James Verini is a contributing writer at the New York Times Magazine and National Geographic. In 2016 he went to cover the battle of Mosul, and Jonathan Franzen describes his book They Will Have to Die Now as a “thing of terrible beauty”.
Why did you want to go to Iraq?
The impetus was to write about life in the Islamic State. Isis was rapidly retreating from the parts of Iraq that it held and I wanted to go and talk to people there, including the former jihadis, and see what life was like for them. Once I arrived, it became immediately clear that the battle for Mosul would soon start and I decided to stay. Probably in the back of my mind was a grander motivation – namely that, as an American journalist, Iraq had been on my mind my entire professional career: 9/11 happened when I was 23, right out of uni, and it was the first big story that I covered. So jihadism and America’s place in the world and American adventures in the Middle East and Central Asia were on my mind.