Arriving in Baghdad, it is clear who has won the Iraq War. The Shia are in charge. Tower-sized, luminous green posters of Husseyn and Ali define the landscape, draped from Brezhnevite tower blocks, augmented by portraits of martyred fighters in identical uniforms, with a prominent place for Nimr Baqir al-Nimr, the Shia cleric executed by the Saudis. These are reproduced in miniature on every soldier’s hut at checkpoints throughout the city. Tall concrete barricades confine the defeated Sunni minority to their sealed areas. The Iranian-backed Hashti Shabi brigades made light work of the Kurdish Peshmerga in the disputed areas of Kirkuk, Sinjar, and Nineveh, after the Kurdish referendum on independence, and now control the motorway between Erbil and Sulaymaniyah. In Iraq, the Shia won the national war, the Iranians the regional battle, and Russia the global contest. America, France, and Britain ended up making lightning strikes that left no trace.
I had not traveled to visit Iraq, however, but Syria, at the invitation of the Federation of Northern Syria, also known as Rojava.
A very small Kurdish enclave of not more than 2 million people had fought back against ISIS at their worst. The small city of Kobani on the Turkish border was the first place that resisted the supposedly irresistible spread of the caliphate in 2014. And what emerged was extraordinary, an ideology of women’s leadership and equality combined with democratic confederalism based on strong local democratic self-government. The YPJ, the women’s force, and the YPG, which are mixed brigades, turned themselves, with American and British support, into the Syrian Democratic Force that defeated ISIS all the way to Raqqa, establishing their parish commune system in their wake.