Although Verini is confident in handling war’s black comedy, his book is not funny, nor does it set out to be. It is a poignant and detailed profile, beautifully written, of people in war. The timeline of the battle for the city, which culminated in victory in July 2017 for the Iraqi army and US-led coalition, is seamlessly interwoven with sections on the ascent of Isis, and other chapters describing Mosul’s ancient history. ... They Will Have to Die Now is an exceptional study both of modern war and of the most significant battle in the war against Islamic State.
That’s why They Will Have to Die Now is such a necessary book, as the American journalist James Verini takes on the ambitious project of reporting from the front lines of the war with Isil in Iraq, in a way that is attentive to the humanity of those embroiled in it. What he is not interested in is amplifying Isil’s death-cult propaganda. Too much reporting from Iraq and Syria has, he argues, been lurid, falling “somewhere on the same spectrum as the Caliphate’s own blood-porn”... Verini has a novelist’s eye for the telling detail, such as the date pits and shreds of rope found in an interrogation room, the latter presumably having bound the victim, the former presumably spat out by the captor. Most vivid is Verini’s evocation of the noise. Here he is describing a Russian-made Hind helicopter gunship: “When fired overhead, it was as though the earth’s atmosphere was a closet and you were trapped inside it with a crazed timpanist, and the Hind’s rockets gave the aural effect of tearing the sky in two like a canvas.”
Verini has to leave the brothers behind, and the different, more original book they seemed to offer him. It becomes too dangerous to remain in Mosul. In those passages, They Will Have to Die Now entirely transcends its genre. But it also suggests that, after so many years, we are nearing the end of what we can glean about this place and its conflicts by sending flak-jacketed, non-Arabic-speaking essayists — the ‘central casting’ war correspondents of Iraqis’ dreams, presumably — to tag along with military units and drop in on refugee camps.
Verini, who covered the battle for The New York Times Magazine and National Geographic, has written not only a deeply human account of the conflict but also a fascinating historical investigation of Mosul itself... Verini is a skilled observer of combat. “Experientially,” he writes, “war is mainly sound. In the news, in a movie, you see a war, but once amid a war, you mostly hear it.” His descriptions are sharp, as of “the last-word metallic clangor” of heavy machine guns; and how, in an effort to appear less threatening to communities, “soldiers had wedged bouquets of pink plastic flowers into the bullet holes in the windscreens of their Humvees.”