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”…