Alice Fordham

Alice Fordham is an NPR International Correspondent based in Beirut, Lebanon.

In this role, she reports on Lebanon, Syria and many of the countries throughout the Middle East.

Before joining NPR in 2014, Fordham covered the Middle East for five years, reporting for The Washington Post, the Economist, The Times and other publications. She has worked in wars and political turmoil but also amid beauty, resilience and fun.

In 2011, Fordham was a Stern Fellow at the Washington Post. That same year she won the Next Century Foundation's Breakaway award, in part for an investigation into Iraqi prisons.

Fordham graduated from Cambridge University with a Bachelor of Arts in Classics.

The al-Nidaa mosque in northern Baghdad looks grand, with clean, modern lines swooping up to a blue mosaic dome. But inside it's squalid, with piled-up mattresses, cooking pots and almost 60 families. Most are Sunni Muslims who fled the western province of Anbar when the self-proclaimed Islamic State advanced against the Iraqi security forces two months ago.

"We suffered a lot in our journey," says Wafaa Ahmed, a widow who walked for days with three sick children. "But the worst suffering was here in Baghdad."

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Tunisia was in shock after at least 38 foreign tourists were killed Friday at a beachside hotel, apparently by one man: Saifeddine Rezgui, who was in turn killed by police.

Amid the horror, there was defiance in the air in the seaside town of Sousse. Hundreds of foreign tourists decided to stay, and were out on the beaches. And local residents held a patriotic demonstration, waving the red national flag and chanting about unity in a palm-fringed square.

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When the Iraqi city of Ramadi fell to the self-declared Islamic State last month, it was a big defeat. Ramadi is a provincial capital just 60 miles west of Baghdad, and the setback played into the notion that the Iraqi army is weak and inept.

The U.S. Congress and Pentagon were scathing, saying the Iraqi army lacked the will to fight. There were plenty of other critics as well, though we haven't heard much from the Iraqi soldiers themselves.

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The dirt roads on the border between Syria and Lebanon wind across a mountain range dotted with little wildflowers.

It's windswept and deserted except for a few hilltop outposts with clumps of gray tents, machine-gun nests and flags that fly the green and gold colors of Lebanon's Hezbollah movement.

These posts are new. In a three-week offensive, Hezbollah has worked with Syrian government forces and other allies to push rebel fighters out of a chunk of territory that the rebels held along this border for two years.

Like lots of young married couples, Kholoud Succariyeh and Nidal Darwish love to show their wedding video. They go all misty-eyed remembering that day two years ago.

"Very beautiful," says Succariyeh. "Everything is nice."

Their wedding was special, not only as a personal milestone for the couple. It was a political milestone, as well.

Darwish says their union was a challenge to the state: It was Lebanon's first civil marriage.

The black flag of the self-proclaimed Islamic State is flying over the Iraqi city of Ramadi after government forces collapsed and the extremists seized control over the weekend.

Thousands of civilians have fled Ramadi and those left behind face a chaotic situation.

"No food, no fuel, no electricity. It's very difficult there," says Sheikh Hekmat Suleiman, an adviser to the governor of Anbar Province. Ramadi is the provincial capital, and the local government has now fled the city, just 70 miles west of Baghdad.

The past few weeks have brought almost daily news of rebel victories in their 4-year-old battle against Syria's President Bashar Assad.

There was the capture of the crucial Nassib border crossing with Jordan — a key trade route and source of government taxes. And some of the biggest rebel victories have come in the northern province of Idlib, where the opposition recently captured the provincial capital, Idlib City, as well as military bases and other key towns.

Driving from Baghdad north to Tikrit, we speed up a main road Wednesday through small towns that have been won back from the self-declared Islamic State, or ISIS. Some still have smoking buildings.

On the outskirts we pass through places that have obviously seen heavy fighting. Half-built houses are pocked with bullet holes, their windows shattered.

As we move into Tikrit proper, the excited fighters begin celebrating, Iraqi style, with gunshots into the air. They have reason to celebrate. A hard-fought battle appears to be nearing a conclusion.

The Abdelaziz sisters live in a world of pretty artifice. Alice, Nadine and Farah answer the door in a flurry of hellos while their fluffball dog Stella barks and tinkles the bells on her tiny collar.

They usually live in the Lebanese capital, Beirut, in a family home, but for the purposes of their new reality show, The Sisters, they reside in this apartment where green hillsides spill down from picture windows to the Mediterranean below.

"The view is amazing here," says Nadine, the middle sister. "And you see the weather today is sunny."

The songs our grandparents sang can tell us who we are. Here in the U.S., the Lomax family became famous in the 1930s, when they recorded America's folk music.

In other countries that are changing fast, people are also trying to hold onto their heritage. The tiny, super-rich state of Qatar takes pride in its modernity, with its gleaming skyscrapers and lucrative gas fields. But it is also investing in a huge history project.

The self-styled Islamic State has released a video showing an orgy of destruction of ancient statues in the Iraqi city of Mosul, with footage at a museum and at least one archaeological site nearby.

The video begins with an image of the police known as the Hisba, tasked with enforcing their strict interpretation of Islamic law, patrolling the streets. Then, the scene cuts to bearded men ripping protective coverings from statues in the museum.

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In the U.S. view, the most serious threat coming from Syria is the self-styled Islamic State, or ISIS. That's why the Pentagon is sending forces to train what it terms moderate Syrian rebel fighters.

But here's the catch. Moderate rebel commanders say it will be hard to explain this mission to their troops, who took up arms with the aim of toppling Syrian President Bashar Assad, not ISIS.

The U.S. plan calls for the Americans and their allies to train and equip about 5,000 Syrian moderates. U.S. troops are heading to Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia for the training.

In an unfinished building in the northern Iraqi city of Erbil, displaced Christian children sing a little song about returning to their village. "We're going back," they sing, "to our houses, our land, our church."

Right now, they're living in an open concrete structure. The self-styled Islamic State, or ISIS, took over their home village of Qaraqosh, and the Christians fled in fear, on foot.

Iran says a general in the country's elite Revolutionary Guard was killed by an Israeli airstrike in Syria on Sunday that also killed several ranking members of Hezbollah.

Though these aren't the first Iranians or Hezbollah fighters to be killed in Syria, this incident stands out because these men were on the Syrian Golan Heights, within 10 miles of Israel's northeastern border.

We've been hearing a lot about cartoons for all the wrong reasons recently: the horrifying attack on Charlie Hebdo in Paris, the divisive images, the threat of extremism. But one man in Jordan has been using comic book superheroes to try to bridge the divide and curb extremism.

His name is Suleiman Bakhit, and at a bar in Jordan's capital, Amman, he cracks open his laptop to show off some heroes. The artwork is sophisticated, vivid and influenced by Japanese comics.

In Jordan, the talk these days centers on the fate of the Jordanian pilot who was captured by the self-styled Islamic State after his plane crashed in Syria on Christmas Eve.

Little is known about the condition of Moath al-Kasasbeh since the extremists tweeted pictures of him, bloody and bewildered, after the crash.

Some of the world's loveliest cities hug great rivers. Budapest curves around the Danube, London's gracious gray buildings look out on the Thames.

Baghdad doesn't conjure so easily the idea of lingering on a bridge, watching boats glide by, but the city's river Tigris is as wide and wet as the Seine or the Nile, and Baghdadis have fun on it too.

Last weekend, moored next to the Mutanabbi Street book market was a big white party boat, with tinsel and silk roses festooning its rails and pop music shaking its deck.

In the heat of summer in 2014, Baghdad was spooked. A third of Iraq was under the control of the self-proclaimed Islamic State, or ISIS. The extremist group thrived in the chaos of the Syrian civil war, then surged over the border into Iraq and took over the cities of Mosul and Tikrit. People worried the capital might be next.

Six months on, that's changed. On New Year's Eve, for instance, the usual midnight curfew was lifted and people partied in the streets and uploaded videos of themselves letting off fireworks.

Three years after the U.S. military officially withdrew from Iraq, 2,000 U.S. troops are back. They're restoring the old buildings they'd left behind and renewing contacts with Iraqi officers they knew before.

They're also taking incoming rocket fire at their bases.

This week began an ambitious training program to put 5,000 Iraqi soldiers through boot camp every six weeks.

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