James Denselow

James Denselow is a writer on Middle East politics and security issues.


James writes regularly for The Guardian and has written articles for Middle East International, The Huffington Post The New Statesman, Syria Today, The World Today, The Daily Telegraph and The Yorkshire Post. He has been cited in many international publications including The Boston Globe, Voice of America, The Sunday Telegraph, Reuters and AFP

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James writes book, television and film reviews for International Affairs, Middle East International, The Arab and The Guardian

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See James's published work

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In The Media

James in the media - Watch James discussing Middle East issues on a variety of media platforms including the BBC, Al Jazeera and Russia Today
Learning to Love Iraq PDF Print E-mail
Written by James Denselow   
Saturday, 16 January 2016 18:54

(Huffington Post) The Unravelling: High Hopes and Missed Opportunities in Iraq" - Emma Sky (Atlantic Books, 2015)

Coming some years after the glut of writing that accompanied the US-led Occupation of Iraq is this unusual and unlikely story of 'a British woman, advising the top leadership of the US military' (p.4). That woman is Emma Sky who was a 35 year old working for the British Council when the American tanks rolled into Baghdad. Sky had spent time already working abroad and in the Middle East, although her only experience of Iraq was her previous opposition to conflicts in the country and she'd signed up to be a human shield in 1991. Suddenly she found herself on a military transport plane out to the region in response to a FCO advert.

Sky can be described as a romantic liberal of sorts whose subsequent experience with the US military opened her mind to a very different culture of working. She warns herself that 'Mesopotamia will always get the better of those who come to love her' (p.89) and the book is a very honest appraisal from someone who clearly cares deeply for the country and the people she has spent time working with. It also is that of a wanderer, an only child whose time at boarding school seemed to give a drive and direction that found its calling in Iraq. Sky describes how 'I had felt so alive in Iraq, with such a strong sense of purpose. The best times of my life - and the hardest times - were in Iraq' (p.362). Her enthralling, readable and fascinating account is simultaneously 'an Iraqi story. It is an American story. It is my story' (p.341)

The account is far more than that of a liberal leaning British woman working in the heart of a US male-dominated military machine at war. Sky's political acumen and ability to gain the trust of senior figures placed her in the cockpit of US efforts in Iraq. She was no ordinary advisory and this book is not only a tale of observations but rather of influence in practice whether that was around high level efforts on sectarian reconciliation, the SOFA discussions that would determine the nature of the US presence in the country or important prisoner swaps.

Starving Syria PDF Print E-mail
Written by James Denselow   
Saturday, 16 January 2016 18:50

(Al Jazeera) Nobody should doubt the tactics that the Syrian regime and its allies will countenance in order to win this war. The horror of Madaya has been told in the pictures of emaciated children and the stories of people forced into eating cats, dogs, grass and whatever else they can find to survive. Starvation can be added to a list that includes chemical weapons, barrel bombs, massacres and indiscriminate artillery use on built-up urban areas.

Madaya had previously seen a single food distribution on October 18 before a stranglehold took place that has now seen huge suffering for an estimated 40,000 residents. In Madaya, 25 miles away from Bashar al-Assad's presidential palace, 23 Syrians, including children, starved to death last month. Others risk landmines and sniper fire to do whatever they can to keep their families alive.

Seen in isolation, the story of Madaya could appear as just another tragic chapter in the story of Syria's bloody civil war. However, the tactics of starvation have both context and history, while lessons can be learned about how media attention and pressure have led to access being promised for aid and desperately needed relief.

Syria 2016: Can things get any worse? PDF Print E-mail
Written by James Denselow   
Saturday, 16 January 2016 18:41

(Al Araby al Jaded) Next month, we will mark five years of unrelenting, grinding conflict in Syria. What was a relatively under-reported country is now better known as a place of chemical weapon use, famine and massacres.

Syria has become a byword for chaos and complexity, its layered conflicts featuring local, regional and international dimensions in a blood-soaked Rubik's Cube that appears unsolvable. Instead, as people pick up the pieces of their lives away from destroyed homes and lost relatives, some cling to the hope that all conflicts end, eventually, and that the future must be better than a present so desperate and tragic for all those touched by it.

So is there hope for the year ahead or will the grim roll call of statistics - a quarter of a million dead, half the country forced from their homes - simply keep building?

2015 saw a number of significant moments in the conflict. The arrival of Russia as a serious military player into the conflict, the rise and apparent decline of IS - the world's new public enemy number one - and finally a peace process that saw enemies and allies sit around a table in Vienna and decide that the conflict in Syria was far too important to be left to the Syrians.

The Vienna process and its timetable of ceasefires, talks and constitutional progression is a sliver of light in the darkness and represents the best chance out of the downward spiral of violence.

Vienna's ambitions are high and the potential for events to destabilise them is great. We've already seen how peace envoy De Mistura's work on local ceasefires has seen IS-linked fighters evacuated from Yarmouk camp in Damascus, but only after the killing by the regime of an opposition leader had put the whole deal in jeopardy.

Abadi: The leader who follows PDF Print E-mail
Written by James Denselow   
Thursday, 29 October 2015 10:42

Who'd be in charge of Iraq, a country where state institutions are barely functioning and continued civil conflict rages with an estimated 10,000 to 13,000 active IS fighters in the country?

Electricity supplies remain strained, corruption is so bad that protests are frequently and violently put down, and a breakdown in the sewage infrastructure recently saw an outbreak of cholera.

Syria's corridor diplomacy PDF Print E-mail
Written by James Denselow   
Thursday, 29 October 2015 10:39
(Al Jazeera) Russia's dramatic escalation in Syria's civil war has been rightly described by the European Union's Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini as a "game-changer". Yet the focus on the rights, wrongs and long-term impact of Moscow's new role shouldn't distract from a coming together of some of the conflict's political tectonic plates that open up a range of new potential scenarios.
The rise and rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and the realisation that Syria's refugee crisis will not be contained within the country or the region, with more than 710,000 migrants entering the EU in first 9 months of 2015, have pushed Syria right up the political agenda in Western capitals.
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