World

Islamic State: Unlikely alliances forming in fight against threat

22 September 2014
Composite picture of US troops and IS fighters

This week the United States will use meetings on the margins of the UN General Assembly to finalise its coalition for fighting Islamic State (IS) in Iraq and Syria.

The White House has spoken of rallying 40 countries to the cause, but since this planned group cuts across the Sunni/Shia divide, as well as harnessing long-standing Middle East rivals, many have asked whether it's really possible.

Iran's official Al Alam channel mocked the coalition in an editorial as "a mile wide, an inch deep".

Ghassan Salame, a former Lebanese minister, noted a couple of days ago that "when a disparate set of countries agrees to fight a common enemy, something fishy's going on".

Variously named foe

So Saudi Arabia is meant to back the new government in Iraq even though it's Shia dominated and widely seen as oppressive of Sunnis, the sect which the Saudis regard themselves as protectors of.

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Does Nato have the political will to face up to Russia?

4 September 2014
Protest march outside Nato summit
These protesters at the summit are seeking Nato's help

Nato has rarely escaped the existential question in the years since 1989 and the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Now events in Ukraine, and accompanying statements from the Kremlin about acting to protect the interests of Russians in neighbouring countries, appear to offer a lifeline to the Western alliance - a "back to the future" mission organising collective defence against the threat of future coercion from the east.

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What else happened in the Middle East as Gaza burned?

7 August 2014
Refugees in Kurdistan
Refugees from the Isis offensive have been pouring into Kurdistan

The Middle East is going through such turmoil that much has been going on during the month Gaza dominated the headlines. Here's my summary of the five key events.

1. The onward march of the Islamic State in Iraq

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Ukraine crisis creates high-level tensions in UK

Russian President Vladimir Putin in Ukraine
President Putin visited Crimea in May after it was annexed by Russia

Senior officers in the armed forces and ministers have been at loggerheads about the implications of the Ukraine crisis for Britain's defence.

I've learned that Philip Hammond, as defence secretary, threatened one officer, General Sir Richard Shirreff, with disciplinary action after he gave an interview in March suggesting the armed forces were not capable of meeting this new challenge.

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New alliances amid Middle East chaos

The great hope of the Arab Spring that began more than three years ago was that democracy and stability would break out across the Middle East.

It didn't happen. Instead there has been turmoil and bloodshed, with an elected leader turfed out in Egypt, Libya apparently disintegrating and a new jihadist group, Isis, capturing swathes of Iraq and Syria.

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Iraq crisis: Where next in the struggle for the country?

A burned out vehicle in Mosul
Mosul fell under the control of Isis earlier this month

For much of last week the battle for Iraq entered a kind of strategic pause, in which both sides attempted to adjust to the capture of Mosul and Tikrit by Isis and prepare their next move.

Over the past couple of days it has become clear this lull is over and that it is Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's opponents who have got their act together first.

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What does D-Day really mean to the mix of people in Normandy?

People in military uniforms on Sword Beach
Military uniforms of the time have been on display

There are many commemorations of D-Day going on, from official to public, or those of the veterans themselves, and the scale of it all is perplexing.

These events have drawn hundreds of thousands of people to the Normandy beaches, all outwardly here for the same reason, but actually taking away very different things.

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Powerful emotions stirring in Russia's 'divided nation'

Woman waving a Russian flag
Recent events have stirred up feelings of pride among many Russians

In 1993, during a filming trip to Tajikistan, we chanced upon an extraordinary and disturbing scene.

Hundreds of Russians were huddling in railway cattle trucks, in sub-zero temperatures, desperate to escape the civil war ravaging a newly independent Soviet republic.

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About Mark

Mark has covered diplomatic and defence matters for more than 20 years at the BBC.

His major stories have included: the 1990 invasion of Iraq and subsequent Desert Storm campaign; the collapse of the Soviet Union; the Oslo peace process in the Middle East; the wars that broke out in the former Yugoslavia in the mid-1990s as well as the diplomacy that stopped them; the Second Palestinian Intifada; 9/11 and its aftermath; the Coalition campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq; and the Arab Spring.

Before joining the BBC as a reporter he was Defence correspondent for The Independent newspaper for four years, covering the end of the Cold War and the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan.

He is also the author of several books on military matters, both current and historical. Mark read International Relations at the London School of Economics and served for a short time in the British Army.