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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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
A Test of Democracy PDF Print E-mail
Written by James Denselow   
Wednesday, 10 April 2013 08:35

The Majalla - Ten years after the invasion of the country, Iraq faces another round of elections against a backdrop of increased sectarian tensions and political intrigue.

On a recent visit to Iraq, I found little appetite or excitement for the upcoming local elections scheduled for April 20. One taxi driver said, “They’ve only recently finished working out how to share power from the last election, and now there is another vote.” Iraq’s fledgling democracy continues to be characterized by fragility as it faces its first elections since 2010. Political violence is increasing as we head towards the vote: on April 6, a suicide bomb and grenade attack killed at least twenty-two people and injured about fifty at a Sunni political rally in the eastern Iraqi city of Baquba.

To date, the country’s complex structures of political power have been a formula for gridlock in the name of national unity. A broad mix of ethnic, sectarian and tribal parties maneuver for an acceptable balance of power while Prime Minister Maliki continues to harvest authority directly to his office. These political institutions remain unable to peacefully channel dissent, with bloody violence a regular feature of what increasingly resembles an Iraqi Game of ThronesRussia Today has reported that the total number of politicians killed in the run-up to April’s elections now stands at eleven. In March, the spiraling death toll saw the government postpone the elections in the Sunni-majority governorates of Anbar and Nineveh for what it called security reasons. The cabinet, rejecting subsequent legal opposition to the move, confirmed that it was based on the requests of Anbar’s council, official entities, political blocs and parties, and the provinces’ dignitaries.

The Stateless Statesmen PDF Print E-mail
Written by James Denselow   
Tuesday, 26 March 2013 10:21

(The Majalla) Iraq’s Kurds Preparing to Challenge history

Ten years after the Iraq War, is this the moment for Iraqi Kurdistan to emerge from the shadows of its bloody past?
A birds-eye view of the northern Iraqi city of Erbil, the capital of the autonomous Kurdistan region, on 19 March 2013

A birds-eye view of the northern Iraqi city of Erbil, the capital of the autonomous Kurdistan region, on 19 March 2013

The vast majority of global debate over the tenth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq has focused on the rights and wrongs of the decision to go to war and questions over whether the beleaguered Iraqis are now better off than they were under Saddam. While war fatigue and the Arab Spring have meant that Iraq has been much underreported in recent years, anniversaries are always opportune moments to take stock of where things are. This is especially true of Iraq, since it continues to sit at a crossroads, facing existential questions over its future identity.

Tragically fitting of the new type of insecurity faced by Iraqis, on the March 19 eve of the invasion anniversary a series of coordinated bomb blasts targeted Shi’a areas across Baghdad, killing over sixty people. Despite taking huge strides forward since the end of the 2006–2008 civil war, the new Iraq currently has the Sunni west of the country in open revolt, inspired by both the revolution in Syria and anger at the policies of Prime Minister Maliki. Maliki himself is a man whose growing authoritarian tendencies are increasingly of concern to outside observers, with Professor Toby Dodge describing him as consolidating his power by bringing the paramilitary and intelligence services under his direct control.

While the elites bicker, the country continues to suffer from chronic insecurity combined with struggling infrastructure, intermittent electricity and a poverty of effective state institutions. For example, instead of acting as a democratic beakon for the region, the Iraqi Parliament is a testimony to gridlock, inertia and incompetence, struggling to even find the numbers for the decisions it rarely makes. Indeed, the Parliament finally passed the country’s budget this March, despite it having been approved by the Iraqi cabinet the previous October.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 26 March 2013 10:25
The Assad Regime -- From Orwell to Conrad PDF Print E-mail
Written by James Denselow   
Tuesday, 05 March 2013 09:06

Two years into the conflict in Syria and the mask has slipped revealing that Assad is willing to enter the heart of darkness and take down the state along with his regime.

Living in Syria in the period 2005-2007, one was always struck by the blatant contradictions that characterised Assad's rule. In the jasmine-scented alleyways of the Old City of Damascus you never felt threatened by criminality and away from the bustle of the Souk there was a pervading sense of peacefulness -- yet this was a country living in a seemingly infinite state of emergency, with feared secret police forces and infamous prisons. If you wanted to find out about the workings of the State or the actions of its government the very last place you'd go is the Ministry of Information. State newspapers would seemingly report anything but the news. The country was technically at war with Israel but the Golan had been quiet for decades, with tourists to the town of Quneitra treated to an experience similar to visiting a museum rather than a potential flashpoint on the border of contested occupied territory. Beyond the facade of elections Government Ministers and Parliamentarians were mouthpieces for Assad and the Shadow State that kept his regime in power. The ubiquitous poster of Bashar and his father watched down on you everywhere you went -- Big Brother was indeed watching you.

Accountability in Syria PDF Print E-mail
Written by James Denselow   
Tuesday, 19 February 2013 15:08

The world appears to have run out solutions to the Syrian crisis. An extensive five-month report commissioned by the UN revealed in January that the generally accepted death toll of around 40,000 was wrong by almost half. Instead, the statisticians showed that 60,000 people had been killed by the end of last November; a death toll that is increasing at a rate of 5,000 a month. The steady increase in the lethality of fighting is also forcing more to flee the country, with January this year seeing a record 56,000 people cross into Jordan alone.


The UN Security Council remains divided against this backdrop of bloodshed. The Russians and the Chinese are refusing to countenance the notion of Syria’s sovereignty being compromised on the basis of internal fighting. At the same time, the US and Europe have ruled out unilateral military intervention and are deeply nervous about providing anything more than non-lethal support to the still-fragmented Syrian opposition. Yet the popular narrative—even from the Russians—is that it is only a matter of time before the Assad regime falls. This raises a huge range of questions as to what will happen after the conflict, and although it is certainly presumptuous to imagine a post-Assad Syria, it is nevertheless necessary to ensure that the international community is prepared for such an eventuality.

Syria - a bleak year ahread PDF Print E-mail
Written by James Denselow   
Sunday, 06 January 2013 16:02


Over 60,000 people have been killed in Syria. What prospects face the beleaguered country in 2013?

(James Denselow, Open Democracy) An extensive 5-month report commissioned by the UN revealed this week that the generally accepted death toll of around 40,000 in Syria was wrong almost by half. Instead the statisticians have showed that 60,000 had been killed by the end of last November, a death toll which is increasing at a rate of 5,000 a month, which surely puts even conservative figures today at 70,000 killed in the conflict as we near the March two-year anniversary.

Over 2 million Syrians are internally displaced with many living in desperate conditions. Recent news reports have claimed that some displaced people in the north of Syria are even resorting to living in animal shelters and are eating boiled grass as they do not have enough food to be able to survive the winter weather. Over 570,000 Syrians, a large percentage of whom are women and children, have already fled the country with the UN saying that 84,000 left in December alone. Last year Save the Children reported how unaccompanied children were making their way into Jordan carrying few or no physical possessions, but bearing the immense psychological scars of losing home and family.

Meanwhile the country’s infrastructure, both modern and historic, has been battered to the tune of billions of dollars. According to Islamic Relief, some 59% of public hospitals have been damaged or destroyed. Cities such as Homs and Aleppo can be compared to Beirut in the 1980s or the Grozny in the 1990s, with recent media reports highlighting how the industrial parts of Aleppo have been looted down to their wiring.

So what hope does 2013 hold for Syria? Is the night darkest before the dawn or will the UN Envoy Brahimi’s warnings of the country descending into “hell” manifest?


Last Updated on Sunday, 06 January 2013 16:06
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