It’s Still About The Oil

  The Iraq war was always about oil. The ISIS extremists who are trying to seize control of the country’s largest refinery know that. Everyone was braced for the battle for Baghdad. But first they went after the oil. Just like the Americans. In 2003, when Baghdad was a chaos of looting, the one thing the Americans secured was the Oil Ministry. Because oil is power. If all you’ve got is a cave on a mountain side somewhere in Afghanistan, you have to do something really big to … [Read more...]

Wikileaks: the World’s Worst Travel Agency

So, is Ed Snowden going to make it out of Moscow airport? As I write, he is still holed up in the transit section, a month on from his hopeful arrival, waiting for some paperwork that will let him enter Russia. That's a pretty poor result, given he never wanted to enter Russia in the first place. He must be wishing he'd never travelled with Wikileaks, the world's worst travel agency. Want to fly from Hong Kong to sunny Venezuela? Fly Wikileaks, and you'll get to spend a month in Moscow … [Read more...]

The Quiet Heroes of the Iraq War

At the end of the week that the world marked the tenth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, it's worth pausing to remember the quiet heroes of the occupation. I wish I had got to know Marla Ruzicka. I used to see her in the Al-Hamra Hotel in Baghdad, organising some party or other, charming everyone she met, setting a table of journalists laughing by the pool. She would smile as she passed -- she had a smile for everyone, even a bad-tempered correspondent like me, fighting with his editor … [Read more...]

Why the Iraq war failed: the Hospital from Hell

If you want to know why the American occupation of Iraq was such a disaster, you need look no further than the story of the former Saddam Hussein Central Children's Hospital in Baghdad. When I first saw the hospital in 2004, it was beyond belief. There was sewage dripping from the roof of the premature babies' ward, leaking from pipes above, spattering down to the floor between the cots, where it gathered in foul stinking puddles. Downstairs in the leukaemia ward, the toilets had … [Read more...]

My Bloody Valentine in Fallujah

I spent Valentine's Day in Fallujah once -- an indication, perhaps, of how unhealthy my lifestyle had become. It was 2004, I was working as a journalist, covering the US-led occupation of Iraq, and it was beginning to go badly wrong. I was at the hotel in Baghdad when the news came through that heavily armed insurgents had stormed the police station and the new Iraqi army barracks in Fallujah, freeing prisoners and killing 17 police officers. The first thing I wanted to do was go … [Read more...]

Gun Control? Tell that to the Iraqis

Watching the gun control debate in the United States from afar, I was stuck by an odd dissonance. Something about the rhetoric of the pro-gun lobby didn't quite fit with my own experience.  It took me a while to realise what it was. And then I remembered, it went back to Baghdad, when I was there as a journalist in the long hot summer of 2003, as the US occupation began to go wrong, and the situations started to spin out of control. Facing increasing attacks from Iraqi insurgents, US forces … [Read more...]

It wasn’t the economy, stupid

In the end, it was easy. Despite the breathless insistence of Wolf Blitzer and the television pundits that it was "too close to call", Mitt Romney never came near preventing the re-election of President Barack Obama. Nate Silver predicted it. So, weirdly, did Bob Dylan. So in future, it seems, when you want to know who's going to win an American election, you should either ask a scientific statistician, or a wizened troubadour in a cowboy hat. Perhaps next time America votes, they should be … [Read more...]

The Election that affects us all

So, Barack or Mitt? Today Americans vote in an election whose effects will be felt in almost every corner of the globe. I'm not an American, and I don't have a vote, so I'm not going to say who I think should win between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. In a sense, as Stephen Fry said recently, it's none of my business. I know how offended I get when outsiders start telling me how we should run our country -- most recently when Mitt Romney said this summer that London wasn't properly prepared … [Read more...]

The Healthcare Debate…and what we could learn from a Hospital in rural India

Watching the anguish and fury in Britain at changes to the National Health Service this week, I couldnt help but think of a hospital I visited in south India once. When it comes to healthcare, you don't tend to think of India as a model. Government hospitals are notoriously poor. A friend of mine nearly died recently because the doctors failed to diagnose appendicitis -- until it burst. But Aravind Eye Care is different. With just eight hospitals, it performs more than half as many … [Read more...]