In the spring of 1991, when public agitation in the West forced the governments of Britain and America to set up a ‘safe haven’ for the Kurds of Iraq to save them from another attempted genocide, Jason Burke and a fellow student left London for Iraqi Kurdistan and joined the Peshmergah guerrillas there to fight Saddam Hussein’s army. Luckily for them, the fighting was largely over by then and the young Westerners were of greater value to the Kurds as propaganda than as soldiers. They were marched across the Kurdish mountains from campsite to campsite and town to town, being shown off to the locals to raise morale. He now says, a little unfairly to himself, that his decision to go there had nothing to do with idealism. He did not want to spend another summer on the beaches of Thailand, even less stacking tomato tins on shelves in yet another supermarket. He had also been inspired by the autobiography of Don McCullin, the war photographer, so he took two old cameras with him. Once in place, he sent a postcard to his college bar and another to a girlfriend who had dumped him a few months earlier. Be that as it may, soon he regained his senses and decided to return home, in the process narrowly surviving abduction by a gang of uncouth men, perhaps working for Turkish intelligence, who were linked at the time to the murder of two British journalists who had been reporting the Kurdish tide of refugees.
I know how scared he must have been. Nearly two decades earlier, in the same spot, I myself had faced similar danger, though at the hands of Saddam’s men, for the sake of reporting the budding dictator’s preparations for his first war. This brush with death fortunately cured me of