Patrick Cockburn

We have to fight for the truth in wars and pandemics

The struggle against Covid-19 has often been compared to fighting a war. Much of this rhetoric is bombast, but the similarities between the struggle against the virus and against human enemies are real enough. War reporting and pandemic reporting likewise have much in common because, in both cases, journalists are dealing with and describing matters of life and death. Public interest is fueled by deep fears, often more intense during an epidemic because the whole population is at risk. In a war, aside from military occupation and area bombing, terror is at its height among those closest to the battlefield.

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The Smart Weapons Fallacy: Civilian Casualties From 'Precision' Air Strikes in Iraq and Syria

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 on the ground call in devastating air strikes from planes, missiles and drones, be they American or Russian, to clear the way for their advance.

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Brexit, Kurdistan and Catalonia: Why Such Referendums Are Doomed to Fail

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 off on their own outside any measure of control by a supranational authority like the EU or a nation state like Iraq or Spain.

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Why the Kurds Have a Long Way to Go After Voting for Independence

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.

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On Schizophrenia: Father and Son Discuss Battling Mental Illness

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.

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Arming the Kurds: Trump’s Syrian Gambit

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 state there.

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Can the US Remain a Super Power Under Trump?

Boris Yeltsin was making a presidential visit to Washington in 1995 when he was found one night outside the White House dressed only in his underpants. He explained in a slurred voice to US secret service agents that he was trying to hail a cab so he could go and buy a pizza. The following night he was discovered by a guard, who thought he was an intruder, wandering drunkenly around the basement of his official residence.

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Trump v. the Media: A Fight to the Death

Self-absorbed and irrational Donald Trump may well be, but on Thursday he held what was probably the most interesting and entertaining White House press conference ever. These are usually grimly ritualistic events in which select members of the media establishment, who have often come to see themselves as part of the permanent government of the US, ask predictable questions and get equally predictable replies.

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How Trump Could Set the Mideast on Fire

President Trump is adding further venom to the raging sectarian hatreds tearing apart Iraq and Syria by his latest ill-judged tweets. These have far greater explosive potential than his better known clashes with countries like Australia and Mexico, because in the Middle East he is dealing with matters of war and peace. In this complex region, the US will have to pay a high price for switching to a vaguely belligerent policy which pays so little regard to the real situation on the ground.

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How ISIS Could End Up Leading to Saudi Arabia's Demise

How far is Saudi Arabia complicit in the Isis takeover of much of northern Iraq, and is it stoking an escalating Sunni-Shia conflict across the Islamic world? Some time before 9/11, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, once the powerful Saudi ambassador in Washington and head of Saudi intelligence until a few months ago, had a revealing and ominous conversation with the head of the British Secret Intelligence Service, MI6, Sir Richard Dearlove. Prince Bandar told him: "The time is not far off in the Middle East, Richard, when it will be literally 'God help the Shia'. More than a billion Sunnis have simply had enough of them."

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Hard to Know What to Believe in the News from Aleppo

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 “local activists” who cannot escape being under jihadi control.

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Why Everything You’ve Read About Syria and Iraq Could Be Wrong

The Iraqi army, backed by US-led airstrikes, is trying to capture east Mosul at the same time as the Syrian army and its Shia paramilitary allies are fighting their way into east Aleppo. An estimated 300 civilians have been killed in Aleppo by government artillery and bombing in the last fortnight, and in Mosul there are reportedly some 600 civilian dead over a month.

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Trump’s Team Will Start New Wars in the Middle East

Isis is under pressure in Mosul and Raqqa, but it is jubilant at the election of Donald Trump.

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Trump and the Middle East: Where Political Graves are Made

‘Make America Great Again’ was the slogan of Donald Trump’s election, but the immediate impact of his victory is to make the US less of a power in the world for two reasons: American prestige and influence will be damaged by a general belief internationally that the US has just elected a dangerous buffoon as its leader. The perception is pervasive, but is not very deeply rooted and likely be temporary, stemming as it does from Trump’s demagogic rants during the election campaign. Those about relations with foreign countries were particularly vague and least likely to provide a guide to future policy.

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U.S. Allies Are Funding ISIS (and Hillary Knew All Along)

It is fortunate for Saudi Arabia and Qatar that the furore over the sexual antics of Donald Trump is preventing much attention being given to the latest batch of leaked emails to and from Hillary Clinton. Most fascinating of these is what reads like a U.S. State Department memo, dated 17 August 2014, on the appropriate U.S. response to the rapid advance of Isis forces, which were then sweeping through northern Iraq and eastern Syria.

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Airstrikes, Obfuscation and Propaganda in Syria

Airstrikes that hit the wrong target have always been justified or denied by the perpetrators with a rich blend of hypocrisy and lies. It was interesting to see this tradition of deliberate mendacity being not only maintained, but outdone in Syria over the last week. The US was seeking to explain how it had come to kill at least 62 Syrian soldiers fighting Isis in the besieged government-held city of Deir Ezzor a week ago and the Russians evading responsibility for an air attack on a UN aid convoy killing 20 people outside Aleppo five days later.

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A Battle to the Death in Syria

Five-year-old Omran Daqneesh, his face bloody and bruised from bomb blast, stares out in bafflement at a world in which somebody had just tried to kill him. Pictures of his little figure in the back of an ambulance in Aleppo have swiftly become the living symbol of the slaughter in Syria and Iraq.

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After the Coup, Turkey is Being Torn Apart

Coup attempt and purge are tearing Turkey apart. The Turkish armed forces, for long the backbone of the state, are in a state of turmoil. Some 40 per cent of its generals and admirals have been detained or dismissed, including senior army commanders.

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Erdogan Is Using the Failed Coup to Get Rid of the Last Vestiges of Secular Turkey

The sweeping purge of soldiers and officials in the wake of the failed coup in Turkey is likely to be conducted with extra vigour because a number of close associates of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan are among the 265 dead. The number of people detained so far is at 6,000 including soldiers, and around 3,000 judges and legal officials who are unlikely to have been connected to the attempted military takeover.

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We Have Reached an Age of Disintegration: How Greedy Neoliberalism and Deadly Wars Are Destroying Modern Life

We live in an age of disintegration. Nowhere is this more evident than in the Greater Middle East and Africa. Across the vast swath of territory between Pakistan and Nigeria, there are at least seven ongoing wars -- in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya, Somalia, and South Sudan. These conflicts are extraordinarily destructive. They are tearing apart the countries in which they are taking place in ways that make it doubtful they will ever recover. Cities like Aleppo in Syria, Ramadi in Iraq, Taiz in Yemen, and Benghazi in Libya have been partly or entirely reduced to ruins. There are also at least three other serious insurgencies: in southeast Turkey, where Kurdish guerrillas are fighting the Turkish army, in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula where a little-reported but ferocious guerrilla conflict is underway, and in northeast Nigeria and neighboring countries where Boko Haram continues to launch murderous attacks.

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What Little Government Iraq Has Is Disintegrating

The storming of the parliament building in Baghdad by protesters chanting the name of populist Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr is a sign that the political system built up since the US invasion in 2003 is disintegrating. The Iraqi security forces stood back and did nothing as the protesters burst into the Green Zone, graphically illustrating the weakness of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and of state institutions generally.

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Saudi Arabia and 9/11: The Kingdom May Be in for a Nasty Shock

Foreign leaders visiting King Salman of Saudi Arabia have noticed that there is a large flower display positioned just in front of where the 80-year-old monarch sits. On closer investigation, the visitors realised that the purpose of the flowers is to conceal a computer which acts as a teleprompter, enabling the King to appear capable of carrying on a coherent conversation about important issues.

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Inside the Bizarre Mindset of the People Who Run the Islamic State

The following is an excerpt from the new book Chaos & Caliphate by Patrick Cockburn (OR Books, 2016): 

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The U.S. Military Is Back on the Battlefield in Iraq

It was suddenly announced last week that the Iraqi army was taking territory from Islamic State forces in what was presented as the first steps in an offensive to recapture the city of Mosul. It sounded as if the self-declared Caliphate was crumbling and was particularly welcome news since it coincided with the Isis suicide bombings in Brussels. The message was that Isis might be able to slaughter civilians in Europe, but was being defeated on its home turf in Iraq and Syria.

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Turkey’s Syrian Calculation: Gambling on an Invasion?

A month before Turkey shot down a Russian bomber which it accused of entering its airspace, Russian military intelligence had warned President Vladimir Putin that this was the Turkish plan. Diplomats familiar with the events say that Putin dismissed the warning, probably because he did not believe that Turkey would risk provoking Russia into deeper military engagement in the Syrian war.

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Why the Air War on ISIS Will Fail

Britain has now joined a US-led campaign to weaken and ultimately defeat Isis in which air power is very much the dominant component. The British contribution will not make much difference because there are already far more aircraft available than there are identifiable targets.

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Trigger Happy: Will Turkey’s Downing of Russian Jet Backfire on NATO?

Turkey must have been eager to shoot down a Russian aircraft. Even going by the Turkish account of what happened, as illustrated by a Turkish map of the route of the Russian plane, it would only briefly have been in Turkish airspace as it crossed a piece of Turkish territory that projects into Syria.

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Why States of Emergency and Extreme Security Measures Won’t Stop ISIS

The “Islamic State”, as ISIS styles itself, will be pleased with the outcome of its attacks in Paris. It has shown that it can retaliate with its usual savagery against a country that is bombing its territory and is a power to be feared at a time when it is under serious military pressure. The actions of just eight ISIS suicide bombers and gunmen are dominating the international news agenda for days on end.

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What Is Russia's Endgame in Syria?

The military balance of power in Syria and Iraq is changing. The Russian air strikes that have been taking place since the end of September are strengthening and raising the morale of the Syrian army, which earlier in the year looked fought out and was on the retreat. With the support of Russian airpower, the army is now on the offensive in and around Aleppo, Syria’s second largest city, and is seeking to regain lost territory in Idlib province. Syrian commanders on the ground are reportedly relaying the co-ordinates of between 400 and 800 targets to the Russian air force every day, though only a small proportion of them come under immediate attack. The chances of Bashar al-Assad’s government falling – though always more remote than many suggested – are disappearing. Not that this means he is going to win.

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Why a Looming Fight for Syrian Border Town Could Be Game Changer for ISIS's Grip on Power

Syrian Kurdish leaders plan to capture the last border crossing point between Syria and Turkey held by Isis, making it impossible for jihadist volunteers from Europe and elsewhere to reach Isis-held territories.

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Why the Islamic State Ain't Going Down Easy

On 16 June, Kurdish militiamen, with the support of US airstrikes, captured the town of Tal Abyad in northern Syria, a major crossing point on the Syrian-Turkish border. Its fall is damaging to Islamic State: it cuts the road linking the caliphate’s unofficial Syrian capital at Raqqa, sixty miles to the south, to Turkey and the outside world. Down this road have come thousands of foreign volunteers, many of whom became suicide bombers. Now the movement is all the other way: some 23,000 Arab and Turkmen refugees have fled into Turkey to escape the advancing Kurds. Some passed children over tangles of barbed wire before following through a hole cut in the border fence. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish president, accused Western powers of using airstrikes to support Syrian Kurdish ‘terrorists’. Towards the end Islamic State seems only to have had some 150 fighters in Tal Abyad. It didn’t send reinforcements because it knew the fall of the town, surrounded by Kurds on three sides, was inevitable.

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