Black-clad fighters promised the group of penniless Iraqi farmers together they would conquer “all the lands to Burma”. The attentive teenagers from al-Jazirah, an area west of Tikrit, Saddam Hussein’s hometown, did not know where Burma was but it sounded far away.
After years of punishing droughts, which had blasted their lands and livelihoods, they did not really care. Their real interest was in the salaries of more than $400 a month.
This was early 2014. But for years, residents of this area and others in Iraq’s northern Saladin governorate had noticed strange men in religious garb visiting the rural areas during difficult farming seasons. It seemed that whenever the droughts struck the visitors would appear, sometimes dishing out food, sometimes money, sometimes agricultural supplies.
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