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.

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And I'm Audie Cornish. In Iraq, swaths of the country of fallen to Islamist militants. They took the largest city of Mosul earlier this week. Now they're heading south. Today there are reports the militants have taken the city of Tikrit, an hour's drive from the capital, Baghdad. NPR's Alice Fordham has the latest.

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There are dramatic developments in Iraq where an extremist group, that's taken over large parts of Syria, has stormed into the major Iraqi city of Mosul. Leaders there are saying that this Al Qaeda offshoot, which is called the Islamic state of Iraq and Syria, may even be pushing south in the direction of Baghdad. NPR's Alice Fordham joins us now from northern Iraq for more. And tell us, what exactly the situation is there, in Mosul.

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I'm Audie Cornish, and we begin the hour with the threat of a de facto Islamist state stretching across parts of Iraq and Syria. The Iraqi government has now lost control of one of its biggest cities, Mosul, to extremist Sunni militants. The group is known as ISIS, which stands for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. ISIS has been rejected as too extreme, even by some leaders of al-Qaida.

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Syria's highly questionable, and carefully choreographed, election leaves many people concerned about how it may embolden President Bashar al-Assad. NPR's Alice Fordham has been talking with people inside Syria and in neighboring Beirut.

ALICE FORDHAM, BYLINE: At the end of the day, Assad will be able to show that there were many Syrians who vote for him because they want to or because he made them. It's a demonstration of power, either way.

Tuesday's elections in Syria are sure to result in another term for President Bashar Assad, even as the international community says his regime is responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of civilians.

The opposition is railing against his inevitable triumph.

At a demonstration Friday by some of the 1 million Syrians who have fled into neighboring Lebanon, the view on the election was clear.

Syrian refugees in Lebanon are casting their votes ahead of Syria's presidential election next week. The election is seen as Bashar Assad's rigged bid for legitimacy — but many refugees believe that if they don't vote, they'll never be allowed back home.

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Smuggling is a way of life in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley, just over the border from Syria. Driving along it, you see pale smugglers' trails snaking through mountain passes, and the guys who run touristy little antiques stores here say they can get you anything.

"Everything that have traditions and everything found in old houses," says Reda Ismail, who runs one of the many stores in the valley. Dealers say most things here are smuggled from Syria, and Ismail thinks these days it's more prevalent.

To check into Beirut's Holiday Inn these days, you need a permit from the army and the stamina to climb 26 flights of decaying stairs to the concrete carcass of a restaurant at the top that used to rotate.

This towering edifice may not look it today, but it was once the toast of Beirut, the most glamorous city in the Middle East before the 1975-'90 civil war turned the Lebanese capital into a byword for urban dystopia.

A stroll through the Baghdad Book Fair last month was a lesson in today's cultural norms in Iraq. The books — gold-embossed, neatly arrayed — were almost all religious, and most of the customers were men.

But in the middle of the white pavilion, a woman's voice rang out loud and strong. Fawzia al-Babakhan, a lawyer, delivered a blistering critique of a proposed law that would rewrite the rules for matters such as marriage and inheritance according to Shiite Islamic law.

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There's a development today in Syria's civil war. Syrian rebels surrendered control of an important piece of ground, the city of Homs. That's been the heart of uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Hundreds of rebel fighters abandoned the city's central district. They left in rickety green buses, escorted by the United Nations. The rebels had been under siege and were running out of ammunition and food.

For more on the story, we're joined by NPR's Alice Fordham. She's in Beirut.

The beginning of the end of the two-year siege of Old Homs came as green buses full of fighters bounced down uneven streets Wednesday — a scene that was captured in a photo that was retweeted hundreds of times.

The Syrian regime may be on the verge of an important gain in its civil war. Rebels say they have agreed to a conditional retreat from areas they hold in the city of Homs.

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The Syrian regime may be on the verge of an important advance in that country's civil war. Rebels said today that they've agreed to a conditional retreat from parts of the city of Homs. The forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad have made a big push there lately.

NPR's Alice Fordham has the latest.

Iraqis are voting for Parliament Wednesday for the first time since American soldiers withdrew more than two years ago. Without their support, and amid intense violence, the poll will test Iraq's fragile democracy to its limits.

The election is for the 328-seat Parliament and offers more than 9,000 candidates on party lists. It will probably end up with no party winning a majority and lead to weeks or months of coalition haggling to form a new government.

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In Iraq, campaign posters cover the blast walls in Baghdad. Wednesday's national elections will be the first since U.S. troops withdrew in 2011. Change is a major campaign theme, but Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki wants one thing to stay the same - him. He's running for a third term. Critics worry his strong-arm tactics resemble those used by Saddam Hussein. NPR's Alice Fordham was recently in Iraq and filed this report.

Low to the dusty ground, by a reed-fringed river and a lush date palm orchard, is the farmhouse where Iraq's prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, grew up.

The place is Junaja, one of hundreds of poor, Shiite Muslim farming towns in southern Iraq. Donkey carts jog alongside battered buses. No monument, no ostentation honors Maliki. The only new thing in town is the mosque.

Sunday is the deadline for Syrian President Bashar Assad to hand over his government's chemical weapons stockpile, and he will have surrendered the vast majority of his declared arsenal.

Some call this a triumph. Others say Assad used the deal to buy time for brutal offensives in the civil war raging through the country. Western governments are investigating reports of more chemical attacks, although Russian officials said Friday that Assad's forces did not use chemical weapons.

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The renegade Islamist group known as ISIS now controls swaths of Syria and Iraq, and it's partly because the fighters are so rich. ISIS, or the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, is known for having the biggest guns and paying the highest salaries.

While kidnapping, oil smuggling and donations from sympathizers have been well-known sources of money, the groups also run complex and brutal protection rackets, according to analysts.

The Syrian city of Homs has been a rebel stronghold since the anti-government uprising began. But one rebel tells NPR that they're low on ammunition and medical gear.

Violence has reignited in western Iraq, with Islamist fighters taking over much of Anbar province three months ago. A renegade al-Qaida group has set up its headquarters in Fallujah — the city where hundreds of U.S. soldiers died a decade ago, trying to wrest it from insurgent control.

But this time, the enemy isn't the U.S. and it's not just extremists fighting. Ordinary Sunnis in Anbar, furious at what they call years of discrimination by the Shiite-dominated government, have joined the militants' battle against the Iraqi army.

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In the rugged mountains of northern Iraq, there are some gleaming new high-rises. They reflect bright sun and also big Kurdish ambitions. The Kurds largely run their own affairs, but their insistence on selling oil without the central government's permission has prompted Baghdad to strike back. The government cut off federal money to the Kurds. NPR's Alice Fordham visited a newly opened five-star hotel in the city of Sulaymaniyah.

The extremists now committing a wave of attacks in Iraq's Anbar province are better trained, funded and equipped than the al-Qaida-linked groups American soldiers battled there, says Brett McGurk, one of the State Department's top officials for Iraq.

The militants, who have drawn strength amid the war in Syria over the border, have taken over parts of Anbar over the last three months.

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Riding the bus to Beirut's southern suburbs used to be a bumpy, crowded but fun experience. Everyone crammed in next to each other, bouncing around on the way to the area they call the Dahiyeh, the Arabic word for "suburb."

This sprawling southern district of Lebanon's capital is the place where the Shiite militant group Hezbollah enjoys its strongest support. But it is also a bustling, residential area. There are garages and vegetable stalls. And in the center of the neighborhood, there are juice bars and cafes.

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel. And we have an update now on the efforts to end the civil war in Syria. Representatives of both the government and opposition are wrapping a second round of peace talks in Geneva, but they made little progress at the conference, raising questions about whether a third round of talks will happen. NPR's Alice Fordham is in Geneva and joins us on the line with the latest.

And Alice, first, sum up this round of the peace talks for us.

The Syrian peace talks in Geneva are in deep trouble. Representatives of the opposition met a delegation from Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime several times this week. But the two sides can't agree on an agenda.

For the last two weeks, the barrel bombing of the rebel-held area of Aleppo in Syria has intensified. Warplanes drop leaflets on neighborhoods warning civilians to flee — and it seems they're listening. Residents of Aleppo districts held by the regime say they are seeing an influx of families, while aid agencies working in Turkey say hundreds of thousands of the displaced are trying to get in.

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The ongoing Syrian peace talks in Geneva have raised hopes for humanitarian relief in cities, towns, and villages across the country that are under siege by government or rebel forces. And no place is more in need than the central city of Homs, whose residents were among the first to rise up against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

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