Abdullah turned serious. "We need more help from America," he said. "Look at what Iran is doing. Iran is now in Tikrit.” (Iranian military officers were highly visible as advisors to Shiite militias seeking to retake the city.) He went on: "This is a huge humiliation for the Sunnis. This is not the way to destroy Daesh. It will cause a worse reaction in the future."
* * *
A few days later, Sheikh Ghassan al-Assi of the Obeidi tribe, which has around 700,000 members in Iraq, both Sunni and Shiite, took me to a restaurant in Amman that he said was owned by Christians from Baghdad. When the waiter came to take our order, Ghassan said, with an acerbic wit that I was by now long familiar with: "The Americans and British destroyed our country—but we still invite them to lunch!" He would later pick out the best parts of the barbecued fish and put them on my plate.
I had first met Ghassan in 2003, when he had been highly critical of coalition forces in Iraq. Even so, we had remained friends. He had fled to Amman last summer in the wake of the Daesh blitzkrieg. According to Ghassan, the group had blown up the grave of his father, the paramount sheikh of the Obeidis, and had destroyed the houses of his uncles because they collaborated with Maliki. He had hoped that his house would be left alone, since he had not worked with the United States or the Iraqi government. But the week prior to my visit, Daesh had turned up with C4 explosives and blown the home up. He did not know why. He took out his iPhone. "Bastards, bastards, bastards,” he muttered as he flicked through the photos.
Over a cup of tea, Ghassan showed me photos of one of his sons, who was wearing a red-and-white checked scarf, with a goatee, and was posing for the camera like a male model. I was surprised; I had never expected a boy born and bred in Hawija—a rough provincial town—to turn out looking like this. Even in Hawija, it seemed, there were people who just wanted to lead normal lives, to wear the latest fashion. It was Dubai, not Daesh, that represented the sort of society they wanted to live in.
Sheikh Ghassan laughed at my astonishment. "Miss Emma,” he asked me somewhat cryptically, “what is life without love?"
* * *
On my last day in Jordan, Jaber al-Jaberi, another tribal leader who had served Iraq as a member of parliament and had once been a candidate for minister of defense, drove me to Jerash, an ancient city outside Amman. With Daesh destroying Iraq's archaeological sites, we both wanted to go and see Jordan's. Jaber, too, had been forced to leave his home in Anbar amid the Daesh advance.
"The Sunnis of Iraq are like the Palestinians," Jaber said. "We've been displaced from our land." Sunnis had been cleansed from Diyala and areas surrounding Baghdad by Shiite militias, and many more had fled from the provinces of Anbar, Nineva, and Salah al-Din because of Daesh. Jaber himself had given up politics and was now spending his days trying to get food and assistance to tribesmen living in terrible conditions in makeshift accommodation in the desert. The Sunnis, he said, had no real leaders, and the Shiite militias were more powerful than the Iraqi security forces.