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Syria

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It is likely that Israel launched the missile attack in Syria that killed at least 26 pro-government fighters, many of them Iranians, late on Sunday night. The targets included a ground-to-ground missile depot that exploded with the seismic impact of a small earthquake. Iranian news outlets first confirmed and then denied that Iranian facilities had... Read More
During the bombing of Baghdad in January 1991 I went with other journalists on a government-organised trip to what they claimed was the remains of a baby milk plant at Abu Ghraib which the US had just destroyed, saying that it was really a biological warfare facility. Walking around the wreckage, I found a smashed-up... Read More
The Yazidis, who were recently the target of massacre, rape and sex slavery by Isis, are now facing forcible conversion to Islam under the threat of death from Turkish-backed forces which captured the Kurdish enclave of Afrin on 18 March. Islamist rebel fighters, who are allied to Turkey and have occupied Yazidi villages in the... Read More
Political leaders in power generally like small wars. It enables them to stand tall, wrap the flag around them, pretend they hold the fate of the nation in their hands, and denigrate their opponents as unpatriotic softies. Theresa May is behaving in keeping with this stereotype since ordering four British planes to join the very... Read More
“Big noise on the stairs, but nobody comes into the room,” runs an old Chinese saying. This is an apt description of the very limited airstrikes on Syria launched by the US, Britain and France overnight, which came after apocalyptic tweets from President Trump and threats of military retaliation by Russian diplomats. In the event,... Read More
The most important point about the impending missile strikes in Syria by the US, Britain and France is being missed, despite wall-to-wall media coverage. The purported aim of the attack is to deter President Bashar al-Assad from using chemical weapons as a weapon in the Syrian civil war. But the history of this savage conflict,... Read More
Every atrocity in the Syrian civil war provokes a furious row about whether it happened and, if so, who was responsible for carrying it out. The merciless brutality of all sides combines with partisan reporting and lack of access for independent investigators to make it possible for doubts to be generated about even the most... Read More
The crises in the Middle East are beginning to join up and cross-infect each other. Israeli aircraft fired missiles at Syria’s T4 military airbase east of Homs early on Monday, just as other Israeli jets were making attacks on Gaza. President Donald Trump must decide whether or not he will order air strikes targeting Syrian... Read More
Donald Trump has decided to keep US forces in Syria for a limited period, ending speculation about an immediate pull-out fuelled by the president himself. He agreed at a National Security Council meeting that the 2,000 US troops backed by massive airpower should stay in Syria where they support the Kurds in the east of... Read More
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
“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
President Trump’s decision to provide weapons to the Syrian Kurds, who are fighting Isis, potentially marks a crucial change in the political geography of the Middle East. In effect, the US is choosing to support its Kurdish ally in Syria, in defiance of Turkey, whose aim is to prevent the establishment of a quasi-independent Kurdish... Read More
When Lionel Messi scored a last minute winning goal for Barcelona against Real Madrid on 23 April, football fans in the Syrian coastal city of Tartous who had been watching the game on television rushed into the street to celebrate. This turned out to be a mistake from their point of view because many of... Read More
There is nothing surprising in Boris Johnson saying that it would be difficult for the UK not to join US military action in Syria against President Bashar al-Assad’s forces in response to a chemical weapons attack. Since the Second World War British governments have been trying to strengthen the UK’s status as the most important... Read More
It is very unlikely that Russia will change its support for President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, despite calls to do so from foreign ministers from the G7 nations gathered in Italy in the aftermath of the use of poison gas in Syria and the US missile strikes. Russia owes its return to great power status... Read More
President Donald Trump had little option but to order a missile strike against a Syrian airbase after holding Syria responsible for that poison gas attack on Khan Sheikhoun that killed 80 civilians. He had criticised President Obama for being weak, slow and indecisive when facing similar challenges, so he could scarcely do nothing when President... Read More
Iraqi forces are stalled and suffering heavy casualties in their assault on the last Isis fighters defending close-packed buildings in the Old City of Mosul. Civilian loss of life is very high as US aircraft, Iraqi helicopters and artillery, try to target Isis strongpoints in a small area in which at least 300,000 civilians are... Read More
Winners and losers are emerging in what may be the final phase of the Syrian civil war as anti-Isis forces prepare for an attack aimed at capturing Raqqa, the de facto Isis capital in Syria. Kurdish-led Syrian fighters say they have seized part of the road south of Raqqa, cutting Isis off from other its... Read More
The Turkish army is suffering unexpectedly serious losses in men and equipment as it engages in its first real battle against Isis fighters holding al-Bab, a small but strategically placed city north east of Aleppo. Turkish military commanders had hoped to capture al-Bab quickly when their forces attacked it in December, but they are failing... Read More
The Syrian peace talks arranged by Russia, Turkey and Iran that opened today in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan, show that President Bashar al-Assad is winning the six-year-old war, but his final victory may be a long way off. Several participants in the conference have good reasons to fight on and Isis has recently made... Read More
As recently as two years ago, Saudi Arabia’s half century-long effort to establish itself as the main power among Arab and Islamic states looked as if it was succeeding. A US State Department paper sent by former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, in 2014 and published by Wikileaks spoke of the Saudis and Qataris as... Read More
The new ceasefire in Syria will not mean an end to the shooting, but it marks a crucial development in the five-and-a-half year long civil war. It will not stop the killing because the biggest armed opposition groups — Isis and Jabhat al-Nusra — are not covered by the agreement, and have a strong motive... Read More
It has just become more dangerous to be a foreign correspondent reporting on the civil war in Syria. This is because the jihadis holding power in east Aleppo were able to exclude Western journalists, who would be abducted and very likely killed if they went there, and replace them as news sources with highly partisan... Read More
Ceasefires in Syria are difficult to arrange and particularly likely to collapse because their successful implementation involves so many parties inside and outside the country who hate and would like to kill each other. All of these powers have their own agendas that may have little to do with the wellbeing of those who want... Read More
The defeat of the insurgents in east Aleppo came faster than was expected, though there are still some districts under their control. They were reported to number between 8,000 and 10,000 fighters in the enclave two weeks ago, of whom some 4,000 were experienced combatants belonging to Jabhat al-Nusra (formerly the al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria)... Read More
The Syrian armed forces are close to capturing the remaining rebel-held districts in the enclave of east Aleppo, bringing them their biggest victory in five years of war. The insurgent armed forces, that were originally estimated to number between 8,000 and 10,000 fighters, have been retreating or giving up more readily than had been expected.... Read More
The bombings that killed 38 people and injured 155 after a football match in Istanbul is the latest episode to underline Turkey’s violent instability. Government officials blame the attack on the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), with which the Turkish state has been fighting a guerrilla war since 1984. But only a week ago the spokesman... Read More
The British Government’s fawning on the absolute monarchs of the Gulf, whose authority is enforced by beheadings, lashings and the torture chamber, is at once contemptible and pathetic. It is a measure of Britain’s decline as a great power that it is only in tiny, toxic, sectarian Bahrain, where Sunni rulers suppress the Shia majority,... 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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