More than four years on, the Islamic State group has been forced from Mosul and no longer occupies towns or cities anywhere in Iraq or Syria. But its brutal legacy remains, under mounds of rubble, in ruined homes and fields.
The 19th century saw a spate of forgeries by European Orientalists of letters claiming to be from the Prophet Muhammad himself. Sultan Abdul Majid bought one for the equivalent of a staggering 73 pounds of gold. Over 100 years later, the Islamic State used the seal on this fake for its own logo and infamous flag, tricked by the wiles of expert entrepreneurs.
If the evacuation of Afghanistan tested U.S. partnerships in ways that revealed something short of solidarity, building and sustaining an allied strategy for political transition in Syria can provide the corrective.
The Taliban sensed an opportunity. Eager to win more public support for their insurgency and desperate to prevent the Islamic State from making further inroads into their territory, they decided to escalate the fight against the group.
Afghanistan itself was a sideshow in which money and careers could be made and repatriated. In the meantime, an artificial economy was created there to service birds of passage, from diplomats and aid workers to military officials and outside contractors.
In the dusty farms and villages of Sinjar, the interests of Iran and Turkey collide. Here in northern Iraq, Tehran is allying with non-state actors in order to further its own interests — this time with the controversial PKK group, which will bring it into conflict with Ankara.
Thousands of Syrians have fought as mercenaries in Libya, Azerbaijan, and possibly elsewhere, on both Russia and Turkey’s behalf. Dozens have been killed, and hundreds have come back after their contractual deployments, but none return to the life they left behind.