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 BlogviewPatrick Cockburn Archive

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Two cities – Kirkuk and Raqqa – fall in two days and the political landscape of the Middle East is transformed. One of these events, the capture of Raqqa, the last urban stronghold of Isis, by the Syrian Kurds backed by US airpower, had been expected, but was no less important for that. The “caliphate”... Read More
The Kurds may have lost 40 per cent of the territory they previously controlled over the last two days as they withdraw from areas long disputed with Baghdad. Kurdish Peshmerga fighters are pulling back from a great swathe of land in northern Iraq stretching from Syria in the west to Iran in the east. It... Read More
Kurdish and Arab fighters have raised their flag over the last Isis stronghold in Raqqa, bringing to an end the four-month siege of the city which has served as the de facto Isis capital and headquarters in Syria. A small number of Isis fighters holding out in the sports stadium were overrun by the Syrian... Read More
The expected fall of Raqqa will mark the latest defeat for Isis as it loses its last urban strongholds in Syria and Iraq and reverts to being a guerrilla movement launching raids from hideouts in the desert. The siege of Raqqa started on 6 June and Isis fought skilfully against overwhelming odds until it now... Read More
Elite Iraqi security forces have captured the Kurdish government headquarters buildings in the centre of Kirkuk with the Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi ordering the Iraqi flag to be raised over Kirkuk and other disputed territories. An Iraqi Oil Ministry official said that it would be “a very short time” before the Iraqi military seized... Read More
As President Trump withdraws certification of the nuclear agreement with Iran, commentators across the world struggled for words to adequately convey their outrage and contempt. A favourite term to describe Trump is as “a wrecking ball”, but the phrase suggests a sense of direction and capacity to strike a target which Trump does not possess.... Read More
The unity agreement between Hamas and Fatah under which they will set up a joint administration that will, among other things, control Gaza is going to be regarded with scepticism in the region. The accord signed in the main intelligence headquarters in Cairo has come about because both the Palestinian sides are weak and have... Read More
Brexit, Krexit and Crexit: Britain leaves the EU, Kurdistan declares independence from Iraq, Catalonia secedes from Spain – three massive political changes either under way or put on the political agenda by recent referendums. Three very different countries, but in all cases a conviction among a significant number of voters that they would be better... Read More
The Iraqi government has banned international flights to the Kurdish capital Irbil from 6pm this Friday, isolating the Kurds in Iraq to a degree they have not experienced since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003. The isolation is political as well as geographical as traditional Kurdish allies, like the US, UK, France and Germany,... Read More
The overwhelming vote for Kurdish independence in the referendum in northern Iraq is re-energising Kurdish nationalism and the demand for a separate Kurdish state. “Bye bye, Iraq! Bye bye, Iraq!”, chanted demonstrators in Irbil, capital of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), as they danced in the streets after the polls closed. The impact of the... Read More
Iraqi Kurds go to the polls today to cast their votes in a non-binding referendum on Kurdish independence, which outside powers fear will destabilise Iraq. The vote is taking place not only in the territory of the Kurdistan Regional Government, which has long been highly autonomous, but in areas in dispute – including the oil-producing... Read More
On 10 April 2003, I was driving on a road west of Kirkuk, waiting for the city to be captured by the Kurdish Peshmerga and worried that we might arrive there before the Iraqi army had withdrawn or broken up. We could see no cars from Kirkuk coming towards us, which might mean that there... Read More
The Kurdish leadership is coming under intense international pressure to postpone the referendum on independence due to take place in Kurdish-controlled parts of northern Iraq on 25 September. Outside powers see the poll as destabilising Iraq and neighbouring countries at the very moment when Isis and its self-declared caliphate are being defeated. But Kurdish President... Read More
Isis is the most likely inspiration for the bomb explosion on the tube train at Parsons Green station. The attempted mass killing is similar to the attacks in Barcelona, Manchester and London earlier this year in that it aimed to murder the maximum number of civilians in the most public way possible. Isis is stepping... Read More
Father and Son Discuss Battling Mental Illness and the Art It Inspires
My son Henry was diagnosed with schizophrenia when he was a 20-year-old art student in Brighton in 2002. He had tried to swim across the estuary at Newhaven that February and was rescued from the freezing water by fishermen and taken to hospital, unconscious and suffering from hypothermia. Henry was sectioned a year later and... Read More
Irma is battering its way towards South Florida, where it will be the first category 5 hurricane to strike the state since Hurricane Andrew in 1992. Aid for victims of Andrew was infamously slow to arrive and chaotically distributed when it finally turned up. Federal and state authorities waiting for Irma say that they learned... Read More
Al-Qaeda is creating its most powerful stronghold ever in north-west Syria at a time when world attention is almost entirely focused on the impending defeat of Isis in the east of the country. It has established full control of Idlib province and of a vital Syrian-Turkish border crossing since July. “Idlib Province is the largest... Read More
On 22 May, Ahmed Mohsen, an unemployed taxi driver, left his house in the Islamic State-controlled western part of Mosul to try to escape across the Tigris to the government-held eastern side of the city. He and his mother, along with ten other people, carried rubber tyres down to the river: most of them couldn’t... Read More
There is a famous scene in Shakespeare’s Henry V on the night before the battle of Agincourt, when the French lords speak of the inevitability of their coming victory. Puffed up with arrogance, they deride the English: “Do but behold yon poor and starved band.” Of course, all this is to be exposed as bombast... Read More
The catastrophic number of civilian casualties in Mosul is receiving little attention internationally from politicians and journalists. This is in sharp contrast to the outrage expressed worldwide over the bombardment of east Aleppo by Syrian government and Russian forces at the end of 2016. Hoshyar Zebari, the Kurdish leader and former Iraqi finance and foreign... Read More
True civilian death toll feared at 40,000
More than 40,000 civilians were killed in the devastating battle to retake Mosul from Isis, according to intelligence reports revealed exclusively to The Independent – a death toll far higher than previous estimates. Residents of the besieged city were killed by Iraqi ground forces attempting to force out militants, as well as by air strikes... Read More
Iraqi security forces kill Isis prisoners because they believe that if the militants are sent to prison camps they will bribe the authorities in Baghdad to release them. “That is why Iraqi soldiers prefer to shoot them or throw them off high buildings,” says one Iraqi source. A former senior Iraqi official said he could... Read More
Northern Iraq is one of the most fought over places on earth. Ancient and modern fortifications are everywhere. Just outside Erbil is the site of the battle of Gaugamela where Alexander the Great defeated the Persian army in 331 BC. Saddam Hussein’s soldiers fought the Kurds here for decades. But the nine-month long struggle for... Read More
“The people of Mosul will receive their salaries, while the people of Basra will receive the bodies of their martyrs,” runs a bitter comment on Iraqi social media. Many Iraqis see the inhabitants of Mosul as willing collaborators with Isis during its three years in power in the city. In particular, there are calls for... Read More
“There were very few Daesh [Isis fighters] in our neighbourhood, but they dropped a lot of bombs on them,” says Qais, 47, a resident of the al-Jadida district of Mosul. “We reckon that the airstrikes here killed between 600 and 1,000 people.” He shows pictures on his phone of a house that had stood beside... Read More
Iraq's Prime Minister formally declared victory over Isis in the northern city of Mosul, saying their defeat marks the "collapse" of the self-proclaimed caliphate. "I announce from here the end and the failure and the collapse of the terrorist state of falsehood and terrorism which the terrorist Daesh announced from Mosul," Haider al-abadi said in... Read More
Iraq is declaring victory over Isis in Mosul as Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, wearing black military uniform, arrived in the city to congratulate his soldiers at the end of an epic nine-month-long battle. Elite Iraqi government forces raised the country’s flag on the banks of the Tigris River this morning, though Isis snipers are still... Read More
Iraqi soldiers have started celebrating their defeat of Isis in Mosul after a nine-month siege, even before the last resistance has been extinguished. An Iraqi commander called on a loudspeaker for surviving Isis fighters to surrender, but this was rejected by their commander. “It may take another two or three days,” said an Iraqi observer,... Read More
In the early dawn of 5 July, a 200-strong force of anti-Isis fighters launched a surprise attack on the Old City of Raqqa, which is the last big urban centre held by Isis anywhere in Syria and Iraq. Recruited mostly from survivors of a tribe that Isis massacred three years ago, the five-man assault teams,... Read More
President Trump has told a crowd of cheering Polish nationalists in Warsaw that the great threat to the world is from “radical Islamic terrorism”, which should make it good news for him that Isis is losing Mosul, the heart of its self-proclaimed Caliphate and its de facto capital in Iraq. At the same time, US-backed... Read More
The voice of Abdulkareem, 43, a former construction worker trapped inside the fast-shrinking Isis enclave in Mosul, trembles with fear as he describes the battle raging around him. He knows that it would be dangerous to try to escape, but it may be even more risky to stay where he is. He told The Independent... Read More
The battle for Mosul is a ferocious struggle that has now been going on for 256 days, or two months longer than the battle of Stalingrad. The fighting between Iraqi government forces and Isis is much smaller in scale than in Russia 75 years ago, but is comparable in its savagery and the importance with... Read More
The surprise outcome of the general election sprang from a series of surprises combining in the closing weeks of the campaign. Some were predictable, but others marked fresh departures in British political life. Canterbury is a good example of these trends, resulting in a narrow Labour win and the first Conservative loss in the constituency... Read More
Britain is experiencing profound political changes, going by the outcome of the general election, but new trends are shadowy, developing below the surface. It may be that Labour’s relative success – achieved amid confident predictions by pundits of annihilating defeat – stemmed from a last-minute change of direction by voters, or simply because pollsters vastly... Read More
Political earthquakes, terrorist outrages and man-made disaster are pounding Britain so frequently these days that it is scarcely possible to take in the significance of one before the next is upon us. There has been the referendum on Brexit, the fall of one prime minister and the rise of another, three suicide attacks, the general... Read More
My mother, Patricia Cockburn, joined the Air-Raid Precautions (ARP) in 1939 and worked at the “Northern Control Centre” in a large cellar deep under Praed Street in Paddington through the early months of the Blitz. This is about two and a half miles from where Grenfell Tower was to be built 35 years later. She... Read More
The blowing up by Isis of the al-Nuri mosque in Mosul marks a decisive defeat for the caliphate declared by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in the same mosque three years ago. Isis will continue fighting as a guerrilla force, but it will be the end of a state once the size of Great Britain and fielding... Read More
It is a dangerous moment for any government when the public suspects that it is incapable of preventing a great disaster like the Grenfell Tower fire. Angry people see the state as failing in its basic duty to keep them safe. Politicians in power, in such circumstances, are embarrassingly keen to show that there is... Read More
The Conservative government largely avoided being blamed during the election campaign for its failure to stop the terrorist attacks. It appealed to British communal solidarity in defiance of those who carried out the atrocities, which was a perfectly reasonable stance, though one that conveniently enables the Conservatives to pillory any critics for dividing the nation... Read More
Anti-Isis forces are advancing into eastern Raqqa, the de facto Isis capital in Syria, and Iraqi troops have penned surviving Isis fighters into one part of the Old City in Mosul, once the heart of the self-declared Caliphate. “They are down to their last neighbourhoods in Mosul and they already lost part of Raqqa, and... Read More
“I do not think the siege of Raqqa will be as long as Mosul,” says Awad, an Arab fighter in the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), who belongs to a military unit attacking Raqqa, the de facto capital of Isis in Syria. In an exclusive interview with The Independent, he says that “we are advancing... Read More
Qatar is unexpectedly under siege from its neighbours. Led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, supported by Egypt, Bahrain and Yemen, the five Arab states have cut diplomatic relations with Qatar, severed land, air and sea travel and are expelling Qatari citizens who have 48 hours to depart. The Saudis and their allies... Read More
The indiscriminate slaughter of ordinary members of the public on London Bridge and in Borough Market on Saturday night is fully in keeping with the operational methods of Isis. They have yet to claim responsibility, but it is extremely likely that they were ultimately behind an attack that bears so many Isis hallmarks. The killings... Read More
The general election is showing the extent to which Britain has diminished in power over the last year. “L’Angleterre, ce n’est plus grand chose – England is not much anymore,” said President de Gaulle in 1963 as he vetoed Britain’s bid to join the EEC. He was premature because of Britain’s subsequent EU membership and... Read More
The explosion of a giant bomb in a sewage tanker close to the diplomatic quarter in Kabul is receiving much publicity because of the heavy loss of life and because so many foreign embassies were damaged. A BBC driver was killed and four BBC journalists were wounded by the blast. But, aside from spectacular incidents... Read More
Ice cream and blood mingle on the floor after a bomb exploded outside an ice cream shop in the Karada district of Baghdad as people broke their fast during the first day of Ramadan. A bewildered young girl wanders through the wreckage, past the smashed yellow tables and benches where at least 26 people have... Read More
The massacre in Manchester is a horrific event born out of the violence raging in a vast area stretching from Pakistan to Nigeria and Syria to South Sudan. Britain is on the outer periphery of this cauldron of war, but it would be surprising if we were not hit by sparks thrown up by these... Read More
Jeremy Corbyn is correct in saying that there is a strong connection between the terrorist threat in Britain and the wars Britain has fought abroad, notably in Iraq and Libya. The fact that these wars motivate and strengthen terrorist organisations like al-Qaeda and Isis has long been obvious to British intelligence officers, though strenuously denied... Read More
In the wake of the massacre in Manchester, people rightly warn against blaming the entire Muslim community in Britain and the world. Certainly one of the aims of those who carry out such atrocities is to provoke the communal punishment of all Muslims, thereby alienating a portion of them who will then become open to... Read More
President Trump leaves the Middle East today, having done his bit to make the region even more divided and mired in conflict than it was before. At the same moment that Donald Trump was condemning the suicide bomber in Manchester as “an evil loser in life”, he was adding to the chaos in which al-Qaeda... Read More
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Patrick Cockburn
About Patrick Cockburn

Patrick Cockburn is the Middle East correspondent for the British newspaper The Independent. He was awarded the 2005 Martha Gellhorn prize for war reporting. His book on his years covering the war in Iraq, The Occupation: War and Resistance in Iraq (Verso) was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for non-fiction.


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