The Kurds of ISIS

Why Some Join the Terrorist Group

A member of militias known as Hashid Shaabi kneels as he celebrates victory next to a wall painted with the black flag commonly used by Islamic State militants, in the town of al-Alam March 10, 2015. Thaier Al-Sudani / Reuters

“Jihadism has existed here for decades, and ISIS will be defeated just like the rest of them,” a confident senior Kurdish intelligence official told us. The Kurds are particularly self-assured when it comes to the threat that the Islamic State poses to the borders of Iraqi Kurdistan, which the group menaced before the Kurdish peshmerga forces (and Western airpower) began beating it back in August 2014.

We spent two weeks in Iraqi Kurdistan in order to gain a better understanding of ISIS and the war against it. Our research involved interviewing Kurdish security officials, peshmerga commanders, intelligence officers, and Kurdish prisoners who had joined ISIS. We learned more about the conditions that take someone away from his or her home, family, and friends to the so-called caliphate.

During a peshmerga-guided trip to Taza, a settlement just outside Kirkuk that represents one of the front lines against ISIS in Iraq, Kurdish commanders

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