throngs of the Middle East. Shops peddled American flags, U.S. military gear was prized, and the locals spoke glowingly of the notion of the nation they created with removing Saddam Hussein, the dictator whose heavy hand had so often come down on the minority group clustered into the northern region.


Imagine if America didn't exist, said accountant Curto Amin Agha, whose home was outfitted with Israeli American and Kurdistan flags and who wears a US Army shirt and a Navy SEAL watch.


Without America, the world would be run by China or Iran. With dewy eyes, he turned to me in earnest, America represents freedom, he stressed. Our dream is to be eternally allied to America. You don't hear a lot about that. Yeah, that it was fascinating when you go, it was this little pocket of I mean, the Kurds in the north, they just they loved they loved both bushes. They you know, it's just something that they just they thought America was the ones to save the day.


I mean, you go in and talk about how you're walking through the like the bazaar has red, white and blue has flags.


All this stuff in there, just pro America, pro freedom. Yeah. And this is also interesting. Kurds, who has a group are overwhelmingly Muslim, also portrayed themselves as more religiously tolerant. Right now, I'm working with Muslims, Yazidis, Christians. We're all working together, said one high ranking KRG official. They celebrate occasions together. It's something very beautiful. I have friends who pray and friends who don't. That's not my problem. That is their choice.


That is how the Kurdish people think about religion. On one early December morning, I saw several Kurds busily setting up a deck and decorating Christmas trees. Whether it was done in a secular embrace of a foreign religious right or simply to make guests more comfortable was not clear. We're still new to this, a Kurdish hotel employee said with a smile, bickering with a co-worker on how to decorate the tree.


But we love it. Very tolerant. Yeah, setting up Christmas trees.


Yeah, during the after the 2003 Iraq invasion, they marketed they had an entire tourism marketing campaign called the other Iraq, and that was sort of how they would try to draw people in to come and visit them with this other Iraq, they call themselves.


So even though they belong to Iraq, they tried to be the other. So that was their kind of approach.


Beautiful. Fast forward a little bit. That's summer I drifted between displacement camps, the big ones and the small ones, the ones that were new only just established to accommodate this constant swell of newcomers, the ones that have been here for years. As past wars melted into new wars, over time, the camps had burdens in the little towns of their own, complete with banks and bridal stores and markets and places to buy home goods and sweaters.


What is war, war brings resiliency, it is turning what feels like a prison into something of a home. What is war? War is running. It is not knowing what is on the other side. It is being unwelcome in your own home, is being unwelcome away from your home. Sometimes war is walking to one moment here and the next and some no man's land that you could that could never be home. It was drifting from place to place, both in mind and body.


Crazy, do you think these camps are set up for so long that they become little villages? Yeah, and and what's really sad is that so many of them still exist. And because I guess it's really out of sort of the main headlines of the news now, they just the resources are just there's nothing like the likes of Bessemer and Gazal. They're still in camps just with nothing and no resources. So it's almost even a worse situation for for so many of the displaced now than it was for them four years ago.


You say here in a small camp designated especially for displaced Christians, a group of men looked me in the eyes and said sternly that they do not bother trying to read or watch the news anymore because it was all fraudulent, all lies. As you're hearing that, does that make you think, OK, I've got to tell the truth, I mean, I just can I can only imagine hearing that from your perspective. Yeah. Yeah.


For them, I think they just grown so frustrated. I think when you see such atrocities happen in the beginning, you really believe that there's no way the world is just going to sit there and do nothing. I mean, this is crazy. Somebody's going to do something. Someone's going to stop this. And then you reach a point. A year in maybe it's 18 months in when you realize it's it's not well, it's not that simple, but it's just not the situation's not changing.


And so for them, I think that was just the acceptance that the news was never going to help them. Nobody was ever going to help them. And so they they'd come to that sort of group rationale of they mustn't be telling the truth, because if they were telling the truth and this wouldn't be happening if the world knew what was really happening, it would have been stopped by now. So therefore, it must be all lies. How much how much do you think these stories get lost because of the short attention span of the world?


I think very lost. I think. I think very less, which is why I guess I wanted to try to put it at least together as one cohesive unit, the attention span is is short, but I think it's always been telling foreign stories is always been difficult.


I talked to journalists covering wars in the 90s with, you know, with Bosnia and other places. And they said the same thing. You know, Princess Diana did something and it would take the headlines. And then for me, it was sort of, you know, something would happen, you know, Kim Kardashian breaking the Internet and that would take the headlines. And so I think it's always a thing where.


No matter what era that you were in, that Farnese, unfortunately, isn't going to always be at the top, but that doesn't mean we don't report on it. That doesn't mean we don't give it resources. That doesn't mean we don't tell a story. And for me, that was what I was drawn to, was the stories that I felt needed to be told. Whether they have an impact or not, that that is out of my hands, but.


Those voices deserve to be heard. This is a good segue way into this section, which is entitled Don't Forget US. Early one morning, I ventured further north to visit a Yazidi camp stuffed into the wedge where Syria, Iraq and Turkey converge as it came into view over hilltops awash with amidst of acrid air, I ascertained a sense of something profoundly exhausting.


What struck me most was that unlike other camps where people animatedly voiced their anger and wailed about the lack of water sharing conspiracy theories about who was really behind ISIS and detailing what had happened to them in the flashes after they realized they could no longer stay, the Yazidis were so grieved.


That they said very little. They did not complain. They just looked at me with wide eyes that could brand even the most stoic of souls. They all spoke softly, repeating that they all they wanted was for their family members to return and for the chance to go home, every single person had either lost a family member to death or disappearance or had been maimed when ISIS assaulted their village less than a year earlier. It did not make sense for them to complain.


To complain would be a waste of their precious energy. I was escorted into a tent where a thin woman had burrowed herself into the corner, weeping silently into a black scarf, shoulders trembling. She was a survivor of sex slavery. She was alive, but she was hardly living, more girls and women tiptoed into the tent behind me. Nobody wanted to speak of this ordeal, the notion of being touched. The term sex slave is a controversial one, many decry that it should not be used, that it was not politically correct nor accurate, an argument which I hear and understand.


But I have chosen to use it because it is a term that many of the survivors and families use and because it's blunt and embedded in the reality, that is not the reality that we want. Speaking of rape was taboo and terrifying within the closed and staunchly conservative Yazidi community, although the silence was slowly shifting.


But they're inside that suffocating space, the women held each other up their embraces, reassuring each other that they were now safe, if only for that moment in time. And at that moment in time, I understood that the most valuable thing I own was my 99 cent notebook, with which I could try to capture the plight of these survivors in hopes that somehow they would not tumble from the world's oblivion. It was with my notebook that I could recall and write things, these women taught me what it meant to be extraordinary, what it meant to be brave, what it meant to lose everything.


And still find the internal spark. To go on. We'll get into more of the the Yazidi. Treatment, I mean, it's just a genocide slash. I mean, ISIS viewed them as Satan worshippers, yeah, devil worshippers, you know. The other end of the spectrum, this section stood out to me one evening I met emerging pop star Hely love for tea and hookah in the lounge, hookah in the lounge of an upscale of the upscale Rotana Hotel in Erbil.


She was dolled up to the nines with long, perfect bleached hair extensions, fake eyelashes, red lips and strappy stilettos that clashed with her camouflaged military pants and loose fitting white top by recording techno driven, energy boosting tunes to increase morale and filming mood music videos in the direct line of fire. Hell, he was doing what she considered to be her part in the fight, standing vehemently with the soldiers and their will to win. Much had been said and speculated about how his personal life and I wasn't quite sure what to expect, but what I found was a true girls girl underneath the hairspray and larger than life persona.


Hely was a self-assured young woman who sought only to use her stardom and musical talents for something more than milking the Hollywood machine. Some say I used to be I use the Peshmerga to further my own fame, but people will always complain, she said bluntly in her sharply accented English, flicking a perfectly manicured hand. My country is bleeding and my weapon is my voice and my music. And for those who have had their voices shot, I felt this was my only way of bringing their story.


The story of the Kurdish people to the world. Healthy love, I love tellies, love, she was she was born in Iran, became a refugee, ended up in Finland from there, got put into a music school of some kind and and then the lure of Hollywood got a hold of her.


She says this very quickly. I saw the. So she ends up in Hollywood. Yes. She was always living in Hollywood.


Yeah. Living doing the I think she got signed to one of the big labels.


I think Dream or one of those big, you know, producers had signed her. And then, you know, what happens is you often kind of get sort of shelved away. And then, yeah, she really, really loved the way.


So the labels will sign you and offer you a deal and then they actually just don't you know, you never get kind of to actually release. And so once the contract is up, you can kind of move on. So I think I'm not sure of all her details, but I think she was sort of brought over here and it was sort of starry eyed and then nothing kind of moved.


And she really saw the underbelly of of what Hollywood was.


Yeah, she said that. She said, I met some producers and realized that what they were offering in exchange to promote me was a lie. It was all about sex. It was shocking to me. I gave up on almost everything.


She ends up cutting a cut in a couple songs over there. She says straight away, I received death threats from radical Islamic groups and the mullahs at the mosque were insisting I was a bad influence and should be stoned to death. My life changed, I was the lying girl, I had all these fans and all the success, but I had to contend with this, too. You can watch your videos on YouTube and I definitely recommend checking them out.


And that's something else, right?


Yeah. Even Echo Charles would be proud because she has a lot of explosions and she's filming.


Yeah, literally. I remember she was filming and getting, you know, controversial. Some people agree. Some people weren't. But I this is five miles or something down the road. And she's filming a music video.


Yeah. Yeah. How she and you. This is one of the things I don't really trace. But you trace the rest of her story. You go back and visit her at some point, don't you? Yeah.


So I went back and because yeah, I always wondered and I really I really love telling when I met her. And so I went back when I was in a vehicle and her name came up with a friend of mine there and she'd opened a beauty school or a sort of big beauty salon and everything was very pink.


And and, you know, the young girls would go there for their, you know, their equivalent of the prom and and get ready.


And and I think she'd really settled into that kind of life of of being able to to be in with her people and to do things in a really different way than than she envision.


So, yeah, that was her way of I guess giving back in a new evolution was to sort of be the the the motivator for a lot of the young girls in sort of the next generation.


Yeah, I thought that was that was awesome. It's like she she like you always hear people going back to your roots, you know, go back to your seat straight up, went back to her roots and she lives there now and. Yeah. Pretty awesome. Yeah. Then she does have some pumped up videos.


And she's gorgeous, and I'm going to fast forward up to 2016, this brazen attack struck deep when no one was ready for it. There had been no intelligence warnings. An ISIS suicide bomber detonated at a checkpoint outside a small town called DHBs near Kirkuk on November 3rd, 2015, allowing three fellow fighters to sneak through and temporarily commandeer a local government off office.


The men were sentenced to hell and all died in the attack. But the ISIS bomb expert, whose handiwork sent them to their maker did not Jassim Mohammed Atta.


Was being held in a high security prison near the oil rich city in late January of twenty sixteen, the guards let Jasim blindfolded into the room to meet me. What I did were terrorist acts just seem the twenty two year old said matter of factly, sitting handcuffed in the small office in the Irbil headquarters of the of Assaye, it was my duty. There are infidel infidels and there is instruction in the Koran to stop this and to fight all infidels. The Kurdish security forces had nabbed just weeks after the attack that slaughtered 14 Kurds and left scores more wounded, three ISIS fighters had used the checkpoint bombing as a diversion to enter the city, then briefly hold themselves up in the mayor's office.


The standoff ended when they opted to blow their own bodies to bits as police forces closed in. While that attack served as notice that ISIS was able to strike outside the territory it controlled, the one thwarted by JazzTimes capture would have been devastating. By comparison, the Kurdish security officials told me that Jassim had been preparing to rig a powerful truck bomb bound for Erbil when he was arrested by intelligence agents. Jassim had cried like a big baby when he was seized, one intelligence officer recalled smugly and had cried that Allah would be mad at him.


The authorities relished any opportunity to take away the perceived power of ISIS members to bellow that these fighters were nothing more than pathetic, delusional con artists.


The exact number of deaths caused by the exact number of deaths Jasem caused, whether directly or indirectly, remained unclear. He repeatedly gloated about conducting operations that killed and harmed scores of people, including the fighters he outfitted with suicide vests or put behind the wheels of vehicles rigged to explode. He was proud of his monstrous work and craftsmanship, but he was by no means ready to be a martyr himself. When I asked if he would have strapped a vest on of his own.


I never thought of killing myself.


I'm not convinced to kill myself, he said unapologetically.


Actually, I would leave or escape if they gave me this order, I wouldn't explode myself. That is another level of faith. He was unconvinced by the mullahs routine espousing the paradise, replete with 72 virgins that don't menstruate or defecate. It's our leaders that make decisions, Gesine said. Our scientists, our scientists say that there are infidel people in Kirkuk is not my decision, we are students and we listen to our teachers. If somebody pledges allegiance to ISIS, they must take orders and do whatever orders they get.


They have to do it. I asked about the scientists and their theoretical determinations of infidel blood, but he didn't seem to know Jasem had been taught not to question the scientists if the scientists were really scientists.


But at the top of ISIS, of the ISIS hierarchy was Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who Jasem described as a good leader, who lived as a simple soldier and who was just like everyone else.


He had never met or seen the elusive self professed ISIS caliph.


It's dangerous to meet him, no one can see him, Jasem said, his eyes widening and surprise that even suggested such a question. It is prohibited for anybody to see him alternating between bravado and circumspection brought on by either remorse or the presence of a watchful jailer. Jasem chorus that he would have to be convinced not to go back to ISIS if he were released. Before I went to prison, I had no problems killing people. Now I have a bit of regret that maybe some people don't deserve to be killed.


How long would you sit in a room with these guys for really depends on I think with him it was around about an hour to two hours.


So how would you select who would you say, hey, who do you got?


Yeah, I would usually talk to the guards about who was there, who was willing to talk. I always wanted to make it very clear to them, you know, I was a journalist and their stories were going to be, you know, as as they told them and they needed to be. It was difficult because in some cases they hadn't been brought to trial. So, you know, when they're saying these things, you know, and you haven't been brought to trial yet, you are incriminating yourself to a degree.


And so I always wanted to be very fair and very clear that I'm a journalist and what you say is going to be printed. So their willingness was obviously a big factor in them coming forward and telling their stories.


Yeah, he also said it's better if they join, we want to go to America, we want to spread our ideology all over the world.


You talked to another guy here, Saheb Jamil. By his count, he had killed dozens of uninvolved men, women and children. He says at the beginning, ISIS told us we would all go to heaven, but now that I'm in prison, it means I am going to the fire, I am going to hell. The indoctrination was self-fulfilling, fantasy script was evident, but any sign of real remorse was not.


Real quick, when you interview these people, you mentioned that that one guy was blindfolded, is he blindfolded during the interview as well or did they take it off?


Yeah, they blindfold them and they bring them in. So they don't really know, I guess, exactly where they were, you know, specific office or whatever they are. I'm not. Yeah, but they they take it off normally.


I mean, he was he still had shackles and on, but they they took the blindfold off that we're just looking at them in his eyes when he's telling you all this stuff.


Um, at first it is there's a little bit of a warm up process. And I found in a couple of the situations where my fixers would get very angry and I would have to ask them to leave or, you know, why would they be?


Because often, you know, it's it's their relatives. It's there, you know, people that have been killed by these people. And they their hate is so strong that sometimes I felt that I'm not going to get a great interview right now because, you know, you can feel that animosity.


And the reason I'm I'm trying to get them to open up here. So, you know, there was that barrier I had to deal with a little bit in the beginning.


And then I think as you sort of move into it, you kind of get a you build that report to a degree. They realize you just had to talk to them to have a conversation.


It's not it's not my job to I'm not there to interrogate you. I'm not there to, you know, to to stick it to the man. I'm just there to find out the information. So once I think they get used to me a little bit and then, you know, I get used to them a little bit, then it can become a little bit more of a conversation after that, isn't it?


Would you compare, you know, like the doctor's right, like a surgeon or something like this, and they're going to cut somebody open, compartmentalize. Yeah.


Like for a normal person, they'd be like, oh, no, I can't cut this person open. But then if you're a doctor after a while, it becomes less of, oh, I'm cutting this person open. More like this is like a you know, like a specimen that I have to, like, work on kind of thing.


Yeah, I think I mean, there is there certain degrees of that you have to compartmentalize? I think for me, I'm always very cautious of not wanting to do that too much because I think my you know, what I'm trying to do is to to really bring a different level of understanding on all sides of it. And I don't want to be too distant. So it's a fine balance.


It's sometimes, you know, and sometimes I make it better than others. But, yeah, it's really it's just listening. Often it's just listening. That's what it comes down to. Seems like after a while there's like all these stories, my kind of jam you up.


Yeah, yeah, yeah. I did get to that point a little bit, but I'd set boundaries for myself to recognize that I think. And yeah, I did get to that point.


When you say you set boundaries for yourself, some laughs. Yeah, I could use some boundaries.


So I had I had certain markers I knew for myself, really, especially because I was, you know, spending so much time and the stories would just get heavier and heavier and heavier. And I would just be living in and I'd be living on a floor somewhere. And I didn't have a team. I didn't I didn't have people around me beyond, you know, my fixes and who I was very close to.


But I just knew that I wouldn't be able to do my work effectively if something or I was hearing things that were really tragic or something tragic had happened. And I didn't feel anything and. That I think that moment didn't really come from me during this particular book, I had a couple of moments where I just I felt very broken a little bit because I felt so helpless.


And that happened during that. But I still managed to feel.


You know, everything affected me, and I wanted it to affect me to a degree, and then when I realized I really need to take a break was was sort of several years after and it was in I was in Africa and East Africa and I interviewed a woman from the Congo who had had, you know, sexual violence. And she'd had these babies out of rape. And which is what she went through was so horrific. And she'd been shunned by her community and she was running and she was just the most extraordinary woman.


And she was so the name was Nancy. And she was so strong and amazing. And I just remember sitting with her for hours and with these babies and having that feeling of, oh, my God, I don't I don't even feel this. I don't I don't feel anything right now. And that really bothered me that I didn't feel anything. And so after that trip, I, I went home and I didn't go anywhere. I don't think for about six or seven months because I just felt that, yeah, if I'd got to that point of just not reacting, that was not the point that I wanted to get to.


And that's when you just have to take a break and that's it. But I think. During the process of this book, and I talk about a little bit in the book, but it's often, you know, as a as a writer, I think it's an advantage because you're telling stories.


And so it's almost cathartic. So people are telling you terrible things and you have a way to release it out of your body.


Whereas I know a lot of my colleagues who are photographers or videographers sort of in combat, I think that they suffer more, to be honest. And I've heard this from other journalists because maybe they're not getting that same release that I get as a writer, you know, may or may not be true, but that's sort of my experience with it.


But I know and I talk about in the book, and it's not always the most obvious things that I use the word breakthrough, but it's not always, you know, digging up the mass graves or seeing somebody be killed or, you know, the horrific things.


But for me, they want the things that, you know, shattered me. The things were and there's one that that really sticks out for me. And that was in in Sinjar in the city. And it had been completely destroyed. And a few of these very poor people had moved back to live in these houses where there was no water, no electricity, there was nothing. And because they couldn't afford to live at camps even. And so I remember being there one day and there was a young father and he had two young children and he was just living in his old bombed out house, even though there was nothing in there.


And he said that he they reside and he said that his wife had been taken, the children's mother, and that the captain had called him and said, if you give me X amount of dollars, it was several thousand dollars, then, you know, I return her.


So this poor guy for months walked around and around the village and everybody was trying to give him money. And he's selling his furniture and and, you know, doing whatever. And he finally comes up with the money and then he calls the captor and says, hey, I've got the money. And he says all the price doubled. And at that point, the man just gave up. He just gave up. He said, I can't I don't have that.


No one else is going to give me any more money.


And so he's sitting there with these kids.


And I just and that was the story that really, really cracked me because. I felt so helpless and I thought, I can't even give you money because I would be labeled as a, you know, giving my financing a terrorist regime if I did that because they're paying ISIS to get their women back. But but to him, that was that was his wife. That was these children's mother. And just the fact that she's probably not even alive now because he just could not come up with that money and he didn't have the resources to do that.


It was just it was such a helpless feeling. And I I couldn't help him and. Yeah, that was the moment for me that I was like, this is this is just insanity. This is ridiculous. And there's no reason that this should be happening.


I think when you talk about the fact that writing the stories is an outlet and it's something that I talk about with them, even with from a leadership perspective, when I'm talking to leaders about how to make decisions, I say, look, when you write something down, you are detaching from it. It's literally on a piece of paper outside of your head now and now. You can assess it from a different perspective.


So I think that I totally agree that writing is therapeutic because you get it out of your system and now you can see it on the page and you can relate it from a different from a different perspective, you know, and it's weird.


You also talked about the you know, at a point where you were in Africa and you're interviewing this woman and she's been through this absolutely unimaginable horror and she's pressing on, by the way, and she's carrying forth and and you feel like empty. And that's how you describe the Yazidis at many point, at many points of being in that zone where they just have no more emotions left because they've just gotten crushed at every single turn.


And that was there was one point there. And they're telling me these stories and showing me the pictures of these babies that were being burned. And I just I lost it.


And you never want to lose it. You know, especially as a journalist.


You never want to cry. You never want to break down.


And I just I, I broke down and I was just bawling in this room.


And I just remember I looked up and somebody was handing me a tissue and several men in the room, Yazidi men, and was with one of their religious leaders. I just looked at every one of those faces and I thought that and even one of them just looked at me and he said, we just don't react anymore.


And I just thought this is just as it's such a it's a place beyond a place that I can, you know, thank goodness, can never imagine getting to or hopefully never would. But the depths of what they endured, the thousands of people from their community that had been taken and just.


It was so hard to even now to wrap my head around, but for them it was just there were beyond the point of even reacting to any of it any more.


And they were just so lost and so, so broken by it all that I just. Nothing was triggering them anymore.


And so here was I feeling terribly unprofessional and crying. But I just I couldn't I just couldn't stop. And it was just, you know, that was a probably the only time I've really done that.


But that was. Yeah, it was just a moment for me of realizing that here I was feeling terrible and they weren't even, you know, as upset as I was, and then I had to really realize that they were suffering in a much different way.


Yeah. You also mentioned in the book that at one point you felt like that and then you kind of had to say, I'm a volunteer here, like I'm here because I want to be here. I can be sad, but they can't leave. This is it for them. Mm hmm.


Absolutely. And there's always a guilt that comes with that. And it's still something I grapple with so I can go in and I can spend however long I want to spend their months, weeks, whatever.


And you get their stories and you tell their stories and then you get to go home. I get to get on a plane. I have an American passport, Australian passport. I go home and. They don't they don't get to go home, they don't get to. They don't understand, you know, what that that that in itself being such a luxury, you know, and there's a guilt that I feel with that sometimes in just in being there.


And they don't view it that way.


They view it as why we you know, what a gift it is that someone would want to even come in and tell their story and would leave their comfortable home and their families and come and and and talk to us. And that's how they view it, which is lovely. But for me, it was always the sense of of of just feeling a little bit of guilt about it. And and I always tried not to be a vulture. I didn't want to go in and have somebody sort of open up and tell their story.


And then I and then I take that story and I leave. And I don't know that it's ever it's ever going to change anything for them. I don't know that it's ever going to do any good for them.


So, yeah, that's something I said with. What about the sun, ladies, tell us about the sun, ladies, because this is a or extraordinary. So yeah, I heard about them and we went to sort of we went for a long drive to meet them and they were these extraordinary Yazidi women. Most of them had come from Sinjar.


And and so when when ISIS came in in 2014, these are the Yazidis had to flee up the mountain because there wasn't anywhere to go.


It was all surrounded at the bottom. And the tragedy of it was so many of them died on that mountain because they starved to death. It was a middle of summer. And Iraq in the summer is something else.


But they stopped that. They they were describing, you know, having to throw children off the mountain because that was going to be a better way for them to die than to to die of starvation or dehydration.


And and that was really what spurred America to to get back involved in Iraq was the Yazidis plight. And the fact that of what happened to them was just and that was no, it was so hard to get aid and anything to them.


So the women that survived that formed their own unit that they called the sunlight is the force of the sun ladies, because they wanted to I think it was multiple reasons, but they wanted to to find their women that were still missing. And, B, they wanted to be involved in that in that liberation of getting their towns and villages back.


And and they were just really, really extraordinary women.


They also wanted vengeance.


Yeah, as you would as you would, yeah, I know it's a very cool section in there that you talk about and they also had. Real. A real situation, I mean, I'll just go to the books, we have a lot of our women in Mosul being held as slaves.


Their families are waiting for them. We are waiting for them. The liberation might help bring them home. So they're there in the situation. They don't just want revenge. They have actual people that they know.


They're their friends, their relatives that are actual slaves, and they can go help them. And that's what they're trying to do.


You say this when you're when you're talking to them, but what I also had come to learn about the Yazidis was that when I said ISIS had already taken away their hopes and happiness, they would not allow them to take away their sanity to the sun. Ladies were strong, always sitting upright. A few tears were shed but hastily wiped away. As the morning melted in the afternoon, ISIS had abducted Yazidi girls as young as eight, trading them at the market for a few dollars.


I learned of one young mother who is pregnant at the time of capture. She had given birth in the back room of her overlord's home, but was not permitted to feed her newborn son. The baby cried and cried. The Muslim militant beheaded him. The depth of depravity was hard to swallow. And we all sat and clouded quietude for a small period. It's important to us to be able to protect our dignity and honor. A 19 year old son, lady named Masr finally said, softly, shattering the wincing silence.


My family is very proud. They encourage me to join. I'm very proud to protect my people. After all that has happened to us Yazidis, we are no longer afraid. And as brave and stoic as the Sun lady seemed to me, there was one thing that did frighten them, the notion that Yazidi boys who had been kidnapped from Mt. Sinjar and presumably drugged and brainwashed by ISIS were now fighting their mothers and sisters under the black flag of ISIS.


We now have terrorist Yazidis, something that never used to be. So, you know, we hear about child soldiers throughout history, but this idea of which happened where they would capture these Yazidi kids that are seven, eight, nine, 10 years old and brainwash them and abuse them and turn them into. Extremist ISIS terror kids. And that's still it's still really it's still a really big problem for them, even even, I guess, given the lack of resources.


So a lot of the the boys that are coming back are still still very radicalized. And in many ways and I remember being in a refugee camp or a displacement camp for Yazidis once and hearing just horrific story about how one of the you must have been probably six, six, seven years old and had been rescued and brought back and tried to behead his baby sister. Z is his name in the book. Back to the book, one blazing summer afternoon, I traveled the bumpy road a couple hours north to the Office of Kidnaped Affairs, it was perhaps one of the saddest structures I ever entered, not because the building itself painted a bright, sunny yellow and standing indomitable in the middle of a city sprawling but rather because of what it represented.


The office had been established with support from the KRG prime minister after the ISIS eruption of 2014 to find to help find thousands that had gone missing. I would visit that office many times in the months to come and every time it would get Sattar. You're talking to one of the individuals there, Zainah, Zain, explained that it was her neighbor's Muslim families that had lived side by side with four generations who ended up turning on them. One morning, she said, our neighbors came for us.


Zana, who was thirty two years old, had spent more than a year as an ISIS sex slave. When ISIS came, they said they didn't want to fight us. They told us to give them their weapons, our weapons, she said, telling me her story all over again. But this time face to face, where it felt cruder and more inescapable, we gave them everything we had. These were our Muslim neighbors, but so many of them had become ISIS and we didn't know.


Zana Whipp winced as she recollected the day ISIS assaulted her village at the foot of Mount Sinjar, the elderly, who could not run faster far enough, were summarily executed. Men and women separated with older men dragged off to mosques to be killed.


The females, including girls as young as eight, were loaded onto cars and trucks and bound for Mosle. ISIS took me, my sister, my brother's wife and my little sister. For 13 days, we were put in a school, we didn't know what would happen, there were about 50 people, women and children, squashed into a room. There was no water for us to wash ourselves. The children were sick. Xana had lied to her captors, telling them that she was married, hoping somehow it might spare her from their evil intentions that somehow it would save her from getting robbed of the one thing she could never get back.


Her captors, however, were undeterred. She and dozens of others were taken to a heavily guarded building in the ISIS controlled Iraqi city of Tal Afar. Yazidi girls under the age of 14 were whisked away and sold at auctions. The remaining women were handed off to ISIS fighters and told they were henceforth their property. When a fighter grabbed Zana and cut her off to into a dust storm, fear paralyzed her from head to toe. In its official propaganda materials, ISIS justified killing, raping and enslaving Yazidis, calling them devil worshippers and linking them to their mandate to reinstitute, reinstitute, reinstitute slavery.


Raping them, those unbelievers have become a core tenet of their theology. Zain is angry compounders threw her into a prison cell. Days later, she was transferred to another facility in Tal Afar and forced to convert to Islam under the threat of death. Zain had already witnessed a dozen fellow Yazidis being executed in cold blood as punishment for their escape attempts. She was not ready to die, but she was not ready to give up on finding her freedom. Zain and her another Yazidi woman were sent to live with a jihadist in the ISIS stronghold of Mosul.


He took me to this place. They were flat, small tourist flats. It was a tourist community. Then he raped me. For the next five months, Zain remained inside Mosul and was handed off to another militant who locked her in a small room. This is how the game was played. Rape had always been a weapon of war that thrived on silence, but the Yazidi community was bravely and gradually changing that notion. They were collectively bucking the mortification and the fright and all the repercussions that came with it to speak out and tell the world that they would not be muted.


It's a tough situation, Zainah admitted with a shrug.


But I am still here. And I mean, I'm skipping giant chunks of the book as I'm going through with different details and.


Evil, and I think I write a fair bit in the book about about sexual violence, because I think it's something that doesn't it's very uncomfortable to talk about and it's something that even now we're seeing ISIS fighters and not know ISIS fighters are being held accountable for for that.


And there's still this mentality of these terrorist, you know, they're killing people. So what do we care about that for?


And I think we need to start shifting that perspective. They they they need to be trialled for those crimes as just as important as every other horrific crime that they've committed, because that's something that needs to change. And I think for so long, I mean, and they really officially became illegal in 98, you know, sexual violence in wartime. So it's something it's still relatively new.


And I think there's a lot of work that needs to be done in that topic and, you know, within the international community that needs to be looked at. And how can that be sort of brought to justice? Otherwise, you do have that impunity that's going to continue. And what so many of these women go through have gone through in so many different conflicts. I think it really deserves a lot more attention than than what it gets. But it's uncomfortable.


It's uncomfortable to talk about. Fast forward a little bit here to Fallujah. The city is damaged, but nothing like the other cities where ISIS has been dislodged explained to an Iraqi intelligence official who worked closely on the Fallujah campaign. This was a well planned operation led by Iraq's golden division. The Golden Division was Iraq's special special operations forces. It ultimately had been created.


By US led coalition forces after the 2003 invasion and had received top notch training. This is a local talking about the the push through the city, and he said if the decision was mine, I would have made a statue for every fighter in the battle against terrorism. Those heroes are examples of courage when when faced with Daish is awesome. For me, it's awesome. It was awesome for me to watch as all this stuff was taking place. You know, obviously, I retired in 2010, but when we worked with the Iraqis, a lot of times the Iraqi soldiers, they weren't very determined.


And it was, you know, they would they would have a lot of hard times sticking to the fight. And we had an entire battalion one time leave the battlefield. And so that was not a great that's not a great look. Right. And so when I started getting reports back from my friends that were in Mosul with the Iraqis and the Iraqis were fighting, they were fighting and not just in Mosul, but in Ramadi, in Fallujah, the Iraqis were fighting.


And it was it was. So that's kind of why I mention that, because I had worked with some of the troops that trained up the Iraqi special forces, the Iraqi Special Special Operations Forces, and they did take the lead.


And it was awesome to see their courage and that they were going in. They were fighting. They took massive casualties in Mosul. They took massive casualties. My my friend told me that in the first few days they thought to themselves, we, not the Iraqis, might run out of troops because they are taking so many casualties.


I can tell you, when we were in Ramadi in 2006, they wouldn't have taken that many casualties because they wouldn't have continued to fight. They would have run away. And so here this they were fighting for a cause that they believed in. And it was awesome to see that taking place.


Yeah. And I really notice also just in the in between 2014, twenty nineteen, just that that trajectory and how much over that time I guess that there will to win. Was really compounded and but, yeah, by the end of it, I mean, they would they've seen some of the most horrific combat that you can begin to imagine.


I mean, just the level of what they've experienced for those that have gone through it is really remarkable.


You know, I can't there's some of these examples that you give of who this enemy was, I just I just have to read them.


Every day for three months, they tortured me, as you recalled. From where he sat stranded on the Syrian side of the shuttered Turkish border, but after a while, the torture just became routine. He was one of the thousands of prisoners arrested by ISIS for so-called crimes like wearing Western jeans or smoking a cigarette. But he was also one of a select few who had managed to claw their way out of the terrorist group's dungeons with all of his limbs intact.


Short of jail, liberated by opposing forces, such escapes were considered rare. Just. Another, another one, Nasra, another former captive. ISIS told us, we will give you safety if you give up your weapons. But they lied to us, they took our weapons and they arrested us. Many of Nazareth's fellow soldiers had had since been executed, but many remained incarcerated. There was no rights or to attorneys due process trials or even a phone call.


He estimated that as many as 2000 Iraqi army soldiers had been slain since succumbing to ISIS over the past two years. He also estimated that five thousand at that time remained in prison bowels across the country. The cages were so small, Nasra said that their torsos were marked by the folds of skin and their limbs tinge blue from the hours of crouching, curled like a fetus in the womb.


Women arrested by ISIS typically disappeared behind the prison's exterior, held separately from the men, and were often never seen again. Children are not exempt from the torment either a large number of children have been arrested by ISIS. My friend who Husam, a member of the Syrian activist group Raqqa, is being slaughtered silently. He explained the most common charges are insulting a law and cooperating with apostates. They are being tortured just like men, and some of them have died under torture.


They torture children to mostly flogging, beating on the hands and feet and psychological torture. I was administered with electric shocks, my bones were broken, I was hung by my feet from the ceiling and beaten with my hands tied behind my back, said Ali, a professional in his mid 40s who had been arrested in the early days of the terrorist onslaught on suspicion of being an atheist.


They swore on a Koran that I would be cut to pieces. You make a note here, you can take a life without killing. That's what torture does. Between the summers of twenty fifteen and twenty sixteen, ISIS had been on an especially vicious rampage to compensate for the loss of seasoned soldiers and had taken to drugging those that radicalized or forced forced into its lair. ISIS is using special tablets. The fighters take drugs and they don't know where they are, what they are doing.


They are just shooting and fighting, one Kurdish intelligence official explained. They lose their minds. Some can be shot 20 times before they go down. That ominous drug was known as Captagon, is that right?


A methamphetamine like variant of the banned pharmaceutical fenthion, fenthion of follain. It was manufactured in copious quantities, primarily in Lebanon, in neighboring Syria, where it was sold to ISIS through middlemen. It removes any barriers you would have the fighting. There is no second guessing, they just go out and kill. It's still a very common battlefield drug often comes from Lebanon or Syria, um, and yeah, it's unfortunately, it's it goes just beyond access, but it's it's a very common it's becoming a very common drug that a lot of militias and even government soldiers are sort of being given to to give them that sense of invincibility, to have them go out there and, you know, do whatever they're told.


And and I think. Yeah, it really it really gained prominence under ISIS and. With little kids, yeah, yeah, struggling to mom. Among the ranks of captured, brainwashed and drugs drugged were scores of Yazidi boys whose minds had been twisted to turn against their own people. They had been propelled into training regimes that included Islamist indoctrination and weapons instruction. They had been forced into learning the finer points of beheading, forced into becoming suicide bombers and into serving as human shields.


Did your. Perception of. Evl. Change while you were there. I think in the beginning. I perhaps had a little bit more of a black and white perspective on it, which I think, you know, especially in the U.S.. We tend to sort of think. Which I think is completely wrong, but we tend to always it always comes down to a religion thing and that always, always is often painted as the motivating factor.


And I think what I really learned. The very people that were joining ISIS, it was really one of five things or one of, you know, 10 things that was motivating them to join.


And so I think the complexities for me really grew in that because I suddenly started to see, you know, ISIS is absolutely evil and that that hasn't changed for me.


But what I started to see was the complexities of how they got to that point and why they joined. And it wasn't so black and white, really, and that. Majority of them really we're joining more out of a necessity for survival than it necessarily was some kind of, you know, religious extreme and religious extremism. However, there is a difference between the ones that were coming. Foreigners were coming, and they were often a lot more extreme in that respect.


What I found for the Iraqis in particular that we're joining was that a lot of them, as you know, ISIS had come in and taken over their town or their religion, and they still needed to feed their family. So, you know, those kind of complexities grew for me. And it was a lot harder to look at things in in such a sort of black and white terms.


Yeah, I think you're right that America definitely misses the point on that a lot.


It was always I still I still have conversations with people that will talk to me about or they'll come at me about, you know, we had no reason to be fighting the Iraqis. And I was like, hey, we were fighting alongside the Iraqis. They were literally going into the same buildings with us. That's what they were doing that we were we weren't fighting against the Iraqis. We were fighting against the insurgents that were there. Same thing with the what you mentioned about, you know, how are we going?


How am I going to feed my family?


There's plenty of 14, 17, 19, 22 year old young male Iraqis that wanted money. And how are they going to get money?


Well, there's someone over here that's going to pay them 50 dollars to go shoot an RPG at the coalition forces. And that's what they're going to do. And they weren't jihadists.


They were little hoodlums, just like a little hoodlum in America. That's hi.


How are you going to make a living in America in in some crappy city where you don't have any opportunities? Oh, I'm going to be a drug dealer or I'm going to be a gang banger because somebody is going to pay me, you know, to go and carry this from here to there. It's an economic decision more than anything else. And, you know, even when they're talking about, you know, if it's a religious thing, well, it can't be a religious thing because we've got hits.


The actual Muslims fighting against the Muslims, not like there's there's it's not about that.


And what the other crazy thing is, you know, when you when you talk to people and. You know, I would explain well, you know, we were working with oftentimes a majority Shia army and it would be hard for them to interact with the Sunnis and people have no but they don't understand what we're talking about.


And that was a big hit with ISIS, is, you know, you disband in an entire you know, the Sunnis were very disbanded after Saddam, and yet they still had their weapons in there, out on the street and feeling persecuted by by the government. And so what are they going to do? They're going to band together. That was the same people. It wasn't it wasn't anything new. I think ISIS sort of looked at as this group that came out of nowhere and dropped from the sky.


Well, no, they they were always there. They just kind of came together at some point.


When you mentioned Baghdadi, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, al-Baghdadi, we my task unit in Ramadi in 2006 went to go and capture or kill him.


You had a mission to go capture kill him and didn't get him. It's actually it's actually the opening story. Leif Leif Babin was the ground force commander on that operation. They got into a big gunfight because there was security there, which means he was probably in that vicinity. But you're right.


Well, it's not these aren't they didn't drop in the sky. This was a guy that had been there and fought as an insurgent and was on the run and constantly trying to maneuver. And so, yeah, these people didn't drop from the sky.


And, you know, the other crazy thing that you can compare it to a lot of bad situations in the world where what they want is there to be problems. What the what the insurgents want is to create division. Right division.


And they would go and bomb Shia mosques just to get the Shias to lash out at the Sunnis and then the Sunnis where they were trying to create a civil war.


And it was very, very hard to walk that line and make sure that you're doing this in a proper way.


And even when we in Ramadi, when we got there in 2006, I thought we were just going to do a big sweep through like we did like like the Marines did in Fallujah, just go and rubble every building and just run through it and. Maliki, the prime minister, who is a Shia, knew that if he did that, it would be bad, it would be bad. And so he said, no, we're not going to do that.


We're going to do it in a more sparing way, as with minimal force required. And that's what we did.


There was no force required, but it was a lot less kinetic than Fallujah was. So, yeah, I'll tell you. But all that being said, I, I. The the the evil that's perpetrated is just absolutely horrific and you capture it in this book and what scares me the most about it?


Is how easily people are swayed towards. It doesn't take much to push somebody over the line from being a normal person to beheading children. Hmm. Which is which is horrific.


And, you know, I did one podcast on the on the My Lai massacre. And there was roughly five hundred old men, women and children, no military age males there at all. Five hundred murdered, raped, mutilated. And the reading the interviews with the guys that perpetrated this and you read their backgrounds and you read where they came from and you read what they did, you can't it's we have to be on the lookout for this kind of stuff because these guys committed heinous atrocities, equivalent of ISIS atrocities.


And they were Americans that had. Cross over the line. Absolutely, and I really think, you know, this is something I found in Afghanistan, in in Syria and Iraq and a lot of other places that we want to say we just don't give enough attention to, and that is government corruption.


And how much of these things are a symptom of that?


You know, if you have to pay someone every time you're going to go through a checkpoint, you know, so that some policemen can line his pocket if you have to, if you see your leaders rolling around with you in these fancy cars and big houses and Rolex watches and you're not you know, you can't get by sweeping in the street and still not getting any services, then at some point it's going to make you angry.


And when you're angry enough, I also think it's a big factor for for joining a lot of these groups to sort of rise up against their own governments. And I think it's something that when I talk to officials about it, they're often so quick to throw up their hands. We can't do anything about that. That's just a systemic problem. OK, but you're always going to be dealing with terrorism as a systemic problem from that problem, because corruption is just such a huge driver of it in every way, shape or form.


And I just think it's something that gets barely any attention when it's such a big reason why these groups exist and continue to exist and will continue to exist.


Yeah, you have that you have that little bit of anger in the back of your mind that you're being oppressed. And then someone comes along and says, hey, you can fight that oppression with us. And I mean, let's do this, you know?


Fast forward a little bit. What does war look like? It isn't just blister buildings and empty brass casings in displacement camps, war looks like wounds and soldiers who don't resemble fierce fighters but are men in unfathomable pain. Soldiers belong to someone, they are mothers, child, someone created them and brought them into the world only for the world to rip them apart. And for what was it worth it it was always the question in my mind, but ever the hardest to ask.


Soldiers and medical staff, you go into a into a hospital soldier and medical staff face a fight of a different kind, no money and no medicine to treat almost nine thousand five hundred that have been seriously wounded. The tiny hospital, if one could even call it that, had no MRI equipment or CT scanners. It reminded me of poor clinics of a Soviet time and place. There were thousands of open, unresolved case files, several soldiers, young faces, old faces, and with body parts gone, gone, came forward to outline their predicaments and pain, to reconstruct the blows to their bodies.


I feverishly jotted down all I could in my fraying notebook. And then you go through just talking to soldiers and their their horrific wounds that they're, you know, Pawan Ishmail been defusing a roadside bomb for Peshmerga on Christmas Eve in 2014 when it exploded, his two comrades died. Much of his body was burned in his thigh. Skin had been reduced to ash. Karvan said. Thirty seven years old. Proudly dressed in the soldier's uniform, he's one of the victims of the ISIS chemical attack.


Kaida Merker, 42 years old. Twenty five year old Peshmerga servicemen ambushed by an ISIS vehicle.


Around from a peak, a machine gun cleaved below his left ear and lodged a few millimeters from the top disc in his back around remain, they're infected and inflamed. His hands were numb. His head ached persistently. Basar Hussein, 32 year old, been working on the front lines. Struck by a sniper's bullet in broad daylight, reduced from a strong, able bodied man to an almost infantile physical and mental state, Hussein could no longer control his legs, nor could he control his head and eye movements.


Occasionally, he could speak slowly. Other times, his eyes just swelled with confused tears as the words would not come out.


These men had been robbed of bones and body parts that could not grow back. Some had lost their minds, but none had lost their self-respect. They were heroes who did not look like conventional heroes, but constituted what the Hollywood depiction of heroes should have been.


And once again, to your earlier point, Holly, of when you read 40 were wounded or 12 were wounded or seven were wounded or a thousand were wounded the way you did, and I just breezed through those. I didn't go into the detail that you go into some of the back story, but every one of those little statistics is a person.


Going back to Tal Afar. This is a here's a tactic when the people came, when the people from town heard that Kirkuk had been taken over by ISIS, many came out to the streets to celebrate. So this is what we're talking about. You've got people that you've got the Shia power and you've got ISIS taking over Kirkuk and now the Sunnis come out and let's celebrate. And then what happens with all the families out in the street? ISIS members then executed their scheme and had the trucks ready and filled them with young boys and imported them to the front lines.


ISIS has used all sorts of tactics and human shields many times before. ISIS was using the young boys for three main functions, functions on their fateful front line as direct fighters, as human shields and as suicide bombers. One soldiers showed me a video of the remnants of a cauterised truck and told me the three inside were just kids taken from the Tal Afar streets just a day earlier.


What is war? War is the reason you wake up, there is no life outside of the conflict. You eat and breathe when you're in it. It is impossible to have a life outside or even to if you attempt the ritualistic movements of daily life.


The soldiers I met may have had their families, but war always came first, it was not a choice. They had no option but to live it and breathe it.


They had all abandoned their studies and or deserted their livestock or quit their jobs to defend their people for a paltry paycheck, a paycheck that often did not come on time, if at all. There was no time for anything but war. How often are you going in and out of country during this time? I lost count of the amount of trips.


Would you would you normally stay for a month?


Yeah, it varied some points at some points. You know, I go in and do a trip for a few weeks. Other points, I would go in and end up doing a trip for a few months. I just I often left it very open ended depending on getting what I needed. So, yeah, it was sort of a lot of going in and out. And then I'll go to other countries in between at all. So I was going to cover other conflicts kind of at the same time.


And then I would just go back or I'd spend a chunk of time, you know, back in the U.S. and and then go back and spend a ton of time. It was sort of just whatever I could get that I felt I needed to.


To go back far and then it was all just very. It's a very arbitrary step to how long I thought I needed to be there for. Is there any? Is there any. Of your work driving, this is their stories that you owe or anything like that. Nothing from nothing sort of pragmatic in that sense.


It was more yeah, it was more just trying to to develop it as it as it needed to be, I guess, in that very organic sense we've talked about.


The Sun ladies, we've talked about I think we've talked about some of the other Peshmarga females. There are females on the other side as well, females of the caliphate. I got 15 years, one plump fifty four year old woman said, flopping onto the office couch for being an ISIS terrorist. I wanted to be a suicide bomber. You refer to this female as chaos, chaos wanted to tell her story in a jagged timeline, a biography bound by battles.


She was the daughter of an Arab father and a Kurdish mother. She grew up speaking her grandfather's language, language of Turkmen. She ended up in ISIS after her marriage fell apart. I wanted a divorce. I was very poor. I have schizophrenia and was just diagnosed with blood cancer. And my only daughter wasn't treating me well. I was borrowing money from people for the treatment. Chaos lamented, eyes welling. But then I grew desperate in the obscure days after Mosul, I was snatched after Mosul was snatched by ISIS in June of 2014, when the terrorist group was quickly capturing territory across Iraq, she detailed her situation to a cab driver named Mahmud in her home city of Kirkuk.


He offered her a solution. He was ISIS and said, if I joined, they would treat me well and pay me. I said I would join on one condition, that they make me a suicide bomber and get me out of my misery, the only thing I was seeking was to be bombed and die.


So, again, you were pointing out who becomes ISIS and why, and there you go, here you have someone that's schizophrenic, has all these problems in their life. And and, you know, you see the same thing in cults in America, right? You take someone that's been abused, you take someone that's down on their luck. And that's that's who cults actually go after. They go after people like that for the most part.


And this is a classic situation, psychological issues, divorce being treated bad by her daughter. There you go.


Yeah. And she you know, in the when I was sitting with her and she sort of vacillating between this laughing and crying, and it was all it was all very bizarre that I talked in length with one of the guards that was in the room at the time when she was telling me his story. And, you know, did she sort of painting herself to be this very innocent person.


But there's two sides to the story. And the other side being that she was was really evil and she was one of the people that was was taking these Yazidi women and helping facilitate them to be sold and and baiting them and things. So, you know, it's a very complicated situation in that.


Colonel Marwan Sabri of the Yazidi Peshmerga battalion recalled that in March 2017, a disillusioned American moving from females, this is to Westerners amongst the ranks.


A disillusioned American surrendered himself to the Peshmerga, he had begged them not to shoot him, that fighter turned out to be twenty six year old Mohammed Jamal Kawi from Virginia, who was later deported to Virginia's Eastern District for indictment. A 20 year old 20 year jail sentence handed down in October. Twenty seventeen awaited him.


And you go through some of these other Westerner's that males, females coming in from first world countries, coming in from America, coming in from parts of Europe to go giving up, it's crazy.




Yeah, they were their recruitment campaign for foreigners was was pretty extensive.


Moving forward into the book. All tools in the war against ISIS had eventually pointed to Mosul. It was the ISIS bread and butter, the head of the snake.


I learned that many, most Mosul civilians, innocent souls who had managed to survive over three years of ISIS occupation, were slaughtered in retaliation as Iraqi forces surrounded the city. To have made it this far, just to be taken out in the twilight of the fight, jarred me. Their body parts were strewn across dusty streets, tiny bodies cracked open, left to die after their fleeing parents were gunned down, some hiding underneath the bloody corpses of their family members orphaned and forever traumatized.


I remembered the howls of a broken woman, her little daughter had been lost for days until she was found with nothing but a gaping black hole where the back of her head used to be.


Suicide belts are strapped on to helpless civilians, including women and children, by ISIS. Kareem of the Iraqi counterterrorism forces conjectured, This was a big dilemma. We didn't know who a bomber was and who was not. Many of our men died from these people forced to be bombers.


This is one of the things that when my friends were over there and they were reporting back, they'd have these kids, women, children, men coming to checkpoints with strapped with bombs and.


The predicament that they were in, but then also the great lengths that these that the Americans made to try and spare the because what you normally do with a suit, well, obviously a suicide bomber, what do you do? You kill them. And what do you do with a roadside bomb or an IED, you blow it up? What we do, we call it blowing in place. So you just go put an explosive charge near it and you blow it up and then it's safe.


What you don't want to have to do. You do have to do it sometimes, but you don't have to go there with a whatever like a like an action movie with a pair of pliers and a wire cutters and actually disarm that thing because it's dangerous. And by the way, the way they build those bombs, oftentimes when you cut one wire, it's rigged to blow up and that somehow caused the detonation anyways. So what they had in many of these cases were these kids or innocent people that had these bomb strapped and could go walking to the checkpoint.


Certainly complicates and it's. And there's no easy solution to that. Yeah, you know, we talked about on a few podcasts ago, we talked about the idea of total war, which is at the far extreme of conflict, right? Total war. We will do. Absolutely. And in fact, you asked me Echo Charles, you asked me give me like, is there any examples of total war? And I said, ISIS. They said there was no boundaries, zero boundaries to what they would do.


I mean, America pretty much always operates in some there's some camp now you could say World War Two, once we dropped the atomic bombs, it's like, hey, this is total war and we are going to do whatever it takes to win as quickly as possible. That's that's how you can make a decision to say, hey, we're going to drop these atomic weapons.


But other than that, you know, there's always rules of engagement, there's always Geneva Convention, there's always all these constraints. But if you want to talk about just total war, we will do absolutely anything to and stoop to any level of barbarity to try and achieve victory.


This is an example. Female ISIS members were said to have stooped to weaponize their own babies, seemingly harmless mothers carrying their babies had been trained to enter areas thick with Iraqi soldiers, only to blow themselves up their young and their Lebanese liberators around them to bits. An enemy is most dangerous when on the defensive or when they are fighting for survival. This was not an easy fight and ISIS was not the JV team. I did not care for rules of engagement by which the West was taught to fight.


ISIS did whatever it would take to achieve its strategic objectives, regardless of the consequences. There you go, you and me, on the same page.


President Trump gave a free hand to his then defense secretary Mattis, who in May stressed military commanders were no longer slowed by Washington decision cycles or by the White House micromanaging that existed with President Obama. As a result of the new approach, the fall of ISIS in Iraq, at least in terms of territory, came even more swiftly than hardened U.S. military leaders expected. It moved.


More quickly than at least I had anticipated, Brigadier General Croft said we in the Iraqi security forces were able to hunt down and target ISIS leadership, target their command and control. So I kind of heard that a lot from the leadership when I was interviewing them. I think that was in the end of twenty seventeen and that was sort of the the recurring theme was that they were given a more of a free hand and they were sort of able to push forward.


I could look at that, you know, in hindsight in many different ways and and, you know, how that could be interpreted. But, you know, that was the narrative on the ground at the end of twenty seventeen was that they felt that they were given more support than they had been in the past.


Yeah, I think that and it's it's also very interesting when you look at the fact that this is this is General Mattis. Right. This is General Mattis who's saying this. And obviously General Mattis and and President Trump in the end, were not friendly. Right.


Which it shows you how very caustic Trump's leadership could be or could become if you crossed him. And it didn't start out that way.


Clearly, you know, at some point they they were seeing eye to eye.


It's it's what I love about this and what I what I is this is a decentralized command. This is saying, OK, listen, I'm the president. There's bad guys there. I don't care what you do. What I want them. I want them gone. I want that problem solved. Commanders on the ground. OK, we're going to go solve it. Yeah, that's what I said. Go solve it. That's that's a great sign. Right.


That's a great sign.


And obviously, I guess the disease of victory, as General Patton used to call it, meaning we won this thing.


Now everyone should just listen to me more. I mean, that's that's what you have to watch out for. You can't let your ego make you think that just because you made one good decision, you're going to make all good decisions doesn't work that way.


But this is just, again, very revealing of how confusing Donald Trump's leadership could be that you could have. That he could have completely empowered General Mattis to go and solve this problem. And then a couple of years later, General Mattis. Leafs. Yeah, I think it really started that way, you know, with Iraq, with Afghanistan, go do what the job needs to be done.


And and my understanding from talking to different people at the White House, the time was that President Trump knew he's he's not you know, he is the commander in chief, but was the commander in chief, but isn't a military guy.


So he kind of he he gave that job to the generals to do.


And then at some point, I, I feel like that shifted in the love that he sort of had for the men, then somehow sort of changed that. I'm not entirely privy to what happened there, but that was definitely a shift at some point.


Yeah, it was all very strange to watch from the outside. General McMaster's another guy that was on his staff, who is, from everything I understand, I've never met with him. I've never we've covered some of his stuff.


I'm on this podcast because he's very from everything I've understood, he's one of the most respected guys he worked up in Tal Afar. My brigade commander, when I was in Ramadi, had relieved him in Tal Afar. He'd done an amazing job in Tal Afar, bringing stability. That city. We used that plan in Ramadi. So so McMaster's just a very well respected and he he was gone. General Kelly, same thing. I mean, just. A Marine's Marine.


Whose son was killed in Afghanistan? And he ends up so so you're sitting there, it's causing a lot of it's very it makes it it's obvious that it's very hard to logically track the thought patterns of President Trump. You can't really just there's some inconsistency there that you just it's just confusing. But at this time, it was very clear. This is another great another thing that is very positive. It says here we we really had one mandate and that was tenable for Iraqi security forces to defeat ISIS militarily here in Al Anbar.


I feel we have achieved that mission, Folsom said. I never felt constrained in a lot of ways. I felt liberated because we had a clear mandate and there was no questioning that. We were able to focus on what our job was without distraction, and I think that goes a long way in what we are trying to accomplish here. So that's another thing. It was a very clear mission.


And and I'm sure General Mattis drove a lot of that to say, OK, what do you want us? What what is it you want us to do? Because if you don't have a clear mission. Well, I mean, do I need to say anything else if you don't have a clear mission, what are you trying to do? Yeah, and that mission was defeat ISIS.


And it became very complicated, I think, because everybody wanted to argue, well, what does defeat ISIS mean?


People thought, well, if we don't if we if we leave Syria, then that leaves it open to, you know, all sorts of other things.


But in Trump's mind, I think it was clear it was defeat ISIS militarily, at least not defeat the ideology of ISIS.


I think that's going into a whole different rabbit hole. But in terms of territory. Arguably, yes, that that that was something that was achieved. Oh, yeah, yeah, and killed a lot of them. Mm hmm. Tens of thousands of ISIS fighters were killed.


I'm going to fast forward a little bit. You. You talk from everything, like I said, your your effort to capture many different perspectives and one of the perspectives that you capture here is of the Iraqi Christians. And I had to read this part because just because it's very moving, scores of Iraqi Christians in the region who earlier fled in fear neighboring countries such as Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, weren't much better off, farther off from said. I said that are from they had waited years for visas to Western nations only to be rejected.


Now the refugees were stranded, did not have money or the Kurds to resettle in other pockets of Iraq. Those fortunate enough to have been granted visas had to watch their families be split apart. Some members lived in the U.S., others in Europe, and still others were strewn across the Middle East. What was what is war? It was options.


Almost all bad.


This war ever bring about options that could be considered good, that sense of helplessness. Hung in the air during Sunday's service, Women in a Photic Men, Tila's sang and prayed, and the men stuck struck candles to illume the darkened space while tiny children played outside in the cold sunshine. ISIS destroyed all the crosses, crosses that have been made one hundred and fifty years ago, Father Efram said. But I said to my people. Make new crosses. You note in here again, you have you have a couple of modes, and I'd say 10 percent of the book is sort of history slash facts to give context around.


One of the one of the history lessons that you give us is that in 2003, as the Americans invaded for the first time into Iraq, there's one point five million Christians. And in twenty nineteen there's two hundred thousand Christians in Iraq. Yeah, and there's two sort of very different schools of thought, I think, in that is that one being a lot more effort should be made to ensuring that they do stay. You know, that's the land that's that's that's their homeland, Iraq, essentially.


So that all the second thought being they're going to continue to be persecuted, regardless of whether it's ISIS, whether it's government, whether it's an al-Qaeda, irrespective of that, their lives are in danger.


So everything needs to be done to sort of bring them out and have them resettle in Europe or the United States.


So this two very it causes quite a schism, I think, in that community, because there's just two very divergent thoughts on what the the better alternative to that is to help them stay or help them leave.


A whole section here, ISIS wives, infighting, jealousy and regrets. And this is where you started, I didn't dive too much into it, you said you were talking about the the recruitment system that they had in Europe and I kind of moved past it. I didn't mean to, like, ignore that, but it's just that you address it a little bit more here.


Lena Friedler was a 28 year old, blue eyed blonde with milky pale skin from Hamburg, Germany. She was once an aspiring business student with European Dream of money, travel, family and success. In 2012, she married, converted to Islam and left the comforts of her home for Turkey. She said that she had made the abrupt decision after being courted and encouraged by a known radical Salafists in the Hamburg area. She called him Peter Vogel, who urged others to rise up and fight against the Bashar al-Assad Syrian regime.


Her husband also came under peer's spell. One day my husband came home and told me he wants to go to Syria and fight.


Lina told me matter of factly as she nursed her one year old son, her second child, with an ISIS fighter. And that goes back to what I said earlier with the government, the corruption, how much of this is a symptom of of that bigger problem that we tend to ignore? And that's what I found a lot with the these women in these findings. That was specially the foreigners. Yes. Some were going very specifically to join ISIS. But there was this sort of whole group that went before ISIS was even a thing and their mandate was to go and fight Bashar.


And so I think that sort of we we tend to sort of overlook how much of a symptom, you know, it is of a government problem.


Another German native, a stunning raven haired twenty six year old named Heidi Raufi, told me she spent most of her days alone in a tent. She said she had fallen in love with an older boy in 2009. Then then several years in the relationship, he informed her that he was going to help the people of Syria that were suffering as a result of the war. And Bashar al-Assad lovestruck, Heidi, ditched her social network, her social work studies for a life of a jihadi wife in 2014.


Her beloved Kareem later died on the battlefield. She remarried. Here's the remarrying, it was an easy process, there was just there was an ISIS man we all knew with a laptop, and he would just ask us what we wanted and bring us guys to choose. I met three, but chose a man from Kosovo blinded by shrapnel because he wanted to go to Turkey for an operation that was my fault. So she was trying to get out now.


She never made it across the border, months dragged, dragged on, she wanted to return home to Germany. I was in love. It was a mistake. And often these women, when they tried to get out, they get money, someone from home and send the money and they'd pay, you know, what they called a smuggler or whatever to get them out. And the smuggler would just take the money and drive them round and round and round in circles and drop them back.


So sort of became this, you know, Hotel California. You go in, but you can go and you can never leave. So that was sort of the recurring theme with the women. I found, too, that even if they wanted to, they couldn't.


Kalloor Ahmed, a 43 year old, departed Karachi, Pakistan, with her husband and children to fight for the Syrian people. My husband was distraught after seeing a UNICEF documentary about the war in Syria. He wanted to go fight Bashar. My husband sold our house and all our things for us to leave. He used to be a normal man, worked in telecommunications, but he saw that documentary and he made a mind to change. And, you know, like we like you've been saying that's.


What kind of underlying issues were in his head, right, what was going on, could he not get ahead at work? You know, could he. Was he not getting the support that he needed? What was going on? You have to add in all these other factors. Another one, this is a this is a male born to Moroccan parents in the idyllic countryside just outside of Brussels, Hamza was well known in his community, revered for his soccer and boxing skills.


His last job was with DHL delivery service.


Holmes admitted that in 2011, he came became more militant in his ideological views after being introduced to a Salafist group called Sharia for Belgium. The group called for the overthrow of democracy and urged young people to join ISIS abroad almost two years after he headed, heeded the call and set out for the battlefield. The organization would be formally designated as a terrorist group by the Belgian state. Hamza was first place at an immigrant's location in the opposition bastion of Idlib, where he was housed alongside several Western fighters.


After two weeks, he spent, he was sent for 40 days of training, weapons, fitness, religious doctrine. After that, he was deployed to the northern city Syrian city of Aleppo to fight. I just wanted to give people some kind of an indication.


Hamza, particularly, remember the ISIS celebrations after the 2014 beheading of American journalist James Foley and how leaders use the gruesome event as motivation, it was to say, look how we are fighting the Americans. He continued, underscoring that ISIS initially gained momentum after the formation of a coalition of over 60 allied nations designated to defeat them, designed to defeat them. The Coalition's creation was spun by the ISIS propaganda machine to show how strong the militant group was against such a massive force has repeatedly emphasized in the interview that the ideology driving ISIS was not going to stop and had permeated some circles so profoundly that it would be next to impossible to defeat.


He also said each new incarnation of the group brought a school of thought even more rigid than its predecessor. A central tenet of ISIS brainwashing of new followers was its singular focus on the United States, Hamza said, in what he described as an obsession with America. It was the big enemy. Got to have somebody to fight against. Absolutely got to have a bad guy, we're the good guys. You got to have a bad guy. America makes a very nice, bad guy for much of the world, you know, and there's always going to be a different cause, you know, that's what I always found to is that you could use the example of of Guantanamo Bay so you could close that down.


But they're going to find another cause. So there's always going to be a cause. There's always going to be a reason.


And so I think we think we should close one thing down.


You know, it would be create a Palestinian state, whatever the reason is, there's always going to be another one. And that's something that I think people don't really want to recognize. Also, when it comes to policies that you can't have these arbitrary lines between war and peace necessarily, I mean, that those days are long gone with terrorist groups like this.


It's just something that I think. We have to learn to manage to some degree, and I hate saying that because I want to be able to say that it can be totally defeated, but I don't think that's realistic. I think maybe I hope, maybe I just hope, but I, I, I always hope that. Human beings intrinsic. Motivation for freedom. Will rise eventually. To a very positive place in the world. I hope so, too.


I really do. I'm not even sure I believe my own hope. That's what my hope is that I said I hope. Yeah.


And what's unfortunate is, you know, you see various places in the world where freedom rises. And that's my theory.


Right. Would be that once it rises, it's going to move forward. Right. And unfortunately, we see it recede. I mean, I ran to great example, right? I mean, the freedom in Iran in the 60s and 70s was completely on the rise and it absolutely receded totally.


So maybe my hope is misplaced.


You know, I think in Syria to you in the beginning with the revolution, the Arab Spring, you there were freedom fighters. You know, they will it was a legitimate sort of movement of wanting a better life that wasn't under the the Bashar al-Assad dictatorship.


But what happened was it got hijacked by a lot of of these terrorist groups and jihadists who then, I guess, diluted that opposition. And then it became this very again, it wasn't black and white.


It was an incredibly complicated mixture of of opposition with a lot of them being good, solid, you know, wanting to live a better life, and then a lot of them being these awful terrorists. So in that that in itself was something I think was was really hijacked and deleted.


Yeah. That story. And you do a very good job in this of kind of showing some of those strange alliances, very strange alliances that took place. And and what do you make of those strange alliances? Who are you aligned with? And and wait a second. What happens when we're done with this job and all of a sudden I look my person that just helped me and realize that they've got a whole nother idea where they're heading.


I mean, around work to defeat ISIS to. And look, well, you know how the US policy is with Iran. I mean, the friend of a friend is not your is your enemy or not.


Yeah, exactly. That's the thing is that that old saying is the thing that that saying just goes around in circles.


Yeah. Yeah. You know, I'm going to I'm going to fast forward past some of this some of these wars. I'm going to I'm going to pass the. Past the battle, you know, you detail some of the stuff of Masuo and you definitely talk about Rocka and in Syria and I'm going to fast forward and again I'm just going to I have to otherwise I just sit here and read this entire book and I don't want to have you here forever, but we get to a point where the cleanup is now happening and this is at the end of the book and the cleanup is happening in Missouri.


And in this particular case, there's cleanup happening in in Tal Afar and.


I'll just go to the book. Forty miles west of Mosul, Tal Afar had a population of about 100000 before being captured by ISIS in June of 2014. The city was liberated in October of twenty. Seventeen remnants of war were everywhere. Bodies found around and under homes, I learned were not uncommon.


Neither was the smell of putrefied flesh. In many cases, families living under ISIS rule were forced to bury bodies in their own homes and backyards, as well as in local public squares, sometimes victims were made to dig their own shallow graves.


The forty three person emergency division was tasked only with removing civilian remains from mass graves, the larger 700 person Nivan, a civil defense corps, was in charge of sweeping up bodies from the streets and collecting them from individuals, from individual, from within individual homes. The first wasted life to be reached up from the sewage was that of an Iraqi soldier.


His bones, a blood drenched uniform and a pair of handcuffs were exhumed. Then came seven more, all dragged from beneath a home that had once served as a local headquarters of ISIS.


Local officials who had been tipped off to the presence of the remains just a couple of days earlier said the victims were likely held in the basement. Across the street at a second location, another 12 decomposed civilian bodies were exhumed. Among the remains found were those of at least two children. And dismembered heads without bodies. Each skeleton bore a thick black blindfold. Most of the victims appeared to have been slain execution styles. Bullets showered into the backs of their heads.


It was a massacre. More and more of the same, one police official told me. A police official always accompanied the recovery workers through their day's work, a standard practice, its never ending, the official continued, staring out the yellow fog which lifted into the bright sunshine as the day passed on. Officials had become all too familiar with the discovery of ISIS victims. Our duty is to the innocent people under the rubble. Said Hamady al Hussein, commander of the Civil Defense Corps Emergency Convoy Unit, he explained to me over cold t the night before ISIS kills them and throws them into the sewage one by one and covers it over with cement.


This is their way.


After several grueling hours with small children watching from low lying rooftops above 20, body bags were sealed and handed over to Iraqi federal police.


Law enforcement took them to a specialized committee for examining the bodies whenever possible. Surviving family members of the victims were notified.


For Dharwad Daoud Salam Mahmud Ali, a forty four year old rescue worker from the considered something of a hero among his peers for excavating the bodies for twenty seven years. It was a job that never got easier. Sometimes it's five or six entire families, all buried in one house, he told me after losing after hosing himself off behind the fire truck at the end of a shift in Tal Afar. As a father, especially when I see women and children, it hurts.


I've had to pull out many pregnant women to. Dowd said he and his team had recovered two thousand four hundred bodies since Mosul was liberated last July, with more than two thousand of those coming from the Old City on the West Side in Tal Afar. They had recovered six hundred and forty bodies, many of whom were still unidentified. Another 500 bodies were discovered last year in a mass grave between the two strongholds. It wasn't just human recovery required of the dedicated team, Ali was also burdened with demining mining bodies, sometimes those of ISIS fighters.


I can tell straight away if they are ISIS, they are usually booby trapped and often have foreign passports strapped to them. We don't remove them. Our command after demining them is to leave them and authorities take those. I stood alone as the last of the lives were swapped in those big black bags, their brains bursting through empty eye sockets. I tore off my surgical mask, heaving at the smell of rotting corpses in the unbearable heat.


Iraq stood still at the fork between a potential future of death. And one that would value life. It was a place that resembled a fractured mosaic that could only be put back together by a young generation who knew little of life, not maimed by the brutality.


It was supposed to be a time after the war, it was supposed to be a time of peace. Only all it felt like was strange and sorrowful. I thought about that tried and true expression, we all tend to offer one another during hardships. Everything happens for a reason. No. There was no reason these young men and women had to die alone, their bodies left to decay in the literal bowels of their country. There was no great lesson to come from that, no sense in that they had completed their mission on Earth and no reason that it was their time to be taken by God.


That is the lie we tell ourselves. A child from the neighborhood who had watched without flinching as the bodies were brought up, peered over what was left of the bomb belt fence. He looked through the gaping hole into my tearful eyes. Soon we stop crying for the dead, he whispered. But all we can do. His cry for the living. That to. Was war. And that is it's not quite the closing of the book, but obviously it's the it's the name of the book.


And like I said, we probably covered five. I probably read less than five percent of the book today. And these stories, I mean, every page, every story just captures so much of this perspective that you are. Trying to convey. For me, you know, coming coming home from my experiences. For instance, my first deployment to Iraq, we spent a lot of time in Humvees, we were driving a lot. We were at that time the enemy would attack from bridges.


So when you drive underneath a bridge, you'd sort of get like a little you kind of go into a little bit of a standby mode, get that little that little heightened awareness.


Right. So when I got back to America, you're driving. And as you know, around Baghdad, in much of Iraq, they look like highways in California.


You know, this is a big highway with signs in it.


There was you know, when I first got back, you'd start to feel or a vehicle would get close because you didn't want vehicles close to your Humvee convoy, you'd see a vehicle coming close in front of that split second. You'd think, why is this guy getting close to me? Or you'd be approaching that bridge and get that little sensation of brace for it. So you have these memories, I guess, that stick with you and I've got a bunch of those different memories that stick with me.


What where are you at, what memories stick with you? Do you have trouble getting back to normal? Do you have trouble? With going to sleep at night, I think, you know, this this was a project I worked on a few years ago and I think there has been a little bit of distance from it for me. I remember being in the middle of it and I sort of, you know, when I was still writing and covering it, it was it was it was a, you know, obsession to try to understand it, to get the story right, to get the facts right.


And it was so all encompassing and coming back. You know, it always took me a couple of weeks to kind of readjust. But one of the biggest sort of long lasting, I guess, impacts I always found with, you know, in my experience was I think it was a sense of that, a feeling a little bit unsafe.


But I would be in New York or L.A. I was living in the cities at the time and. You get a phishing scam or something on your phone that everybody gets at, for me, it was, oh, my God, I'm being targeted who want something from me.


And I always I couldn't separate, you know, and think of it as well. Everybody gets these for me.


It just became this sort of I was convinced everybody was tapping into my phone or and for me it was more of the I couldn't see these sort of enemy, you know, and that took me a while to kind of let go of that a little bit and to be like, you know, you're OK.


Nobody's nobody's coming at you now. Nobody's trying to hack into your emails. Nobody's trying to figure out who you're talking to on this particular day. Or maybe they were. But, you know, it definitely was something I had exaggerated, I think, in my head, so that something I've had to have separation from. And I think that I've done that. But I still I think about it a lot. I think about, you know, a lot of the people that I met and think, you know, I try to find out where they are, what they're doing.


I think today with all these, you know, WhatsApp signal encrypted messaging, you stay in contact with these people a lot. And that's something that previous journalists in different generations didn't have. So today, which is lovely, you can still sort of stay in contact with them and their families.


And then but it also is is that.


You do sort of feel helpless because there's not much you can do, and I dedicate this book to it was a family that I stayed within in Syria and they live in a place called Kobani. And that was sort of one of the big ISIS strongholds in the beginning. And they took me in.


And you create these immediate bonds with people because, you know, they were my immediate sort of family and they had two young sons and Muslims wife. Paasschen was pregnant at the time and they said, oh, when I left and we'd gone through all these, you know, experiences. And and when I left, they said, oh, well, if she's a if we have a daughter, we're going to name a Holly.


And I just sort of smiled and I thought that was really endearing and lovely. Sure enough, a few months later, I get a message in a picture that she had a girl and they named a Holley's about the same as me and was funny. And I try to sort of check in. I can't even send them a copy of the book. I can't send them, you know, anything.


But I try to to check in, you know, with them. And it was really sweet because they said, oh, there's about five Holley's in Kobani now.


So it's kind of this funny little train.


And I was just so astounded by it. And I think it's those moments in life where you create bonds with people and they want nothing from you. They're not trying to get anything from you. They're not trying to have their name in a newspaper. They're not trying to to do any of that.


They just want to protect you. And it's such a rare thing in this day and age to have those relationships that.


You know, on transactional in some way, other than it just comes from a place that is so pure, and I think that's also why I was so attracted to the work, because you're really meeting people in their most authentic state.


And I think that's just a huge thing I've tried to do in my in my life at home, too, is is to really weed out, you know, what what doesn't serve me as a human being and look for those authentic relationships.


And that's one of the biggest takeaways for me in working in those war zones. I remember when when I got back from my last deployment and then I retired and I, you know, would talk to guys and see stories about guys that would the guys that were in Vietnam War and they go back to Vietnam. And then when I started doing the podcast, we met guys that had gone back to Vietnam and I read more stories about guys who had gone back to Vietnam.


And then, you know, you can take it to the the guys that were in World War Two that would go back to the beaches of Normandy.


And and I remember thinking to myself. As far as going back to Iraq, especially when I first got home, I don't want to go back there. I don't want to go back there. No, I'm not. I'm never going back there. Only recently have I started to feel think to myself, you know, it would be kind of cool to go back and walk those streets again. Where where are you at? Oh, I was I was planning to go back just before covid lockdown.


I had a reason to go and then I was approached to even go, I think, like in a couple of weeks to go. And I had to sort of turn it down because for different reasons, but.


Oh, yeah, in a heartbeat. I feel like a rock is sort of just a yeah.


It's kind of a second home, really. You know, it's been a little bit since I've been there, but I have.


I have nothing but sort of a desire to still go there. I don't I don't view it as a place that I never want to go again.


I'm slowly getting through that, maybe because I don't have. A lot of things I don't really like my memories of it, a lot of them are great memories. That's what makes me start. You know, I used to say to to the platoon guys like you're going through things while you're on deployment and you're mad about this and you're mad at that guy and you're mad at this other guy.


And I said, you know what, two weeks after we get home, we can forget all those bad stuff. Just remember the good stuff. And sure enough, as time goes by, you just remember the good stuff. So I think I'm getting there with specifically with the city of Ramadi.


And it was really I mean, obviously, it was heart wrenching to see that when when Ramadi got taken over by ISIS and the the black flag of ISIS flying over the government center, which I know so many people had fought so hard to liberate that city and it was doing so well and then it got smashed by ISIS.


I remember there's pictures of after after the Iraqi soldiers went back in, they annihilated Ramadi. They blew up so many buildings. There was a neighborhood called Tameem in western western Ramadi. And they I saw pictures of it. It was just leveled, building after building after building, because they just every building that they thought might have a mine, they blew it up. And guess what? They thought they all had IEDs, so they blew them all up.


But, yeah, I think you have a much better relationship with. The land and the people and the memories that I do, right, yeah, and for me, it really is it comes down to the people. It does. It's it's the people who who. I mean, what a privilege it is to to for these people to just to trust you enough with some of these stories to be that vulnerable with somebody that they don't know, you know, at least initially.


And I just think that's that's something I take as a as an honor, really, to be able to to be some kind of vessel in in telling that for me, you know, I hate to use the word voice when people say the voice to the voiceless. I know they have a voice. But but I think as a journalist, you are some kind of vessel that can can bring that back and tell that. And I can't do anything really beyond that.


And I think that was also something I had to learn, was that you want to be able to think that a story is going to make a difference. It's going to change silences. You know, some lawmakers mind somewhere and something's going to happen and, you know, ninety nine point nine percent of the time doesn't change anything but doesn't make it any less important to do and be once you take that weight off your shoulders, it's so much easier to do your job because, again, it's that clear mandate.


You know what it is that you're doing and everything else after that is out of your hands and not in the description.


Well, that's probably a great place to wrap this up, because what you've absolutely done in this book is you have told their stories and we will pass these stories on to as many people as we can.


And I think, like Hayley Love said, you know, you've got what your talent is, right? You've got your skill in life and how love can make videos and sing. And then you've got this ability to write and share these stories and. That's what you've done, so you got anything? That's it. I know, Holly, that we can find you. Well, the book will be up on the website if you want to order the book on Twitter and on Instagram.


You are Holly Iyi. Is that a weird spelling for a.


I guess it's slightly unusual. My mom was having a moment. Holly S. McCan, Mackay, Mackay, Mackay, on and on Facebook. There's no ask just Holly Mackay. And you also have Holly Mackay Dotcom.


Yes, sir. Put it up there. Yep. So people can go there and check out what you're up to. What's your next project being do next? So I'm working on a few different things. I have a couple of writing projects that I am nutting out the basis on. It's it's going to be quite a journey and I'm waiting for travel to open up, but I'm sort of looking a little bit more into the survival aspect of it. So, yeah.


So that'll be interesting. And I am yeah. Just kind of focused on that for now and sort of doing a lot more sort of geopolitical stuff as well. So it's kind of branching out.


Do you, do you are you writing news anymore on a regular basis. I'm doing a little bit here and there, but I'm really focused on my more long term projects right now, kind of getting down a little bit more to the nitty gritty and the things that I really see is important as opposed to the daily churn. So I'm sort of taking a bit of a leap in that.


So it's nice. How is the book writing process? Did you like it?


I have always have a love hate with it, you know, but most of the time I really love it and I love being able to to I hate having to decipher my handwriting out of a notebook.


But beyond that, I really love being able to kind of just sit and sort of meditate on the details. And I try to remember colors and faces and places and and all those things and try to to put it into words. And so it can be challenging, definitely. And it can be definitely moments that I just I don't want to get up and do it.


Did you take pictures? I did. I took a lot of pictures. So we need to get those up on the. Yeah, yeah.


I'll get you pictures of whatever you need. So a lot of these these people, they have they have faces and faces.


And the. You wrote a novel. I did. When I was young. And what's up with the novel? Oh, I'm sure it's somewhere in Australia, probably in my dad's age.


It was a it was a sort of a young teen fiction novel. Yeah.


We don't need to go into that. I love to write. I was writing.


You know, that was one thing aside from from my ballet, from a young age, I love to tell those stories in a way, sort of love to write and make up weird and wonderful things and.


Yeah, awesome. Awesome. Um, anything else. Do you got anything else here.


So I just. Yeah. Thank you for having me here. And you know, it's obviously these things don't happen in isolation. So I have a wonderful family back home in Australia. My parents have always been amazing support. And my sister and my nieces and and then my I call them my American family, which is really my, you know, close knit group of friends that I have in different pockets of America that have really been such a backbone of support for me.


I had one good friend, Myle Cadenas, who's a veteran, and she came on a few trips with me and was amazing. And another good friend of mine, Dennis Santiago, who helped me with the editing. So, yeah, they're really my family in the US and then my my family in Australia.


Well, it's all come together for a I mean, I think it's very clear that this is a powerful book. And I thank you for coming on here. I thank you for letting Jacquot Publishing put it out along with along with D'Angelo Publishing, our friend Secoya.


So that's awesome. And it's an honor for me to be able to help get this book out there to the world and get these stories shared.


Thank you. Appreciate it. And I look, I, I, I hope I didn't come off as crazy or arrogant or like a jerk when I was talking about the fact that we we do some crazy stuff when we're young and there's a certain amount of being naive.


But I don't care how naive you are or how naive you were for you to go into these places to capture these stories. And I didn't there's there's plenty of stories in there where I know from being in combat myself how close you were to the front lines, how close you how much danger you were in all the time. So thank you for writing the book, but also thank you for your courage and your bravery to go out there and take these risks, to capture these stories, to capture the horrors of war so that hopefully we as a race of people in the world, can learn to avoid it at all costs.




Thank you, Holly. Thank you. Thank you both.


And with that, Holly has left the building and left us with an incredible book with some incredible accounts in it, so definitely check out that book, a lot of horror in that book.


You know, a lot of horror in the world. Yeah, yeah, it's bad.


Like like she'll describe each detail and then it goes along with kind of what we've been saying a lot where it's like, yeah, when you just individualise one thing and see their story, it's like, oh man, it really opens up this perspective of like man, this is bad. Yeah, yeah.


And by the way, this is 430 something page book, you know, and I probably read 20 pages, something like that.


So it's an awesome book and yeah, check it out. A lot of horror, a lot of horror in the book, a lot of horror in the world.


I kind of feel like we should do our best. To bring some good in the world, you know, starting with our own lives, yes, trying to live a good life. A good life. Yeah, start there.


Yeah, kind of be appreciative to, you know. Oh, yeah.


I didn't bring it up, Holly. Just, you know, living on the floor of some random blown out building, she's getting after it, man.


Is she getting after she doesn't she she she talks about it, but it's not that's what it's very humbly written story because it's not about her. Yeah, it's not about her.


It's about the people. And so with that, it's.


Yeah. Yeah. Very cool.


Yeah. That's that's kind of a lot too about in office and they don't make it about themselves. Could you could she could. Oh this could one hundred percent. This could be a book about her. Yeah. 100 percent. I went here and I did this. I did that. It's not that, that's not what the book is.


I thought my life in thought to be over. In fact I had to drag it out of her. I had to drag out of her where she came from and how it started and how she got there. She just jumped right into it.


And what you just said about I was here and I was there, she'll be talking about it and I can tell what she means, but a lot of people are going to she said, well, you know, the explosion happened here.


You know what I'm thinking? OK, I know what's happening there. There's gunfire going on. That's not she just kind of puts it under the radar, under the radar kind of her M.O. is to be under the radar. So, yeah. You know, so.


Yeah, yeah. We do have to be appreciative for sure.


We're like even at like even if you're not involved in the war in these places. Even though I guess be fair enough to be appreciated for that. Yeah, because like your day to day life here versus day to day life there, even best case scenarios, it's different.


Your worst case, your worst day here is better than your best day there for 99 percent of the population, if not more.


Oh, yeah. So, yeah, men make the best of it's one of those deals. Right. You know. All right. So, yes, let's not let our lives and capabilities go to waste in any way. Let's try not to. How about that?


Our intention is a big deal. You know, it is just knowing these things. That's a that's a huge start. You know, like G.I. Joe, G.I. Joe, what they say knowing is half the battle. To Joe actually say that I thought that was Sun Tzu and twenty five to twenty five hundred years ago, no, I think that's probably what compliment concept is clear. Yes, sir. So G.I. Joe.


Yeah. So you got to keep these things in mind. Did you work out today if you're like, oh, wait, did I work? You got to know this kind of stuff and you got to know whether or not you're working out tomorrow ain't working out important. Definitely, and yes, I did work out today, so you work out every day, right? I do like that. That's that's the thing. The Jambiya I recently incorporated that into my whole thing.


Usually I'd have a five day and then two rest situation to rest. Back to back. Yes, sir.


I'm like usually the weekend because my program goes five days at a time, like week by week. And that's just how it is convenient and it is convenient. But it had that was it. Even before even before I was like, oh, I need rest days or nothing like that or had less one had less going on is what I'm saying. So that was the structured program.


But I found that if you sort of spread it out a little bit more and I try to go hard too, on every single day, like hard at least one thing hard. You know, some people are like, oh yeah, seven days. But like this one or two days, it's like it's like a bloody day.


Well, I might have depending on how I feel, I can I can tell when I've beat myself down to where I need a mobility day for sure.


Oh, I'll usually still try and break a sweat. Yeah. Like just at a minimum. Just, you know, at a minimum going to break a sweat. Yeah.


Seeing that in, you know, there's there's a bunch of different effective philosophies in working out and working a program.


So I guess I'm not saying oh you're not be as good as mine.


I'm not saying that at all.


But I found and currently what I'm currently on is the to do something hard, like hard where your body has to be like, hey, we've got to recover from this, whether it be like a one small body part situation, even like a medical situation like that. Just at least one thing. I like that on these kind of one off days, a normal workout days is it's going to be a hard one.


Oh, you're saying on the easier day you're still going to do one thing hard and hard? Yeah, I like it. I actually do a very similar version of that.


Not consciously, but unconsciously. Yeah. So let's say I'm going a little bit.


Let's say I'm not going super hard Medicon style, but I'm going to probably go heavy or if I'm going heavy or if I'm not really like feeling the mackan heavy somewhere. Yeah.


So I guess we're kind of in the same boat that it keeps your body there trying to, you know, trying to adapt, adapt and get, you know, kind of re rebuild itself as the new and improved version, you know, so hopefully we can kind of take this philosophy and apply it to the our whole life.


Hopefully. I'm saying.


But here's the thing.


Keep in mind, we might need some supplementation from time to time, but you don't get you don't get nine hours of sleep every single night.


You know, you don't max maximum. Only nine hours sleep is that is everybody is different. So you don't you don't recover, Max. You don't maximize your recovery every single day once.


Well, you need some supplementation for sure. You need seven days. And in fact, you got a little supplementation routine boom. You're going to be on the track even quicker, faster, more effectively. No worries. JoCo has some supplementation of fuel. So here it is. You need protein supplementation. Got milk, cheese like a desert.


By the way, I've been on that train for about almost a month now. I forgot. I forgot the joy, the glory.


Um, so actually go and rewind just a little bit. So all this stuff, you can be on a subscription. You know, we mentioned it before, but the subscription you will not have to pay shipping. Right. You will not have to remember to take these less fun ones to take and I mean less fun like there. Like a.. Fun.


I'm just saying the difference between taking a milkshake, drinking a milkshake and taking joint warfare or super crude oil like one is like a pleasurable experience. One's kind of like, OK, you just sort of do it once.


Prolonged pleasure when you don't have a joint pain. Yeah, but that's the delayed that's the delayed gratification. I'm saying I'm just saying, if you forget, like, it's a little bit more can be more of a thing anyway.


Chuck, you got a subscription. You don't have to even think about that kind of stuff.


Also, do you get a like a discount or something?


You get a discount on a little 10 percent discount form. So if you subscribe. Yeah, yeah. And free shipping. So you combine those two things together. We're in a good spot. Oh yeah.


So it's kind of a win win. Yeah, it's a no brainer if you're like if you're taking it consistently, which you should be. Trust me, the difference between even that taking it, not taking it consistently night and day man. So if you're doing it, it's a win win win really.


Triple win. Triple win. So JoCo fueled dotcom. You can get your supplementation there, which you apparently do need.


You do need. Yeah. And if you subscribe to it, you get shipping for it and you get 10 percent off, which is cool. You can also get the drinks, the go drinks at Walwa. You can get all the supplements at Vitamin Shoppe. So there you go. Or JoCo Fuel BoCom. You do what you want to do to see something if you like something and something good.


Something also at or jamaine dotcom. These jeans, these all-American made, all-American made, yeah, all meaning, all of them and all meaning the entire product itself is all American made.


Do you can you and I don't expect to answer this question, but I wonder if you can find something that's not American made in the whole chain. Like if you go to one of the looms that they got, could you find like a set of screws that are used in there if like, hey, those are made in, you know, somewhere you are going to be hard pressed to find something in your jeans that is not 100 percent American. In fact, the jeans I can tell you there's nothing that's not American made the clothing.


One hundred percent American made. I mean, not only is it an American made, we know where it came from.


We know where the the hide is that we're getting the leather from. We know where that is. Yeah. It goes deep.


So American made a bunch of awesome stuff by a bunch of art made by a bunch of awesome people in Farmington, Maine, you know, sorry, Origin, USA, Dotcom, sorry.


I said Orridge mean, I'm sure you can still go talk to me. You can't, but let's face it. Or the USA dotcoms a little bit stronger. Stronger, yes. Not remains not strong.


But look, who would you rather fight a war against Maine or America, including Maine, which includes Maine. So I think we'll go with it. Well, we'll go to the Origin USA. Yes, I agree.


So yes. Also JoCo as a story as well. Choco store, dotcom, this is where you can get your display equals freedom shirts and hats and hoodies.


Good. All kinds of cool stuff on there.


You get the shirt I'm wearing right now. Yeah. You can get the jacket that you're wearing. The jacket lightweight hoodie can get a lightweight hoodie that echo Charles is wearing right now.


It's lightweight hoodie. Whether you're over taking on and off your hoodie, which I, I'll do it just off currently it is because I'm warm enough.


You showed you showed up with it on the U.S.. I showed you outside. I showed up with my non fine. Came in here fine. You see, I'm saying no.


So all I'm going to tell you is that in the middle of the bell curve, you're good. If we go outside the bell curve in either direction, you're out of here out of luck. So if he gets a little colder, you're screwed. And if it gets more hot, you're screwed. Yeah, that's true. So, yes, it looks like I'm right.


I like the aesthetic value that is lightweight. You like some of us, that's almost like this kind of stuff. Some of us are just over here trying to win, nonetheless, worried about how we look.


Nonetheless, these things are available for those of us who appreciate it.


Speaking of appreciation, if you can appreciate, let's say, one off designs or concepts, we call them leaders from time to time on our apparel that we choose to wear because it looks good and feels good. We have a little subscription situation as well.


So it's the shirt locker.


We've landed on that name with Juncos creativity. No, no, that was not my creativity. That was a suggestion for the troops. But I got your name, the shirt locker, because the name, which I will not mention because I don't want to hear it, that echo Charles lack of creativity.




OK, got us to Will. That's the name that will not be spoken. Shall not be spoken because now we got something good.


The shirt locker locker. So that is a monthly thing. You get a new, a new design. They're cool there. There, there's some layers. There's the attention and focus on the layers. So listen, you know, and you're going to this is like for you to be all this. It kind of is. Yes, sir.


But yes. Yeah. Check that out.


And if that seems cool, that that one might be for you as well. Jarkko store dotcom that we can get those.


Subscribe to the podcast. Leave a review if you want to. We also got other podcasts. We got the JoCo Unravelling podcast, which Darrell Cooper is in the House. We should be rolling out with some of those grounded podcast again.


Working it, working it and the Warrior Kid podcast working it, and I have some time coming up, so we should get some of those done. You can also join us at the JOCO Underground dot com JoCo underground dot com.


We have alternative podcasts with some amplifying information, some of their subject matter, some behind the scenes. We got some Q&A that we're working on where you can send in your audio voice video thing and we'll put all that together.


Also, the underground what I kind of noticed when I listened to them and stuff, these are like I mean, I think it all even the podcast, of course, like makes your brain like, think and work and stuff.


But it's like I find myself like doing little brain. It's like exercise where your brain almost you know, you start to think about stuff like, oh wait, do I do that.


Oh, wait, does that apply to me?


Yeah, I would tell you that the subject matter in the JoCo underground of podcasts are based on me going through daily life and recognizing the patterns and the maneuvers and the thoughts and the and the curiosity and way, way. Why do I why did that happen? Why do we do that? And sometimes it doesn't fit into a Jonquil podcast because it's something about psychology or something about negociate whatever.




And so but it's very important and does it it's like a Venn diagram. Is there some part of it that's leadership. Yes, there is some kind of history. Yes. There's some psychology, some sociologists all mixed in there. But what it's what it is, it's all subject matter that will help you helped me. It helps me. But is me digging into and revealing why these things are happening?


Why am I doing these things? Sometimes my instincts are good, sometimes they're not good. But either way, I'm going to learn from it. And it's just the approach that I take in life to try and figure something out, because like jujitsu, you know, when you change jujitsu and someone goes, oh, put your arm here and you're like, OK.


But then the next day you don't really remember that. But if someone says, put your put your arm here and here's why you do it and you start to understand the concept.


So I think that's a big part of the JoCo Underground podcast is what's the concept behind what's happening here?


What makes it like jujitsu? Obviously a great analogy where like there's certain things in jujitsu and subsequently in life or your day to day whatever, that certain things are not intuitive.


In fact, they're counter counter to like, you know, in jujitsu to turn your back right into like a foot. Like there's so many reasons in regular life to, like, turn your back. That's the best move. It feels like it from moment to moment. Like if someone is mounted on you, like turning your back. If you never trained jujitsu, it's it's weird.


Basically, I want to get away. How do you get away? Turn your back and run away. You can't run to the ground.


Yeah. Like if you're mountain, you try to stand up. The most powerful way you can stand up is to turn over and stand up with him on your back.


You can't do a sit up somewhere, correct. You know, so it's like there's all these intuitive things that are incorrect that is going to make you lose. And then it's the same thing with the like a lot of those, whether it be the cognitive biases or whatever, it's kind of the same thing. And yeah, it's real interesting that you can explore them and you're like, oh man. Yeah. Should I then blame for this and then you know what to do and what not to do.


Yeah. Yeah. So that's the JoCo underground dotcom if you want to, if you want to come and check that out. Look, it's, it's also us, our way of having a contingency plan. In case things get wild, in case there's a bunch of things that could happen, look, we could get. A sensor for something that some subject matter that we cover, we could get people could start to say, OK, well, now you're going to we're going to put our inject advertisements into your podcast.


We don't want that. We just want to have a long advertisement at the end that Echo talks for forty eight minutes on. But we don't want that. So that's what we're doing. We don't we don't want to be held hostage by a platform or held hostage by sponsors. And so eight dollars and 18 cents a month if you want, you can, you can join the JOCO underground dotcom.


And and if you can't afford that, look, we're not we're not trying to be elite.


So if you can't afford it, no factor email assistance at JOCO Underground Dotcom and we will take care of you.


It's true. We also have a YouTube channel where you can check out Echo Charles's legit videos.


Where I on the good ones, on the assistant director, on the bad ones, he kind of goes solo. OK, so you can check those out. Lots of explosions. We have an album with tracks called Psychological Warfare. You can listen to that if you have a momentary. Just just just a temptation that you need to overcome, it's OK to play psychological warfare on your MP3 platforms, flip side canvas. Dakota Meyer, flip side game is dotcom, cool stuff to hang on your wall.


We have a bunch of books Only Cry for the Living by Holly Mackay. There you go. Check that one out. Final spin, a novel written by me. We don't even know if it's a novel out of the novel and of the poem.


I don't I don't know what it is, but we'll see. I've been getting warnings.


People are going to critique you or I'm like, what are they going to say to me? Your book sucks. Cool. Thank you. Carry on. Good critique. Thanks.


Leadership Strategy and tactics. Field Manual. The Cold Devaluations Protocol. Discipline because freedom for any field manual warrior kid. One, two, three and four. Get those for any kids that, you know, milking the Dragons, get those with the little kids that you know about Face by Hackworth. Extreme ownership and the dichotomy of leadership Echelon Front is my leadership consultancy, we saw problems through leadership. If you need help with leadership in your organization, Go Echelon from Dotcom.


We have EAF online, which is leadership training online, which means you can get it for everybody that you know, everyone inside your organization and whatever problems you're having inside your organization, the problems get solved through leadership, as I just said. Well, there's nothing better than getting everyone on your team aligned around the same principles of leadership. It's it's insane to think you would even try and run an organization without having everyone aligned around the same principles of leadership.


So go TGF online dotcom and start taking some courses, go through the program. Com and do Q and A's. We have a live gig that we do. We're doing three of them this year go to extreme ownership dotcom if you want to come to those GFW overwatch, if you need people inside your company to help you with your leadership that you want to hire, go to Overwatch Dotcom.


And if you want to help service members active and retired, you want to help their family family to want to help Gold Star families, check out Mark Leigh's mom, mom. She's got a charity organization. If you want to donate or you want to get involved, go to America's Mighty Warriors, a dog. And if you want to continue this conversation, we're on the interweb. Once again, Holly is on Twitter and on Instagram.


Holly s McCay, it's AOL Ali'i S McKay, M.C. K a y and she's on Facebook, Holly Mackay and she also has a Holly Mackay Dotcom.


And of course Echo and I are also on the interweb is on Twitter, on Instagram, which Echo only refers to as the grandma and Facebook Ekos adequate.


Charles and I am at Jocke willing.


Thanks once again to Holly McKay for taking risk, for showing courage and for capturing these stories to share with all of us. And thanks to all the military personnel out there all over the world who stand and face evil like ISIS every day. Thank you for keeping that evil at bay. And right here at home, all the police and law enforcement, firefighters and paramedics and EMTs and dispatchers and correctional officers and Border Patrol and Secret Service and all first responders, thank you for keeping us safe on the home front and everyone else out there.


You heard it today. There is a lot of evil in the world. It's everywhere and it's up to all of us to fight against it.


That doesn't mean you you have to pick up a gun.


Doesn't mean you have to pick up a weapon. Doesn't mean you have to go overseas.


But you have to fight it. And we have to make sure we keep it up bay by making sure we never forget that it's there, and then what we need to do is go out every day.


And Dogood. And bring light into the world. And until next time, the Zakho Banjoko out.