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
Will Obama's ISIS Strategy Work? PDF Print E-mail
Written by James Denselow   
Monday, 15 September 2014 08:41

(Al-Jazeera) Tonight, US President Barack Obama will announce the latest chapter of US military intervention in the Middle East. The president is a reluctant interventionist with his foreign policy to date defined by caution and an attempt to distance himself from the conflicts started by his predecessor. However, the dramatic rise of the self-styled Islamic State group, which the world woke up to in June when they captured Mosul, Iraq's second largest city, has forced his hand.

The Mount Sinjar crisis, which raised real concerns that the Kurdistan Region could fall, and the horrific executions of US journalists are all milestones in the run-up to the new strategy Obama will announce to the American people on prime-time tonight from Washington.

Unlike last year's aborted Syria intervention, the president appears to have the backing of Congress and the US public. Polling this week showed that 71 percent of all Americans support airstrikes in Iraq - up from 54 percent three weeks ago. Meanwhile, Obama has the lowest personal ratings in his entire presidency and last month candidly admitted that the US didn't have an Islamic State strategy.

Last Updated on Monday, 15 September 2014 08:49
Today’s Friends, Tomorrow’s Enemies? PDF Print E-mail
Written by James Denselow   
Wednesday, 28 May 2014 09:16

(Majalla) The Syrian government’s capture of Homs, the so-called ‘capital of the revolution,’ and Bashar Al-Assad’s inevitable victory in the upcoming presidential “election” appear to put the regime in a stronger position than ever before—but have these short-term victories come at a long-term cost?

Events in Homs last week raised questions about Assad’s future—questions that few have thought to ask so far. While Syrian state media wanted people to focus on the removal of the rubble, the reopening of the city’s shops, and the tourism minister’s bizarre claims that thousands would now flock to visit the city, deadly clashes broke out between two pro-Assad militia groups, the National Defense Forces and the Syrian Social Nationalist Party. While the story barely registered with the international press, who’ve grown more accustomed to reporting on the infighting that has come to characterize the opposition, it is worth exploring for the light it sheds on the possible future direction of the country.

While Assad’s father was able to fully restore his full authority across the country following the crushing of the uprising in Hama in 1982, there is no guarantee that Bashar will be able to put the country back together again. Indeed, the fighting in Homs may be a sign of things to come, and the consequence of Assad’s ‘outsourcing’ of the defense of his regime to groups from both inside the country and across the region. These famously include between 4,000–5,000 members of Hezbollah, in addition to Iraqi militiamen and senior commanders from the elite Quds Force of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). The Syrian regime has also sought to empower informal—and notorious—local militias known as Shabiha(“ghosts”), as well as 60,000 members of the paramilitary ‘National Defense Force,’ whose role in a future Syria is debatable, to say the least.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 28 May 2014 09:17
Iraq off the Agenda PDF Print E-mail
Written by James Denselow   
Thursday, 08 May 2014 09:30

Majalla - The worst violence in six years defined the backdrop for the Iraqi elections in April. The vote, the first to take place since the US troop withdrawal in 2011, briefly pushed the beleaguered country back onto the news agenda. Before then it seemed that only particularly bloody days would register in the Western press. How did it come to be that the mass Western investment of blood and treasure into the country in 2003 has transformed into such indifference?

Iraq has become a family secret, the hideously malformed child hidden away in the attic, whose presence is only acknowledged on rare and awkward occasions. In the UK this is particularly true with the Chilcot Inquiry, ongoing since 2009, testing the patience of the prime minister as to when it will reveal its findings. Iraq’s state of permanent chaos, of market bombings and assassinations, has turned it into a toxic issue which politicians avoid, one which bores the public and which the media struggles to contain into a coherent narrative.

Syria: from corridor diplomacy to humanitarian corridors PDF Print E-mail
Written by James Denselow   
Tuesday, 11 February 2014 16:44

(Open Democracy) Last week the UN mediator Lakhdar Brahimi reported from the Geneva II peace talks that while no substantive progress had been reached so far "ice was being broken". Visions of what the conference aimed to achieve were vastly divergent from the start. The opposition hoped to implement the terms of the Geneva I agreement concerning a transition of power, while the regime framed the meetings within a narrative of support against counter-terrorism. In the absence of likely agreements as to either side’s primary aims there is hope that common ground can be found on securing humanitarian access to the beleaguered country.

Six and a half million Syrians are now internally displaced. Hundreds of thousands are stuck within a number of besieged areas of the country where reports suggest that starvation is being used as a weapon of war. In the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk in the suburbs of Damascus, home to an estimated 20,000 people, things are getting desperate. While a record-breaking number of press credentials (+1,000) were issued at Geneva II, there are no journalists reporting from inside Yarmouk, where stories are emerging of people being forced to eat stray animals in the face of massive food shortages.

Geneva II: A marathon, not a sprint PDF Print E-mail
Written by James Denselow   
Tuesday, 11 February 2014 16:42

(Progress) After eight months of planning and nearly three years of war, the ‘Geneva II’ peace conference finally got started last week. Bringing representatives of the regime and the broad opposition together in the same city and subsequently in the same room has been a tortuous process while the conflict continues to drain the country to the tune of an estimated $109m a day. The start of the peace process was very much the equivalent of a ‘shotgun wedding’ – with all sides begrudgingly attending at the request of their international and regional allies. The key lesson to take away so far is that we have to be prepared for, and the British government should be ready to support, a long road to peace rather than an immediate grand bargain.

The actual launch of the conference was political pantomime at its best with a heady mix of unpredictability, high emotion and a media horde standing by to pick up on every moment. Things didn’t start well for the Syrian opposition delegation when its plane was grounded in Athens over a dispute over sanctions and refuelling. The set-piece launch of the event would prove more embarrassing for the United Nations secretary general. After Ban Ki Moon instructed the regime representative, Walid Muallem, to speak for ten minutes, he then proceeded to speak for thirty and just before wrapping up told Mr Ban ominously that ‘Syria always keeps its promises’.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 11 February 2014 16:44
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