Iraq’s mysterious grave of a Western Islamic State fighter named James

A rocket is launched at Islamic State in Tikrit, Iraq. Source: AP

A mysterious grave lies amid the pulverised rubble of al-Rafush in Iraq. Beneath a thin layer of soil, a shrapnel-shredded flak jacket and bent Kalashnikov magazines lies a man called “James”.

Although his true identity rests in the grave with him, wrapped in a nylon bag placed on his chest, the Shia militia who stormed the village three months ago insist James was a foreign fighter for Islamic State — a Muslim convert from Britain who left his home to die in the fighting east of Fallujah.

So certain are they of James’s nationality that they placed a marker beside his lonely battlefield grave, believing that one day British authorities may wish to ­repatriate his corpse. “Tomb of the British Da’ish (Islamic State) James,” it read, though the sign was replaced a fortnight ago with a new phonetic spelling, “Jeems”.

While thousands of foreigners have flocked to join Islamic State — known to their enemies as the Da’ish — since the organisation captured Mosul last June, the dead man’s real identity poses a puzzle.

“He was in his thirties and had ID on him,” recalled Brigadier Sayeed Hamid al-Yasser, commander of the Shia volunteer unit Ansar al-Marjaeya, whose fighters stormed the village last December, supported by airstrikes from ­coalition aircraft, after a daring boat crossing over a nearby canal.

“I can’t recall James’s last name, just his first,” the brigadier said. “We kill a lot of foreigners on this line. Most are Saudis or Libyans, though in a recent attack we found many dead Tunisians. ­Occasionally we kill an African or a white Westerner. We once killed two Australians and a German. We have killed a few from the UK, but this is the first British I remember who was white”…