War Zone

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The war in Iraq and subsequent civil war in Syria created a vacuum of power that was filled by ISIS fighters, who expanded their territory at an alarming rate. It seemed like nothing could stop them—until they encountered the Kurdish people, who have lived for centuries in the northern parts of Syria and Iraq and the southern borderland of Turkey. Written under the pseudonym Azad Cudi, Long Shot is the story of how Kurdish snipers stopped the advance of ISIS in Kobani, the last city and last defensible position for the Kurds in Syria. ISIS sent 12,000 trained soldiers, equipped with the latest weapons, against 2,000 Kurds whose guns were older than they were. The Kurds were expected to collapse in a matter of days … but that didn’t happen. This book, written by a sniper, describes how snipers reversed the course of the war: five Kurdish snipers killed 2,000 ISIS soldiers—20% of their entire force—in less than a year. It’s basically a sniping and fighting tactics textbook. Cudi’s description of the war reveals much about the Kurds’ culture. They exist as an independent people without a country, inside three countries who don’t want them. Their will to resist ISIS at any cost was forged by the continual harassment they have endured for centuries from those countries. The continual threat they live under is apparent in the fact that the only faces pictured in the book are of people who have been killed in action. All of their names are noms de guerres. Cudi’s real name and face do not appear, even though he now lives in England. The fear of reprisal for themselves and their families from ISIS, and the countries they live in, is always with them.

This has led to a fascinating culture. There is no distinction between men and women; they are absolute equals, and the general in charge of the war was female. Individualism is shunned. Self-sacrifice for the group is prized. Nothing makes this clearer than the reaction of a mother whose son was killed in action. A young man informed her that her son had been martyred. “After a while, the woman gathered herself, looked me in the eyes, took my hands and said, ‘I wish the years my son never had to you. You live your life for him.’”

The CIA War in Kurdistan by Sam Faddis gives further insight into the Kurdish people and the performance of the Bush administration in the second Gulf War against Saddam Hussein. Faddis was sent into Iraq in early 2002 to head a CIA team deployed to prepare for an American invasion of Iraq from the north. This invasion assumed Turkey’s consent to use their territory to stage the invading force, despite Turkey’s prior unwillingness to co-operate with the United States. Faddis and his team were refused passage through Turkey for weeks, until the Turks finally relented and allowed them to cross their border into Kurdistan. Turkey never consented to allow the U.S. to stage an army and attack Iraq from the north.

This is another story about how determined people can accomplish great things in spite of colossal misjudgments made by others far removed from the point of attack. They achieved victory in the north and hastened Hussein’s fall without any substantial help, and with very little loss of life on either side.

This book is a litany of the errors and mistakes the Bush administration made prior to and during the second Gulf War. They were continuously given information that would have led to an entirely different outcome, but they refused to listen. Selective hearing is a common malady that occurs when leaders know what they want to hear and refuse to listen to anyone who disagrees with their assumptions. Flawed information, flawed assumptions, flawed strategies often lead to horrific results. It is always easy to make judgments with 20/20 hindsight, but clearly, this war was flawed from the start. Read about it and weep.


RALPH STAYER, an avid reader and former CEO of Johnsonville Sausage, leads a book club in Naples with about a dozen other high-power friends. The group only reads non-fiction as a way to keep learning and sharpening the mind. Every month, Stayer shares the latest page-turners earning a permanent spot on his ever-expanding bookshelves.


Photos: Courtesy Brian Tietz, Atlantic Monthly Press, Casemate


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