Mark Urban

Diplomatic and defence editor, BBC Newsnight

This is where the global struggle for peace and security gets incisive, informed, coverage

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.

The first priority for the loose alliance Sunni militants, spearheaded by the jihadists of Isis (the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant), was always going to be mopping up remaining government garrisons in the west rather than advancing on Baghdad as some proposed.


There were many reasons for this, not least that these army or police outposts were much closer; that they could serve as bridgeheads for government operations deep within the contested provinces; and that an assault on the capital would be extremely difficult.

So, in the past couple of days, we have seen the militants taking posts close to the Syrian and Jordanian borders, such as Rutba and Qaim, as well as renewing attacks on Tal Afar.

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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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Ukraine crisis: West faces election nightmare

A man behind a barricade outside local government buildings in Horlivka
Pro-Russian groups have seized local buildings in a number of areas of eastern Ukraine, including Horlivka

As the days pass without an overt, large-scale, Russian military intervention in eastern Ukraine, Western leaders are focusing increasingly on another nightmare scenario - that elections planned for 25 May will not be able to take place.

The nervousness about this possibility among US and EU politicians stems from a knowledge that despite their vocal support for the interim authorities in Ukraine, they are in fact, as Russian statements never cease to point out, an unelected group who seized power.

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Ukraine crisis: Is this Cold War Two?

We overdo the talk of turning points and milestones in covering summits, but, when it comes to the G7 at The Hague, it's very hard to see it in any other terms.

Events in Ukraine have profoundly changed Western perceptions towards Russia and it's very hard to envisage any rapid return to business as usual.

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Revisiting Baghdad: How bad are the sectarian tensions?

Dora is famous for its sprawling markets

Conventional wisdom holds that the sectarian currents sweeping through the Middle East are turning Iraq once more into a battleground, and gains made by the Shia-dominated government of Nouri al-Maliki are at risk as the grim ticker of violent death chatters once more into life.

Sunni extremists, from the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), have staged risings in those notorious trouble-spots of the anti-American insurgency of several years ago, Ramadi and Fallujah.

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Ukraine crisis: Europe's leaders are haunted by history

Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, French President Francois Hollande, British Prime Minister David Cameron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi
EU leaders are holding an emergency meeting in Brussels to discuss how to respond to Russia's troop deployment on Ukrainian soil

Europe's leaders, meeting to address Russia's takeover of Crimea, are haunted by history. The problem is that it's a different history that preoccupies each of them and hinders the search for consensus.

For British politicians there are undercurrents of appeasement, 1930s style, a parallel drawn directly by Sir Malcolm Rifkind earlier this week. Hillary Clinton too has invoked the comparison with Nazi Germany's behaviour.

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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.