i Foreign Editor's Letter: Fortunate to have the best correspondents in the world


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The Independent Online


Rhodri is away from the office getting some well-earned rest, so this week the letter slot has been handed over to his colleagues – and I’m first up.

I’ve had the privilege of being foreign editor of The Independent and i since December, although I’ve been with the paper a lot longer than that (nearly 10 years to be precise). In my relatively short tenure there have been some huge stories – the French invasion of Mali, the Delhi gang-rape, the Pistorius trial, the death of Hugo Chavez, the accession of Pope Francis, the Boston bombs – the variety is what makes my job so exciting. But amid this diversity, in the Middle East the news can be increasingly traced to a single root – Syria.

Last week the United Nations announced that, by its reckoning, the death toll from two years of civil war now exceeds 90,000. The UN’s human rights commissioner, Navi Pillay, admits that even this staggering number is at the conservative end of the scale. The conflict is complex, terrifying and proliferating – to Iraq, Lebanon, the Golan Heights... It is also drawing jihadists from Europe, battle-hardened guerillas from Chechnya, Hezbollah militants from Lebanon – now we understand that thousands of Iranian Revolutionary Guards are to be sent to the front line to serve alongside President Assad’s troops.

Into this morass has stepped the US, announcing it is to arm the rebels. Perhaps the calculation is that the military support in each corner (the US, Saudi Arabia and Qatar on the rebel side, Russia and Iran at Assad’s back) will eventually become so overwhelming that a ceasefire is the only option – the irresistible force meets the immovable object. To explain what’s happening, why it’s happening and what it means I can call on Robert Fisk, Patrick Cockburn and Kim Sengupta, correspondents who understand the region better than any others in the world. As foreign editor I’m lucky to have them.