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Future historians may well pick 2019 as a decisive year in the decline of the US and UK as world powers. Of course, the UK started at a much lower level in the international pecking order than the US, but the direction of travel in both cases is the same. This geopolitical shift comes exactly... Read More
Protesters in Iraq have won their first big success by forcing the resignation of the Iraqi prime minister, Adel Abdul-Mahdi, after the killing of 45 unarmed protesters by the Iraqi security forces in a single day. As the news spread, the crack of celebratory fireworks replaced that of gunshots in Baghdad's Tahrir Square, which has... Read More
Iran has condemned the burning of its consulate in the Shia holy city of Najaf as Iraqi security forces escalate violence against protesters, who increasingly see the Iranian authorities as responsible for the repression. Anti-government protests that started on 1 October now in large part resemble a general uprising by the Shia majority in southern... Read More
Prince Andrew and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia have both had a bad week. On the very same day that Prince Andrew was giving his disastrous interview explaining his relationship with the sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, the crown prince – often referred to as MbS – was hearing from international bankers about... Read More
The alleged bid by the British government and army to close down investigations into torture and murder in Iraq and Afghanistan appears to be the latest aspect of a widespread desire in in the UK to forget all about these failed wars. Joining the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 is commonly blamed on Tony... Read More
Mass expulsion or the physical extermination of an entire ethnic or religious community – ethnic cleansing – is usually treated by the media in one of two different ways: either it receives maximum publicity as a horror story about which the world should care and do something about, or it is ignored and never reaches... Read More
Iraqi security and pro-Iranian paramilitary forces are shooting into crowds of protesters in a bid to drive them from the centre of Baghdad and end six weeks of demonstrations that have challenged the political system to an extent not seen since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003. Police retook three bridges across the Tigris... Read More
Critics lament the disintegration of the British political establishment under the impact of repeated shocks from the Brexit earthquake. Competent politicians and experienced civil servants head for the exit or are evicted to make way for more ideologically acceptable successors. Whatever one thought of the members of Theresa May’s final cabinet they were better than... Read More
Britain is becoming more and more like Northern Ireland. This should be a comfort to Arlene Foster and the DUP as they rue their betrayal by Boris Johnson over the Irish border. Northern Irish politics have always been dominated by the competing agendas of the Catholic/Irish nationalists and the Protestant/Unionist communities. In practice, both the... Read More
At the height of the al-Qaeda-led insurgency in Iraq in 2006-07, US commanders, whose troops were suffering serious casualties from roadside bombs, developed a strategy. They sought to identify, kill or capture the leaders of the cells planting the Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) in the belief that this would cripple the bombing campaign. Many such... Read More
The death of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of Isis and the self-declared caliph of Islamic State, will be a serious, though not terminal, blow to the ferocious jihadi movement he has headed since 2010. The place where he was finally located – in the Barisha area north of Idlib city in northwest Syria, close... Read More
The sectarian and ethnic civil wars that have ravaged a large part of the Middle East over the past 40 years are coming to an end. Replacing them is a new type of conflict in which protests akin to popular uprisings rock kleptocratic elites that justify their power by claiming to be the defenders of... Read More
Turkey’s Syrian venture is rapidly turning sour from President Erdogan’s point of view. The Turkish advance into the northeast is moving slowly, but Turkey’s military options are becoming increasingly limited as the Syrian army, backed by Russia, moves into Kurdish-held cities and towns that might have been targeted by Turkish forces. It is unlikely that... Read More
“Never get into a well with an American rope” goes the saying spreading across the Middle East, as the US abandons its Kurdish allies in Syria to a Turkish invasion force. People in the region are traditionally cynical about the loyalty of great powers to their local friends, but even they are shocked by the... Read More
In a field beside a disused railway station on the plain just south of the Syrian-Turkish frontier, a brigade of Syrian Kurdish soldiers were retraining in order to resist an invasion by the Turkish army. “We acted like a regular army when we were fighting Daesh [Isis],” Rojvan, a veteran Kurdish commander of the YPG... Read More
Iraqi paramilitary groups close to Iran are suspected of joining attacks on protesters in Baghdad and other cities, leading to heavy loss of life among demonstrators. Some 107 people have been killed and over 6,000 wounded in the last six days, though hospital doctors say the government is understating the true number of fatalities. “The... Read More
Iraq is poised at a turning point in its modern history as its people wait to see if the government curfew and close down of the internet will end the ongoing demonstrations. I am staying in the Baghdad Hotel, off Sadoon Street in central Baghdad, not far from Tahrir Square, the focus of most protest... Read More
Iraq is on the edge of a mass popular uprising which the government is seeking to stifle through a strictly imposed open-ended curfew and an enforced internet blackout. Protests, met with a fierce response from the authorities, have gripped Baghdad and spread since Tuesday to southern Iraqi provinces. So far, 19 people have been reported... Read More
A man is lying dead or injured on the pavement beside a road leading into Tahrir Square in the centre of Baghdad. Soldiers and police are running towards him, while Iraqi soldiers on the other side of the square are penning into a corner a group of a hundred or so protesters, some holding Iraqi... Read More
Security forces opened fire on protesters in central Baghdad on Tuesday evening, with some witnesses saying more than 10 people had been killed and some 286 wounded. Riot police used live rounds as well as stun grenades and rubber bullets to stop demonstrators from crossing a bridge over the Tigris River to the Green Zone... Read More
Lieutenant General Abdul Wahab al-Saadi was the great Iraqi military hero of the war against Isis, leading the assault on Mosul which recaptured the de facto Isis capital after a nine-month siege in 2017. But at the weekend he was suddenly removed as the commander of the Counter Terrorism Service (CTS) shock troops, the elite... Read More
It about midnight on 20 September, a young man got off a white minibus at the entrance to the Shia shrine city and pilgrimage centre of Karbala, southwest of Baghdad. A few minutes later, he pressed a remote control, detonating the explosives he had left in a bag under his seat on the bus. The... Read More
People in Baghdad are fearful that the next war between the US and Iran will take place in Iraq, which is only just returning to peace after the defeat of Isis. Alarm that Iraq will be sucked into such a conflict has increased here because of recent Israeli drone attacks on the bases of the... Read More
The devastating attack on Saudi oil facilities by drones and missiles not only transforms the balance of military power in the Middle East, but marks a change in the nature of warfare globally. On the morning of 14 September, 18 drones and seven cruise missiles – all cheap and unsophisticated compared to modern military aircraft... Read More
The hideous cruelty of the murder and dismemberment of journalist Jamal Khashoggi by a Saudi death squad almost a year ago still jumps from the pages of the latest apparent transcript of the conversation between his killers as they wait for him to arrive at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. “Is it possible to put... Read More
Robert Mugabe was one of the many leaders who came to power as a national liberator between the 1950s and 1980s, only to establish violent, corrupt and incompetent autocracies. The decades of misrule they inflicted on their countries did much to discredit nationalism as a progressive ideology that could better people’s lives. Bad though Mugabe... Read More
Britain is experiencing a slow-moving coup d’etat in which a right-wing government progressively closes down or marginalises effective opposition to its rule. It concentrates power in its own hands by stifling parliament, denouncing its opponents as traitors to the nation, displacing critics in its own ranks, and purging non-partisan civil servants. Some describe this as... Read More
Fifty years ago, the Battle of the Bogside in Derry between Catholics and police, combined with the attacks on Catholic areas of Belfast by Protestants, led to two crucial developments that were to define the political landscape for decades: the arrival of the British army and the creation of the Provisional IRA. An eruption in... Read More
On 8 May 1987 a Provisional IRA unit of eight men attacked a police station in the village of Loughgall in county Armagh 15 miles from the Irish border. One man drove a digger with a bomb in its bucket towards the building, half of which was destroyed in the explosion. But British forces had... Read More
I felt frustrated over the past three years at what appeared to me to be the shallow and Westminster-obsessed coverage of the Brexit saga by the media. Here was a crisis like no other in recent British history that was shaking the bedrock of society and government alike, but the reporting and commentary on it... Read More
Bluff was a central feature of British power even when the British empire covered a large part of the globe. A story illustrating this tells of a royal navy captain who was sent with a small ship to the far east to force a defiant local ruler to obey some orders issued by the British... Read More
What on Earth were the British politicians and officials thinking who gave the go-ahead for the seizure of the Iranian oil tanker Grace 1 off Gibraltar on 4 July? Did they truly believe that the Iranians would not retaliate for what they see as a serious escalation in America’s economic war against them? The British... Read More
Is the rise of Boris Johnson to be the next prime minister the product of a soft coup? Does Donald Trump’s racist demonisation of four non-white congress members prove him to be a “fascist” leader like Mussolini and Hitler? The two questions should be answered together because political developments in Britain tend to emulate those... Read More
Britain is sending a second warship to the Gulf to protect its oil tankers from Iranian gunboats. HMS Duncan, a destroyer currently in the Mediterranean, will join HMS Montrose, a frigate, next week. Britain is on the edge of becoming involved in a conflict in which it can only deploy limited forces, but it could... Read More
The resignation of Sir Kim Darroch as British ambassador to Washington, because of his leaked messages to London criticising President Trump, is highly revealing about the real state of British knowledge of what is going on in the US. Supporters of the former ambassador portray him as a skilled and experienced foreign office official who... Read More
The seizure of an Iranian oil tanker allegedly bound for Syriaby British Royal Marine commandos off Gibraltar is the latest episode in the long and disastrous history of economic sanctions in the Middle East. The UK claims that it is implementing EU sanctions on Syria, but the act will be seen by Tehran – and... Read More
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President Trump’s last-minute change of mind over launching US airstrikes against Iran shows that a military conflict of some description in the Gulf is becoming highly probable. His hesitation was most likely less connected with an Iranian surface-to-air missile shooting down a US surveillance drone than with his instinct that militarising the crisis is not... Read More
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There is “sufficient credible evidence” that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the effective ruler of Saudi Arabia, was responsible for the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi and that he should be investigated according to a UN special rapporteur. Saudi Arabia first denied government involvement in the murder of Khashoggi after he entered the Saudi... Read More
Pictures of Daniel Ezzedine show him to be a fresh faced 17-year-old with a warm cheerful smile. His parents are Lebanese but he was brought up in Germany where he had just left school. His teachers brought him to celebrate his graduation on a trip to Canterbury where he was assaulted and beaten half to... Read More
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I was in Kabul a decade ago when Wikileaks released a massive tranche of US government documents about the conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq and Yemen. On the day of the release, I was arranging by phone to meet an American official for an unattributable briefing. I told him in the course of our conversation what... Read More
There is a story about an enthusiastic American who took a phlegmatic English friend to see the Niagara Falls. “Isn’t that amazing?” exclaimed the American. “Look at that vast mass of water dashing over that enormous cliff!” “But what,” asked the Englishman, “is to stop it?” My father, Claud Cockburn, used to tell this fable... Read More
In its escalating confrontation with Iran, the US is making the same mistake it has made again and again since the fall of the Shah 40 years ago: it is ignoring the danger of plugging into what is in large part a religious conflict between Sunni and Shia Muslims. I have spent much of my... Read More
Saudi Arabia’s claim that two of its oil tankers have been sabotaged off the coast of the UAE is vague in detail – but could create a crisis that spins out of control and into military action. Any attack on shipping in or close to the Strait of Hormuz, the 30-mile wide channel at the... Read More
Brexiteers in Britain are denouncing the EU as an all-powerful behemoth from whose clutches Britain must escape, just as the organisation is demonstrating its failure to become more than a second-rate world power. The EU’s real status – well behind the US, Russia and China – has just been demonstrated by its inability to protect... Read More
The reappearance of the Isis leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has the same shock effect as that of Osama bin Laden in the aftermath of 9/11. It has all the greater impact because of claims that, with the elimination of the last territory held by Isis in March this year, that group was close to being... Read More
Two very different political waves are sweeping through the Middle East and north Africa. Popular protests are overthrowing the leaders of military regimes for the first time since the failed Arab Spring of 2011. At the same time, dictators are seeking to further monopolise power by killing, jailing or intimidating opponents who want personal and... Read More
Birmingham, once the manufacturing heart of Britain when it was the workshop of the world, rejuvenated itself after the implosion of its industrial base in the 1980s. That collapse, unimpeded by Margaret Thatcher and the Conservative government, was devastating even by the standards of the time because of Birmingham’s over-dependence on the automobile industry. “This... Read More
“Oh yeah, look at those dead bastards,” and “ha, ha, I hit them” say the pilots of a US Apache helicopter in jubilant conversation as they machine-gun Iraqi civilians on the ground in Baghdad on 12 July 2007. A wounded man, believed to be the Reuters photographer, 22-year-old Namir Noor-Eldeen, crawls towards a van. “Come... Read More
Benjamin Netanyahu is an early version of the nationalist populist leaders that have come to power in country after country in recent decades. He has an acute sense of who holds – and does not hold – power and how to manipulate it. No wonder he gets on well with Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin.... Read More
Future historians will look back at Britain in the age of Brexit and seek to explain why its people reduced their power and influence in the world in the belief that they were doing the exact opposite. But historians will have to move quickly if they are to have a say because the most important... Read More