A Yazidi family that fled Sinjar in Iraq takes shelter in the Kurdish city of Dohuk ( SAFIN HAMED/AFP/Getty Images)
Barack Obama’s decision to move back into the maelstrom of Iraq, from which he withdrew in 2011 after solemnly pledging to extricate US forces once and for all, would clearly not have been taken lightly.
Little under a year ago, after all, the president baulked at the last fence on Syria, declining to punish the Assad regime for nerve-gassing its own people – crossing a red line he had chosen to single out as inviolable. That was the wrong decision, and it is worth a moment to remember why. Read more
The Gaza strip was not the only place where civilians were suffering and dying last week. There were (and are) several other lethal conflicts underway. Take the fighting in eastern Ukraine. The current edition of The Economist reports that: “Ukraine’s offensive already seems to have featured pretty indiscriminate use of artillery. By July 26th 1,129 people had been killed in eastern Ukraine, 799 of them civilians, the UN has reported … shells have already begun falling in the centre of Donetsk: the potential for things to go lethally wrong is great.”
Civilians are also dying in large numbers in Iraq. Just yesterday over 50 people were killed in car bombs in Baghdad, while 60 were killed in an Iraqi government air-strike aimed at a Sharia court, set up by Isis in Mosul. Read more
The call this weekend by bishops of the Church of England for the UK to grant asylum to the Christians driven out of the northern Iraqi city of Mosul by the jihadi fanatics of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, known as Isis, seems instinctively right. As the Right Reverend David Walker, Bishop of Manchester, observed: “this is, in part, our mess”.
“We have created the space in which Isis have moved in and have expelled Christians from northern Iraq and would like to expel them from the whole of that country,” he told the BBC. Read more
A fighter from the Islamic State of Syria and the Levant (Isis) brandishes the Isis flag on the streets of Mosul (Getty)
At Baghdad airport, the creeping sense of dread is apparent. As harried passengers are ferried between multiple searches, drivers of the black SUVs chartered to take them into the ultra-secure facility from a boarding point outside the airport are nervous. Read more
Former Prime Minister Tony Blair speaks on on the Middle East in London on April 23, 2014. (Getty)
There are plenty of people who will simply refuse to listen to anything that Tony Blair has to say about the Middle East – on the grounds that he is an idiot or a war criminal, or some combination of the two. I am not one of them. On the contrary, I think that the speech that Blair has just given on the Middle East is worth reading. He is intelligent, passionate and well-informed. But I still think he is wrong or, at the least, unconvincing, on a number of crucial points. Read more
Patrick Seale, journalist and scholar, Middle East commentator and impassioned Syria expert, died last week after succumbing to brain cancer. He was 83.
Best known as the biographer of Hafez al-Assad, the late dictator of Syria, and as a foreign correspondent, first for Reuters news agency and then as the Middle East correspondent for the Observer, Seale was also at different times an art dealer, a literary agent and in 1999 an intermediary in ultimately vain efforts to secure a peace treaty between Syria and Israel. Read more
The aftermath of a barrel bombing by Bashar al-Assad’s government in Aleppo on March 18 (Getty)
Earlier this week the famous-for-being-famous celebrity Kim Kardashian regurgitated Syrian regime disinformation about a rebel massacre of Armenians in the town of Kasab in the country’s northeast on her Twitter feed after it was captured by rebels.
The Tweet – Please let’s not let history repeat itself!!!!!! Let’s get this trending!!!!
#SaveKessab #ArmenianGenocide – went viral, further damaging the reputation of Syria’s opposition, a ragtag rebellion struggling to make inroads against Bashar al-Assad, a dictator who continues to massacre hundreds of people daily in bombing raids and inside his dark dungeons. Unlike in Kasab, these murders have been meticulously documented by independent human rights groups and the UN. Read more
How do we decide what matters in the world?
The question is prompted by the coincidence of the crisis in Ukraine and the third anniversary of the outbreak of war in Syria.
There is no doubt that it is Ukraine that is dominating the attention of world leaders and the media. John Kerry, US secretary of state, is meeting Sergei Lavrov, his Russian counterpart, in London today to discuss Ukraine, while Angela Merkel has been working the phones with Vladimir Putin to try to defuse the crisis.
The front-pages of newspapers blare about the build-up of troops on the Russian-Ukrainian border. My own work has reflected these priorities, with my last three FT columns on the Ukrainian crisis.
But are we right to be so focused on Ukraine rather than Syria? Read more
The Syrian armed forces that took control of the Homs province town of Deir Balbi in 2012 wanted to show the locals they meant business and avoid attacks by approaching rebel units. So they forced children out of their homes, and allegedly placed them as human shields between their tanks and soldiers to dissuade the rebels from attacking.
The incident is described in a harrowing report issued by Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary-general, chronicling the devastating effects of the Syrian civil war on the country’s children, and adds fresh urgency to efforts to end the war. At least 10,000 children have died as casualties or combatants of war or under torture in Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s prisons, the report estimates. Read more
Simply by coming to the World Economic Forum, President Hassan Rouhani of Iran is sending a message. He is the first Iranian president to have spoken in Davos for a decade. In a public speech at the forum and in private meetings with journalists, the president has sought to present a smiling and conciliatory face.
Certainly his personal style is a marked contrast to that of Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad, his predecessor. While Ahmadi-Nejad was all staring eyes and confrontation, Rouhani has a ready laugh and listens carefully to questions. Read more
Anyone who thought references to the Assads’ “killing machine” in Syria’s civil war was hyperbolic metaphor should read a horrendously literal report that has just surfaced, detailing the “industrial scale” killing of about 11,000 detainees in the regime’s dungeons. It provides harrowing confirmation of what organisations from the UN to Human Rights Watch had partially documented: the systematic liquidation, usually by or after torture, of those who question or combat the Assad tyranny.
The report is based largely on evidence assembled and smuggled out on a memory stick by a Syrian military policeman, codenamed Caesar to protect him and his family from reprisals, whose job it was to photograph the dead bodies, often up to 50 a day. The evidence has been examined by lead prosecutors for the war crimes tribunals of Sierra Leone and the former Yugoslavia and top international forensics experts, commissioned by a London law firm on behalf of Qatar, which has been a leading supporter of Syria’s rebels. They found it to be credible evidence of crimes against humanity and war crimes that would stand up in a court of law. Read more
By Richard McGregor in Washington
After sensitive details of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden began leaking, an infuriated Robert Gates, then secretary of defence, stormed into the office of Tom Donilon, the national security adviser.
“Why doesn’t everybody just shut the f*** up?” said the incensed Pentagon chief.
♦ Borzou Daragahi on how the excesses of the extremist group Isis – the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant – have sparked an armed rebellion against it in its northern Syria stronghold.
♦ Jamil Anderlini argues that modern China needs to set up its own House of Lords to improve governance.
♦ In a world with more inherited riches, it makes no sense to cut estate taxes, writes Robin Harding.
♦ A handwritten poster at a Seoul university has struck a nerve, prompting a wave of copycat banners airing grievances across South Korea. Young-Ha Kim explains the craze in The New York Times.
♦ Bangladesh’s leaders must deliver on the most basic promises of democracy – or they will prove Henry Kissinger right, says Tahmima Anam in The Guardian. Read more
At the end of every year, I attempt a first draft of history by listing what seem to me to be the five most significant events of the past twelve months. Some of my picks for 2013 also featured in 2012. I hope this is not because of intellectual laziness, but simply because the war in Syria, and the turmoil in Egypt remain defining events of our era. I probably should also once again include the tensions between China and Japan – but they are still simmering and have not yet boiled over. So I’ll give the Senkaku-Diaoyu islands a rest this year.
So let me start the list for 2013 with a genuinely new event that has global significance: Read more
Scene of the huge car bomb explosion that rocked central Beirut, killing Mohamed Chatah and at least four others on December 27, 2013 (Getty)
The bombing in the heart of Beirut on Friday morning, which killed leading Sunni politician Mohammed Chatah, was no random terror attack or communal reprisal. It was a targeted assassination, which would have required careful reconnaissance, detailed intelligence, and complex logistics.
The blast that destroyed Chatah’s car, leaving little but shredded metal and a torn vehicle license that identified its owner, took place not very far from where Rafik Hariri, former prime minister and the towering figure of modern Lebanon, was assassinated by a vast bomb in February 2005. Read more
The death of Abbas Khan in Syria reminds me of Stalin’s infamous quote that – “A single death is a tragedy. A million deaths is a statistic.” As the war in Syria has dragged on, the world has become almost inured to the horrors there. Back in June, the UN reported that the death toll in the conflict was nearing 100,000 – it has certainly risen above that since then. Millions have been turned into refugees. Yet, sometimes, it takes a single story to remind one of the horrors that are taking place. The death of Abbas Khan is one such story. Read more
A suburb of Damascus after it was recaptured by regime forces (Getty)
On a recent trip to Damascus, an acquaintance surprised me by announcing his plans to leave the country. Concerned friends have been trying to get him to move to Lebanon for the past two years, but he always refused. Like many Syrians, he felt that even with a civil war raging, Damascus had a soulfulness and integrity that Beirut lacks. Now he’s had enough.
“Its not the shelling,” he explained. “It’s the greed.” Read more