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Black Flags: the rise of ISIS

By Joby Warrick
November 2016 | Review by John Brand
  • Publisher: Corgi
  • ISBN: 978-0552172882
  • Pages: 480
  • Price: 8.99
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Book Review

Names such as Abu-Musad al-Zarqawi, ISIS (or IS), al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and al-Nusra have become very familiar to anyone keeping abreast of world affairs. They are all players within the seemingly ever more turbulent and violent landscape of the Middle East.

Yet, I suspect that very few of us understand the relationship between the various factions and key players of these Islamist groups, how they have come into being and what their distinctive ideologies are.

Joby Warrick is a Pulitzer Prize-winning, American journalist who is the national security reporter for The Washington Post, and in this brilliantly written and thrilling narrative he traces the origins of ISIS, from the brutal activities of the sadistic Jordanian, al-Zarqawi, who established Jama’at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad, the first incarnation of the ISIS that we are so familiar with today.

As well as describing the rise and spread of ISIS and the other militant groups, Warrick remorselessly reveals how western action, or often inaction, contributed to the flourishing of this vile regime. Reading it, as I did, very soon after the Chilcott report on the war in Iraq, was timely to say the least.

Warrick’s research and inside knowledge is remarkable and expansive, but in no way does it make the account turgid. In fact, I had to keep reminding myself that this was a work of non-fiction and not an action-packed novel.

It is, to use an old cliché, a page-turner, and, from the very first page, when he recounts the order for the execution for the female bomber involved in the carnage of Amman’s Radisson Hotel in 2006, I found it utterly compelling as a read.

It has made me much more enlightened about the context of current affairs and I unreservedly commend this book to anyone who wants to get a better handle on these world-shaping events and people. Indeed, I would go so far as to describe it as indispensable.

John Brand

Addiewell, West Lothian

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