In a few hours time, President Obama will be hosting a banquet at the White House, to kick off the latest round of Middle East peace talks. It does sound a bit like a boxing match: ding-ding, seconds out, round one – start negotiating.
Not many people are paying attention, other than those who make a good living from following the peace process. (If there ever actually is peace, these people will be as disorientated as Kremlin-watchers, after the collapse of the Soviet Union.) A degree of distraction and cynicism is understandable. The big Middle Eastern news that President Obama is keen to highlight at the moment is the “withdrawal” from Iraq. Others at the dinner will have their own pre-occupations. Tony Blair, for example, has a book to promote. Read more
Today, we are busy with another, much more controversial part of America’s military legacy – Iraq. Flying unannounced to the country as ever, we went by helicopter to Ramadi, once a seat of the insurgency, and travelled over a vast desert seemingly drained of all colour. Read more
By Daniel Dombey in al-Asad, Iraq
If you want to see what the US’s “responsible drawdown” in Iraq looks like, come to al-Asad Air Base. Here, in a desert of white sands, amid light canvas tents and under roaring planes, Robert Gates, US defence secretary, has begun a trip to mark the end of the US combat mission in the country.
The location is symbolic. The air base is in al-Anbar province, where some of the most violent episodes of the war took place and where the Anbar awakening that preceded the US surge took place.
When Gates arrives with a group of us journalists in tow, it is not yet seven in the morning and the transition from Operation Iraqi Freedom to Operation New Dawn is just a few hours old. While we were in the air, President Barack Obama hailed the “historic moment” in only his second address from the Oval Office.
From al-Asad, at first glance, things look less dramatic. Read more