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 BlogviewPatrick Cockburn Archive

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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is threatening to follow up the capture of the Kurdish enclave of Afrin by launching an across-the-board military offensive against the remaining Kurdish-held areas in northern Syria and the main Yazidi population centre in the Sinjar region of Iraqi Kurdistan. He claimed that the next target of Turkish troops would... Read More
The fall of Afrin city to the Turkish army and Syrian rebel forces was inevitable, but the situation remains full of dangers. A central question now is whether or not the takeover of this Kurdish enclave will lead to the ethnic cleansing of the Kurdish majority there. The first act of the fighters of the... Read More
“Will the war in Syria ever end?” After seven years of conflict, the same question is being asked by politicians, diplomats, fighters in the front line, and families cowering in unlit basements to escape devastating bombardments from Ghouta to Afrin. When I asked Aldar Khalil, a top Syrian Kurdish leader whose forces control a quarter... Read More
Syrian Arab militiamen leading the Turkish attack on Afrin in northern Syria are threatening to massacre its Kurdish population unless they convert to the variant of Islam espoused by Isis and al-Qaeda. In the past such demands have preceded the mass killings of sectarian and ethnic minorities in both Syria and Iraq. In one video... Read More
On a green hillside in Afrin in northern Syria, Arab militiamen allied to the Turkish army which invaded this Kurdish enclave seven weeks ago have captured a group of terrified looking Kurdish civilians. The unformed and heavily armed militiamen are shouting “pigs”, “pimp” and “PKK – Kurdistan Workers Party – pigs” all the while chanting... Read More
Cascades of broken concrete line the streets of Raqqa. Few people are about and those who are look crushed and dispirited. An 80-year-old woman who says her name is Islim is scrabbling in the debris looking for scraps of metal and plastic to sell. She explains that she is trying to look after the wife... Read More
In a field beside an abandoned railway station close to the Turkish border in northern Syria, Kurdish fighters are retraining to withstand Turkish air strikes. “We acted like a regular army when we were fighting Daesh [Isis] with US air support,” says Rojva, a veteran Kurdish commander of the People’s Protection Units (YPG). “But now... Read More
Sieges are a merciless business, never more so than in Syria. As a UN aid convoy entered Eastern Ghouta, the World Health Organisation said that Syrian government security had forced the removal from its trucks of “all trauma kits, surgical, dialysis sessions and insulin”. Some 70 per cent of the medical supplies being sent were... Read More
Suleiman Khalaf, also known as Abu Fadi, was killed 10 days ago in a fight with Isis in eastern Syria when the vehicle he was in was hit by a heat-seeking missile. “He was driving a bulldozer which was building an earth rampart when Isis hit it with a missile we call a ‘fuzia’,” said... Read More
Manbij is a good place to understand the jigsaw puzzle of competing fiefdoms into which Syria is now divided and the reasons why the multiple wars that have torn the country apart will go on for several more years. A largely Arab city with a population of 300,000, it is situated east of Aleppo and... Read More
The Turkish attack on the Kurdish enclave of Afrin in northern Syria is likely to have the same devastating outcome as the Syrian army siege of Eastern Ghouta, destroying everything but failing to capture the area, says a senior Syrian Kurdish leader. The official says it was inevitable that Afrin would come under siege, comparing... Read More
Syrian rebels and government forces are both preventing civilians fleeing the bombardment of Eastern Ghouta, according to a teacher who has been trying to get his family out. In an exclusive interview with The Independent, Ghafour, 43, a teacher of Arabic, spoke of their abortive attempt to escape. “I live in Douma [in the north... Read More
The news agenda is dominated by melodramatic scandals that act as simplified versions of reality in which roles are allocated to accusers, victims, perpetrators and those condemned for failing to prevent wrong-doing. A few scandals are rooted in reality, such as those focused on Harvey Weinstein or Jimmy Saville, but others are becoming ever more... Read More
Syrian artillery and aircraft are bombarding Eastern Ghouta, the last big rebel enclave which is just to the east of Damascus. Some 127 people were reported to have been killed on Monday alone. By Tuesday evening that figure was said to have doubled. The strength of the attack by shellfire, bombs and missiles is more... Read More
The earthquake that devastated Haiti on 12 January 2010, killing 220,000 people, produced a terrible and disgusting failure by those who came from abroad to help the survivors. Among these were UN soldiers from Nepal, which was then in the middle of a cholera epidemic, who brought the disease with them and allowed it to... Read More
Turkey is recruiting and retraining Isis fighters to lead its invasion of the Kurdish enclave of Afrin in northern Syria, according to an ex-Isis source. “Most of those who are fighting in Afrin against the YPG [People’s Protection Units] are Isis, though Turkey has trained them to change their assault tactics,” said Faraj, a former... Read More
People sitting in cafes in Baghdad under the rule of Saddam Hussein used to be nervous of accidentally spilling their cup of coffee over the front page of the newspaper spread out in front of them. They had a good reason for their anxiety because Iraqi newspapers at that time always carried a picture of... Read More
Seldom has an important new US foreign policy crashed in flames so quickly and so spectacularly, achieving the very opposite results to those intended. It was only ten days ago that the US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson unexpectedly announced that American military forces would remain in Syria after the defeat of Isis. Their agenda... Read More
The US is trying to prevent the fighting in Afrin between Turkish forces and Syrian Kurds spreading east into the main Kurdish enclave in Syria where US troops are based. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has threatened to drive the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) fighters not just from Afrin, but from Manbij, a strategic... Read More
Turkey is hoping for a quick victory in Afrin, but its soldiers and allied Syrian militiamen are facing counter-attacks by Kurdish forces on villages close to the border. The Kurds are reported to be readying reinforcements to join the battle from their bases in north east Syria where they have thousands of troops who until... Read More
The first pathetic pieces of wreckage of North Korean fishing boats known as “ghost ships” to be found this year are washing up on the coast of northern Japan. These are the storm-battered remains of fragile wooden boats with unreliable engines in which North Korean fishermen go far out to sea in the middle of... Read More
The US-Iran confrontation is already destabilising parts of the Middle East that were starting to settle down after the defeat of Isis in the second half of last year. “The escalating American threats against Iran mean that the Iranians will be more vigorous in safeguarding their position in Iraq and Syria,” said a former Iraqi... Read More
President Trump is trying to kill off the nuclear deal with Iran, but at the same time make the Iranians take the blame. Once again today he is expected to waiver re-imposing strict sanctions on Iran, but will threaten to pull out next time round unless Congress and European countries improve the terms of the... Read More
Israeli jets and ground-to-ground missile attacks on targets in the outskirts of Damascus are a mark of Israel’s heightened concern as President Bashar al-Assad comes close to winning the civil war in Syria. Israel’s security cabinet has held meetings several times in recent days to discuss how it should respond to the “day-after” the war... Read More
The international media has a poor record in reporting protests and uprisings in the wider Middle East since 2011. These complex struggles were presented as simple battles between good and evil, like a scene out of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Surprise and anguish were expressed when the supposed dawning of freedom and democracy in... Read More
Iran is seeing its most widespread protest demonstrations since 2009. They are still gaining momentum and some 15 people are reported to have been killed, though the circumstances in which they died remains unclear. The motive for the protests is primarily economic, but many slogans are political and some directly attack clerical rule in Iran... Read More
I spent most of the last year reporting two sieges, Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria, which finally ended with the decisive defeat of Isis. This was the most important event in the Middle East in 2017, though people are already beginning to forget how dangerous the Isis caliphate was at the height of... Read More
A single stupid remark by a political leader can suddenly illuminate deep and destructive ignorance about important issues. This has happened to me twice recently, the first time during the confrontation between Britain and the EU about the status of Northern Ireland and the Irish border after Brexit. I saw prominent Brexiteer Iain Duncan Smith... Read More
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) of Saudi Arabia is the undoubted Middle East man of the year, but his great impact stems more from his failures than his successes. He is accused of being Machiavellian in clearing his way to the throne by the elimination of opponents inside and outside the royal family. But,... Read More
President Trump and the Israeli government will have foreseen and discounted a Palestinian “day of rage” and protests among Muslims everywhere in the wake of the US recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and plans to move its embassy there. They assume that this will all blow over because US allies such as... Read More
The expected announcement by President Trump that the US recognises Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and will move the US embassy there could mark a critical stage in the reduction of US influence in the world. Seldom, if ever, has such an important US policy initiative been so universally criticised or condemned by almost... Read More
I lived in Jerusalem for four years in a flat with a fine view of the Mount of Olives, which will supposedly split apart on Judgement Day and the dead in the vast cemetery on its slopes will rise again. I found parts of the city like the Dome of the Rock exquisitely beautiful but... Read More
The final elimination of Isis in Iraq and Syria is close, but welcome though the defeat of these monstrous movements may be, it has only been achieved at the cost of great destruction and loss of life. This is the new face of war which governments try to conceal: a limited number of combat troops... Read More
Warnings about the damaging impact on the Northern Ireland peace process of the return to a physical border between the north and the south post-Brexit understate the danger. Those issuing these warnings point to the problems posed by a hard border to relations between nationalist and unionist communities, to power sharing between Sinn Fein and... Read More
I was in my room in the Baghdad Hotel on al-Sadoun street last Sunday evening, writing about the chances for stability in Iraq taking hold, when the walls and floor began to shake. They jerked sideways and up and down several times as if my room was the cabin of boat in a rough sea.... Read More
Violence in Iraq has fallen to its lowest level since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003, as Isis loses its base areas and its bombing attacks are thwarted by informers and double agents. A senior Iraqi security official says that intelligence about potential Isis attacks has improved to the point that government forces can... Read More
About eight or nine years ago, I had an Afghan friend who previously worked for a large US aid agency funding projects in the Afghan provinces. He had been hired to monitor their progress once work had got underway, but he did not hold the job very long for reasons that he explained to me.... Read More
Millions stage world's greatest pilgrimage
Millions of black-clad Shia pilgrims are converging on the holy city of Kerbala for the Arbaeen religious commemoration, the largest annual gathering of people anywhere on earth. Walking in long columns stretching back unbroken for as much as 50 miles, sleeping and eating in tents erected by supporters beside the road, the event has become... Read More
It is one of the most shocking of many sadistic videos shot and publicised by Isis in which its gunmen are seen executing their victims. It shows scenes from the Camp Speicher massacre on 12 June 2014 when Isis murdered 1,700 army recruits in a former palace compound of Saddam Hussein on the banks of... Read More
President Trump’s stance on conflict in the Middle East is a mixture of bellicose threats and demonisation of opponents combined with rather more cautious and carefully calculated action or inaction on the ground. Leaders in Baghdad, Damascus, Riyadh and Tehran face the same problem as those in Tokyo and London, uncertain where the rhetoric ends... Read More
“Fake facts!” exclaimed a senior Iraqi official in exasperation as he pointed to photographs online allegedly showing the Iranian General Qasem Soleimani in Kirkuk, orchestrating the Iraqi government retaking of the city last month. He said that in reality the picture, tweeted by a Kurdish leader as evidence of Iranian hegemony, dates from 2014. The... Read More
'They had tanks and planes, we had no chance'
The defeat of the Kurds in Kirkuk is devastatingly complete. “We used to be in control here and now we are not,” says Aso Mamand, the Kurdish leader in the city, summing up the situation in a helpless and embittered tone as he describes the fall of Kirkuk and the nearby oilfields to the Iraqi... Read More
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi is triumphant as he describes his country’s security forces driving out Isis from its last strongholds in western Iraq. “Our advances have been fantastic,” he said in an interview with The Independent in Baghdad. “We are clearing the deserts of them right up to the border with Syria.” Isis is... Read More
There is a growing mood of self-confidence in Baghdad which I have not seen here since I first visited Iraq in 1977. The country seemed then to be heading for a peaceful and prosperous future thanks to rising oil revenues. It only became clear several years later that Saddam Hussein was a monster of cruelty... Read More
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
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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