Tuesday, June 17, 2014

What ISIS wants

The current (Jun2014) news from Iraq has many experts, including me, saying I told you so. For the rest of America it has evoked little more than an aroused yawn (though some seem to care about the veteran reactions to having fought for such an outcome). Nevertheless, the videos from ISIS have stoked my fellow Americans' resentment—the executions are ostensibly the worst—though most don't show the same revulsion to other executions on various peoples around the world (see: delivery style and marketing matter). And as the ISIS resembles the Mongols in their advances and actions, cries sound for a reaction to these insipid warriors.
That video comes to the fore as either a highlights reel or a recruitment video for ISIS; we see dozens of people gunned down or executed. Such images, blood red leaking on dusty ground; palm trees swaying in the background, as a man once body and soul turns to mumbling turns to a pile of flesh, twitching his last; and the Arabic script of there being no god but God on the flag above (scary stuff that foreign script). And what are the reasons for this new curse upon the earth? There have been a handful of theories, most pivoted around the recurring strife between Shia and Sunni. But let me float a different possibility:

You see, I served in Iraq, and during my second trip there we had a cartographer attached to our team for a couple of weeks. He claimed to be an anthropologist, but I could smell something off about him, in the pauses when he talked, the glances of his eyes. I assumed it was the first time he’d been given a cover.

So what are the tribes and dialects here? I asked one day, walking into his office in defiance of the sign up front that said to never come in unless beckoned. He jumped a foot in the air, this old hunched over civilian with spotted skin, white thin hair, and a paunch that spoke of the better meals he was used to. On the table lay a series of maps. I focused on one especially large map on his wall, which had the city of Baghdad marked up with red Xs.

It says to knock before you enter, he said, trying to summon some bass from that belly of his.

Uh huh. You wanted to meet the locals tomorrow, right? So tell me, what dialect is our AO in? I  pressed.

The man spat out diffuse answers. I mocked the profession of cartography and he rose in vicious defense. At least he had heart.

The next day he hovered over the locals, deluging them with questions when I was out of the earshot. When I questioned him back on our firebase, I was met with a silent and brooding stare. That evening, as a dust storm hit, the cartographer fell ill. I searched his room, ostensibly looking for medication that he may need refilled. Nothing of the sort was found. But I did see that he had maps, books of maps, and more maps. There were maps from the Ottoman Empire (or replicas, I assume, given the good shape that they were in), from before the Mongol invasion, from the British Empire. All of them had marks around the Baghdad area—corresponding to the large map on the wall. The more books and maps I opened, the more the room lost its dusty cement aroma and the smell of stacks of an ancient library took over. I inhaled through my nose, dust spilling in from the cracks in the window as the storm continued, and felt a grave forbearance in my heart. I had to sit as the weight of history overwhelmed me.

What was the supposed anthropologist up to? And why would he lie to us? He had been sent down by higher, and we were told to provide him with everything he needed. Not a light order in time of war. I stared at the map and wondered what the man could possibly be looking for. There had been rumors in the ranks about treasures that Saddam had buried here and there. But smarter men in the markets of Baghdad and the alleyways of the Green Zone scoffed at that and said that the real money was contracting for Americans.
As I sat there, rockets rained down on our position, and as more dust jumped into the air, and a punch filled my lungs, I knew that I was on to something. I walked to the medical room where our medic was working on the cartographer.

What’s up? I asked.
He’s a goner.
No evac?
Higher said no.

Odd. I went back to look for more, but knowing something was up, I took a handful of maps and stuffed them into my pocket. I knew better than to keep them in my room, hiding them between a couple of cinder blocks in the corner of the compound. The next day, as we picked up charred rubble, I noticed our mechanic, an Iraqi from the neighborhood, staring at me. He only talked to me, so I kept his stare in mind.

A few minutes later men arrived; almost cliche in their sternness and suits (though the dust had turned the white shirts dark yellow), they detained the anthropologist’s maps and body. They tried pushing us around but our weapons sergeant, a meathead, punched one, and they realized that they were on an unwatched firebase where disappearances wouldn’t be hard. They shut up, but I couldn’t help feel ill as knots in my stomach kept me from eating.

They claimed a few maps were missing. When we told them to fuck off, they searched all our rooms under the gaze of a two star general who 'happened' to swing by. They found nothing and left. I went to talk to the mechanic. He had me drive out to the Iraqi Army compound.

There, in a dark room that smelled of smoke and mud, certain that I was about to be shot behind the ear, our mechanic had me meet one of the men who I had seen the cartographer talk to earlier. A small bald man, with one arm missing and kind eyes, he spoke fluent English. Formerly an engineer he, Ahmed, was now selling cigarettes to make a living. His family was long dead, making the ground fertile for the future. When he stifled a cry, I held his hand. He nodded in appreciation and went on. The cartographer—he called him that—had been poisoned, murdered.

By whom?
He would be dead if he said who.
Fair enough, didn’t care for the cartographer or his guardian angels, so I asked him to go on, was the man looking for a treasure?

No, nothing like that. But he was looking for a map. The map. I shrugged, assuming that it was some old Babylonian map which would fetch a decent price in an illegal art market. Ahmed shook his head when I suggested this.
No. No one poisoned for just a little bit of money.
I begged to differ, but he went on. This map was somewhere deep underground. And not so much a map but a replica of the country. Iraq. An exact replica. Or the closest thing to it. I didn’t understand. The one armed engineer went on, incredulous that I knew nothing about this:

Apparently it was the Babylonians who came upon this idea, that a perfect replica of the world itself would be a world and become a way to control the larger real world. They, of course, didn’t have the technology to do this, but they tried. Many of their statues were attempts at this. As their civilization dissipated this idea was forgotten. It was the first Muslims who brought back the possibility of this control through a map-replica. Their push to control the world was an attempt to herd together all the artisans of the world. They might have come close, but their several hundred years project failed.

They tried to keep the idea secret, but the Mongols heard about it. They sacked Baghdad but couldn't find it. So they dragged artisans from there and across the world back to Mongolia. They failed. Some say it was because they tried to build it in Mongolia and not here, in Baghdad, that there was only a specific place in Baghdad even that would allow this map to work. And for the longest of times this replica map was forgotten, or the idea behind it. Members of the Ottoman Empire, members of the British and Nazi regimes made attempts, but like your cartographer, they were stopped by the locals who had been taught through whispers that this map-replica should never be recreated.

The one armed man stopped. Humvees and helicopters were revving in the background, and my heart stopped. I wasn’t supposed to be here. I flinched when I imagined a raid on my position. All I had was a pistol. The irony that I would die for some stupid theory about map-replicas controlling the world almost deflated me. The Humvees passed, as did the helicopters. I reflated.

The man continued: It was Saddam who finally learned about this map-replica and its possibilities. And Saddam was smart. He decided a perfect replica of the world would be too hard to make. So he had some engineers and cartographers make one of a single town. It didn’t work. But Saddam was cruel enough to know how to make something like this work. He had the entire town arrested and removed... the map-replica worked.

Yes. He was able to control that small part of the world through a perfect replica. Slowly, the map-replica expanded. Now that Saddam knew the map-replica needed living replicas on it, and even he couldn’t kill everyone in Iraq, he added replicas of people. To make sure he had the correct position of the replicas, he would make every man woman and child stand in front of their house or street corner for an entire day.

The one armed man looked at me. I made sure that my disbelief was plastered on my face—Arab countries were full of conspiracy theories, but this one seemed especially outlandish—but he went on:

That’s why he invaded Iran. They had some artisans he needed and they wouldn’t hand them over. In 1990, Kuwait had found out about the map and was threatening to tell the whole world. That’s why your country invaded. After all, you have enough oil and weapons of mass destruction are only another tactic of war, but when Bush heard that he could control the world, he wanted the map replica. But nothing got it out of Saddam. That’s why they hanged him.

The man stopped talking; he inhaled deeply. His breath was stale with hints of dried dates and fish. He widened his eyes and pressed my hand. I nodded my head, wanting to leave, because I was certain he was crazy. I was also thinking that if this was what war does to someone’s mind, someone who seems intelligent, then I had to leave right away. The man held on to my hand. He needed me to believe.

Sure, I said, that makes sense.

He waved a hand in disgust. It doesn’t make sense. No one in their right mind would believe it. But that’s the truth. Why else the maps? His questions? His death?

I thought for a second. Maybe it did make sense. And a feeling wormed its way from my gut to my mind. I looked into the man’s eyes. He was telling the truth. I asked him if he knew where the map was. He shook his head. It was unknown. But shouldn’t it remain that way? I agreed. Exchanging information with him, I left and wished him luck.

I burned the maps during the next dust storm. When I returned from my deployment I kept tabs on Ahmed, my one-armed former engineer protecting a secret in a lawless land. As the Americans left—by which time most in power had given up on finding this map-replica—a power vacuum was formed. Ahmed—probably influenced by my emails which probably said something about humans being no different from bacteria in a petri dish—became a local militia leader cum Iraqi Army commander in his neighborhood, got himself contracts, and got himself a robotic arm, as well as an exoskeleton. People spoke of him in hushed whispers.

It was only a few months ago that I got an email from him, this one with a dark all-caps subject line. He had linked an article which showed that ISIS had taken over an ancient town in Syria. The article was more concerned with the terrorists who were selling the artifacts to fund their mayhem. Or war. Or movement, depending on whom you speak with.

Ahmed pointed out that this was the least of the world’s worries. He sent me another academic article on some of these artifacts filled with unpronounceable jargon. I took Ahmed’s word that it was in fact a location for the map-replica that would allow these people to control the world. Even the US [1]. Ahmed claimed that the Iranians had only now heard about it, and that’s why they’d sent troops too (after all, he said, since when did Persians care for Arabs?). And that's the truth.

Think what you will, but this is why the ISIS is making a push for Baghdad. But therein lies the rub: we allow the powers-that-be interfere and they will learn about and want the map-replica. What then? I'm not sure, but this map-replica needs to be on your mind when you think of a solution to Iraq's problem. When people seem all too willing to step into that morass.

[1] Some people claim that the US left because they knew that with big data they could create a model much more accurate than any replica, and through these big data models, they would surely rule the world.

Thanks for reading. As always, you can contact me at nlowhim@gmail.com if you have any questions or wish to discuss something. Look forward to hearing from you.

Some other articles that might pique your interest (ostensibly on all matters global or books):
#This one is on the global conflict of the West and Islam as seen through the lens of the Rushdie affair.
#This one is a list of the five best science fiction novels out there.
#This one is an article about drone warfare and its effects on the world.
# This one is about reading news in today's world. The solution is that global is better.
# This one is a list of the best books of the 21st century
# This one is a list of the best books of the 20th century
#This on is an article with links to matters of the Iraq war and players not commonly known.

Read my book: Ministry of Bombs a take on the War on Terror.

Thank you for reading, I understand how valuable your time is. If you found this story/musing interesting in any way, I would be grateful if you could share it. Getting the word out is an important part of growing my readership. You can sign up here to receive news and other goodies, such as free books here:

Then Subscribe to my mailing list

* indicates required
Email Format

And if you could give a reasonable tip using the donate button below, that would be greatly appreciated as well.
All the best, and thanks again: 


  1. Where else will anyone know about a map like this? How will big data create such a map? Give us more!

    1. I hear ya, anon, I hear ya. That big data is close to creating some things is either a truth , or a great marketing ploy to suck in money from their end. Still, if they use al the computing power in the world, and all the data points in the world, they might be able to eek out some regressive analysis (r=.51, maybe) for data points of what it means to be a human being. Then, they will rule the world. One ring to rule them all? I think not, Hobbit, it's one model to rule them all.

    2. I likes the sounds of that as a title, I can see it on the silverscreen: One model to rule them all, and then the darkness comes through. Yeah, Plato, you're really living up to your name. I would say thank your parents, but you should really question them.

    3. Sounds about right. Title's not withstanding, I should point out that sometimes I do wonder if stories like this are true. We have ISIS wrecking all ancient places, and all attempts to reign them in. One does wonder what sort of powers they hold if they are as horrendous as people claim they are. And why are we only now finding out about how bad they are.

      Perhaps I'm getting old, but one does wonder if the world is going to hell ina hand-basket.

    4. I'll be the first to admit that the stories about ISIS seemed a little too horrendous to be true (a little too close to the propaganda that I usually hear... in fact all the tripe that came before made people not listen for some time, because it sounded like more of the same). But it appears that most reports are turning out to be true (on some levels) and that ISIS is a force to reckon with. But in that area, and from the detritus Syrian civil war, there emerges no agent of good, only evil (that means all parties involved are bad in most senses of the word).
      The mood on the Arab street (and Persian) reflects this shock at the stories coming out from some of these areas: many believe that it has to be, must be, an Israeli and USA conspiracy (in other words, the US made ISIS to give Islam a bad name, or to perhaps as an excuse to come into Iraq).
      That we're only now finding out anything seems a moot point, though I think it should be looked into.
      Like I said before, they should be considered as the new Mongols from everything we're hearing.

    5. So look deeper. Why is it necessary for the media to portray ISIS as the bogeyman right now? Why? Those conspiracy theories about eh US/Israel trying to hurt Islam are most likely bull, but there is evidence that ISIS or their leaders were at one point on the payroll of one or both of them.
      Mention that next time and see how long it lasts.
      Think also on how many, after all that violence where nothing was done, American oil companies are being threatened and then you'll see why blood and treasure (all public) will be spent again to save private interests.

  2. Thing is, one can never trust what we're told.


Please comment to add to the discussion. Be kind. But let the democratic ideal lead you. And no spamming!