From Catholic priests to businessmen to PKK cadre members, the belief that America created ISIS appears prevalent in Kurdistan. Why do so many Kurds from so many different walks of life think that ISIS is an American construction, when the U.S. military has spent so much time, energy, and lives fighting Islamic extremism in Iraq, to include ISIS? Given that American advisors are on the ground helping the Kurds, and coalition aircraft drop bombs on ISIS targets on a daily basis, this belief is about as irrational as it is common.

This article is based on anecdotal accounts rather than census data, but because the topic comes up so frequently in conversations with so many people in Kurdistan, the subject is worth analyzing.

Conspiracy theory runs thick in much of the Middle East, including Iraq and Kurdistan. Local and international politics are often seen through the prism of byzantine power plays made by secret puppet masters behind the scenes. In a region where sheiks and kings have been poisoning each other’s couscous for thousands of years, it isn’t hard to see why.

One example is the fall of Sinjar last year. Peshmerga were sent to defend the city where the Yezidi minority group lives against ISIS forces. But as the jihadis advanced on Sinjar, the Pesh abandoned their posts and fled. ISIS laid waste to Sinjar, murdering and raping their way through the city, selling women and girls into sexual slavery, and forcing Yezidi men to convert to Islam and fight with them or face execution. The truth of what really happened in Sinjar is difficult to discern. Depending on who you talk to, there is a conspiracy theory to explain what really happened.

Both sides have conspiracy theories as to why Sinjar fell. Yezidis will tell you that the Peshmerga colluded with ISIS, the Kurds sent to protect Sinjar selling out their people to the enemy. The Peshmerga will tell you that there was a secret plot by treasonous Yezidi who betrayed their city and their people to ISIS. Both sides have a conspiracy theory to explain why the city fell, when the reality is probably that the Peshmerga were unprepared for ISIS at this time, poorly organized, poorly led, and were not given clear orders on what to do when ISIS attacked. In this confusing situation, and vastly outgunned, the Peshmerga ran away.

When asked about ISIS, many Kurds explain the organization in simple terms: “Daesh is America.”

Middle Eastern paranoia

A friend in Kurdistan was gifted a book by an al-Qaeda guy in Syria. It is reputed to be a history of freemasonry handed down through a prominent Masonic family until it was obtained by the president of Brazil during the 1970s and translated into Arabic. Apparently, Islamic fundamentalists also buy into their own brand of conspiracy and like to read up on Christian plots engineered against the world by the Masons. It goes further than that, though. In a local bazaar, I found books about Masonic conspiracies and even an Arabic translation of John Perkin’s “Confessions of an Economic Hitman” prominently displayed on tables in the fronts of bookshops.