Patrick Cockburn

Patrick Cockburn has been a Middle East correspondent for the Independent since 1990. His books include a memoir, The Broken Boy, as well as several studies of the conflict in Iraq and Behind Enemy Lies: War, News and Chaos in the Middle East.

In Kent

Patrick Cockburn, 18 March 2021

In October​ last year the number of people infected with Covid-19 began to rise in the coastal towns of north-east Kent. The area had escaped the full impact of the first wave of the pandemic in the spring, with many residents saying that they didn’t know anyone who had caught the virus. After the end of the lockdown on 4 July, there was a sense that the crisis was over and there...

After IS

Patrick Cockburn, 4 February 2021

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, IS has killed 1010 government soldiers and supporters in the area west of the Euphrates since March 2019. On 30 December, IS fighters ambushed buses carrying Syrian soldiers and paramilitaries, killing 37 of them. It’s unlikely that IS will ever be able to resurrect itself as it once was. It is too feared; it made too many enemies. It has lost the advantage of surprise and probably of covert support from foreign governments. But this doesn’t mean that Sunni Arab jihadi fundamentalism, not very different from IS in beliefs and behaviour, is finished. Syrian Arab militiamen, paid for and under the orders of the Turkish army, who have carried out ethnic cleansing against Kurds and Yazidis in northern Syria, aren’t much different from IS. Both Syria and Iraq are increasingly unstable and impoverished. Both have been badly hit by the coronavirus epidemic, at a time when the Syrian economy is being devastated by American sanctions and the Iraqi economy by the fall in the price of oil. As the chaos deepens, IS has a chance, probably in some new guise, to rise again.

Syria Alone

Patrick Cockburn, 5 November 2020

The strategy​ of waging economic rather than military war is hardly new. But under Trump it has become the primary weapon of American foreign policy. Despite all his bombastic threats against perceived enemies, he has yet to start a single war in the Middle East or anywhere else, relying more on the power of the US Treasury than the Pentagon. From an American point of view sanctions have much to recommend them: no need for the costly and risky military ventures that have so often gone wrong in the past. Unlike airstrikes, sanctions can be presented as a non-violent way of influencing the behaviour of toxic regimes for the better. In reality, as with the Caesar Act, they are the bluntest of instruments, inflicting communal punishment indiscriminately on whole societies. Arguments justifying the Caesar Act are much the same as those once used to sell UN sanctions against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, imposed after he invaded Kuwait in 1990 and kept in place for the next 13 years.

Short Cuts: Thanington Without

Patrick Cockburn, 30 July 2020

Thanington​ is a deprived area beside the River Stour on the western outskirts of Canterbury. Before the pandemic many people here were working on zero-hour contracts as cleaners or supermarket shelf-stackers. Many settled Traveller families with a strong sense of solidarity live here, but the level of education in the area is low. Paula Spencer, who runs the local community centre, told me...

Julian Assange in Limbo

Patrick Cockburn, 18 June 2020

The WikiLeaks documents exposed the way the US, as the world’s sole superpower, really conducted its wars – something that the military and political establishments saw as a blow to their credibility and legitimacy. There were some devastating revelations, the helicopter video among them, but many of the secrets uncovered weren’t particularly significant or indeed very secret. In themselves they don’t explain the degree of rage WikiLeaks provoked in the US government and its allies. This was a response to Assange’s assault on their monopoly control of sensitive state information, which they saw as an essential prop to their authority. Making such information public, as Assange and WikiLeaks had done, weaponised freedom of expression: if disclosures of this kind went unpunished and became the norm, it would radically shift the balance of power between government and society – and especially the media – in favour of the latter.

American intelligence saw Islamic State coming and was not only relaxed about the prospect but, it appears, positively interested in it.

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This is a strange time in Iraq. Local actors and regional powers are watching each other and the Americans, waiting to see what the US election will bring. For their part, the Americans are...

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Lust for Leaks: The Cockburns of Cork

Neal Ascherson, 1 September 2005

In the early summer of 1956, an epidemic of poliomyelitis broke out in the city of Cork. It was not unexpected. The Irish medical authorities had noted the two-year gap between previous...

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