The Devil’s Henchmen


By Kenneth R. Rosen—the Atavist Magazine—June 29, 2017—

A stone skitters down the hillside, clips a tangle of cloth, and stops short of a human’s lower vertebrae. Next to it, strewn in the dirt and grass of a sun-swathed wadi—one of thousands of small desert valleys scattered across northern Iraq—are a coccyx, femur, humerus, and elbow joint. Ribs soak in a puddle nearby. Each bone is a dirty, decalcified umber, like a masticated chew toy.

Hasan, a 24-year-old enlisted in the Iraqi Federal Police, stands on the sandy road that snakes along the wadi’s eastern edge. The air is thick with the smell of burnt rubber, bloated rigor, and oil fires. Hasan, who gives me only his first name, has stubble on his chin. He wears blue and gray fatigues and black combat boots, one of which he used to kick the stone that now rests near the scattered remains of a dead man. They are a fraction of what the ravine holds: A short distance away, near the hood of a destroyed Humvee, is another body, stripped of flesh but still braided with the scraps of a brown shirt worn at the moment of death.