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.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

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.

At the beginning of 2014, Syrian President Bashar Assad had agreed to send his ministers to take part in negotiations in Switzerland, and his future as Syria's ruler was not looking very bright.

He was accused of killing tens of thousands of his own people in a civil war that was nearly three years old. The opposition was demanding Assad's ouster. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was in Switzerland and called loudly for a political transition in Syria. He was clear about who would not be involved.

In Lebanon — a fragile little country of just 4 million people — there are about 1 million refugees from Syria. Many have been here three years, and their welcome is starting to wear thin.

Some towns and villages have imposed a curfew on refugees – enforced by local groups of volunteers. But in a country that experienced a brutal civil war, some are concerned about the return of armed civilian groups.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Barefoot in a yoga studio in Lebanon's capital Beirut, a couple dozen actresses raise voices and stretch bodies that had grown used to being quiet and still.

"Go on," they cry as a clapping exercise speeds up, and they fill the room with whoops and uninhibited yells.

But these women aren't professional actresses. In fact, they're refugees from Syria, and this production of the Greek tragedy Antigone is a project designed to help them deal with their trauma.

The holy Iraqi city of Najaf has a brand-new and appropriately holy shopping center: the Najaf City Mall.

Under banners with Muslim prayers, children rampage through an adventure playground, while conservative women in long black robes browse for cute outfits to wear when they're home with family.

The shrine of Imam Ali in the Iraqi city of Najaf is a vast gold-domed edifice, where Shiite Muslims from all over the world gather to pray.

But just a few minutes drive away, are travelers of a different, shabbier kind. A long row of cinder block and sheet metal buildings is draped in bright flags with religious slogans. Usually, these are for pilgrims to sleep in. But right now, they're spilling over with displaced Iraqi families.

"It's tough for the children," says Zaira Raqib, a mother of four of them. "We know we're displaced, but they don't understand."

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