Longform’s Picks of the Week

The best stories from around the world.


Every weekend, Longform highlights its favorite international articles of the week. For daily picks of new and classic nonfiction, check out Longform or follow @longform on Twitter. Have an iPad? Download Longform’s new app and read all of the latest in-depth stories from dozens of magazines, including Foreign Policy.


The Secret Casualties of Iraq’s Abandoned Chemical Weapons, by C.J. Chivers, the New York Times.

From 2004 to 2011, American and Iraqi troops repeatedly encountered, and at times were wounded by, chemical weapons that were hidden or abandoned years earlier.

Nonetheless, the Pentagon continued to withhold data, leaving the public misinformed as discoveries of chemical weapons accelerated sharply. In late 2005 and early 2006, soldiers collected more than 440 Borak 122-millimeter chemical rockets near Amara, in southeastern Iraq. And in the first nine months of 2006, the American military recovered roughly 700 chemical warheads and shells, according to data obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. British forces also destroyed 21 Borak rockets in early 2006, including some that contained nerve agent, according to a public statement to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in 2010.

The Pentagon did not provide this information to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence as it worked in the summer of 2006 examining intelligence claims about Iraq’s weapons programs. Even as the Senate committee worked, the American Army made its largest chemical weapons find of the war: more than 2,400 Borak rockets. The rockets were discovered at Camp Taji, a former Republican Guard compound, when Americans “running a refueling point for helicopters saw some shady activity on the other side of a fence,” said Mr. Lampier, who lived at the camp at the time.


My Terrifying Night With Afghanistan’s Only Female Warlord, by Jen Percy, the New Republic.

Afghanistan has had only one female warlord, and they called her Commander Pigeon because she moved and killed with the elegance of a bird.

She hated the Taliban more than the Soviets, but the Soviets marked the beginning of jihad. Summertime, she remembered, about noon. The watermelons were ripe. She had been in her bedroom, talking and drinking tea with the women. Her son was cutting grass and her uncle milked the cows. Her whole family was outside tending the farm when the Russian commandos landed on the hill. They shot her son dead. She had no weapons and so she picked up a scythe and killed the commando who did it. She killed for hours and stole weapons from corpses. There were bodies everywhere. They hung from the trees. No man questioned her.


If We Run and They Kill Us Then So Be It. But We Have to Run Now, by Sarah A. Topol, Matter.

Six months ago, 276 Nigerian schoolgirls were kidnapped by Boko Haram. The handful who escaped that night have never told the full story of their ordeal — until now.

There were girls who jumped and girls who fell. Some grabbed tree branches that whipped across the open truck and swung out into the darkness. They leapt as if they knew what was coming, like synchronized swimmers vaulting calmly into a practiced routine they’d done countless times before. Endurance counted them go: One. Two. Three…

Salama saw them, too. They didn’t say goodbye?—?they just fell away, melting into the darkness. Salama struggled to move. She wanted to get to the edge and vanish as well. As she tried to stand, a girl pulled on her arm. “If you jump, I’ll report you to them,” she said. Salama stayed still.


The Mission, by Jon Lee Anderson, the New Yorker.

A last defense against genocide in the Central African Republic.

Bangui sits across the Ubangi River from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a former Belgian colony. A century ago, on both sides of the river, colonial traders used the weapons of slavery and murder to force local people to extract rubber from the surrounding jungle. After independence, in 1960, the city was given a sentimental nickname, Bangui La Coquette. These days it is hard to imagine why. There is one wide boulevard, running past a row of ministries that were built at independence. All the buildings are in disrepair, missing bits of roof or façade, and smudged with red earth. At traffic circles, there are statues of bygone heroes, including Barthélémy Boganda, an anti-colonial priest who negotiated independence with Charles de Gaulle and then died in a mysterious plane crash the year before the agreement was sealed. Otherwise, the most imposing sights are a few billboards, advertising Orange, Total, and Air France—reminders that, in spite of half a century of formal political autonomy, France remains the country’s economic touchstone. Bangui’s original Gallic grid has come to resemble a sprawling African village, with roadside shacks offering everything from beer and haircuts to phone cards and fried manioc balls. In the central market, women sell smoked bat and monkey, alongside pirated films from Nigeria and plastic jugs of locally distilled gin.


When the Ayatollah Said No to Nukes, by Gareth Porter, Foreign Policy.

In an exclusive interview, a top Iranian official says that Khomeini personally stopped him from building Iran’s WMD program.

Saddam Hussein’s Iraq began using chemical weapons against Iranian troops after Iran repelled the initial Iraqi attack and began a counterattack inside Iraq. The Iraqis considered chemical weapons to be the only way to counter Iran’s superiority in manpower. Iranian doctors first documented symptoms of mustard gas from Iraqi chemical attacks against Iranian troops in mid-1983. However, Rafighdoost said, a dramatic increase in Iraqi gas attacks occurred during an Iranian offensive in southern Iraq in February and March 1984. The attacks involved both mustard gas and the nerve gas tabun, which prompted him to take a major new initiative in his war planning.

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