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A fresh look at the importance of PMQs

Sunday, October 31, 2010

There’s a really good feature on prime minister’s questions in today’s Observer.

PMQs are seen by many as the high point of the parliamentary week, allowing the opposition a chance to try and catch the PM out with surprise questions, and have often led to heated debate.Margaret Thatcher as PM in the 1980s was known to prepare fastidiously for PMQs, spending as much as eight hours getting ready for what was then a fifteen minute slot. She put this work to good effect, managing to see off the Labour leader, Neil Kinnock, in 1986 when she could have been vulnerable at the time of the Westland affair.

I would argue, however, that whilst PMQs may not serve as an especially useful mechanism for scrutinising the actions of the executive (select committees are much more effective), they can help colour our perceptions of the party leaders. And if the party leaders don’t perform confidently during the contest, and there are whispers throughout Whitehall about their leadership skills, then poor displays on a regular basis can make them extremely vulnerable. Someone once described David Cameron’s attacks when in opposition against Gordon Brown as having the effect of making the PM look like a wounded bear. And I would argue that this didn’t help protect him from the internal challenges he faced during the fag end days of his government - as revelations in the run up to the general election and afterwards would corroborate.

Read on for the link, and a couple of related exercises.

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Global Issues: Counter-terrorism:  Fierce battle beind scenes for the coaltion’s soul

Andrew Rawnsley [Observer) in The fierce battle behind the scenes for the coalition’s soul elucidates a raging argument over counterterror laws, which is putting the coalition’s commitment to human rights to a crucial test. 

He writes:
“Playing out behind the scenes in Whitehall, a story that the government doesn’t want you to read. An intense internal battle is being waged over how to respond to terrorism without compromising fundamental principles of justice and civil liberties. It is dividing the intelligence services, splitting the cabinet and has left David Cameron and Nick Clegg in a state of alarmed semi-paralysis. It is a big test of the unity of their partnership, their leadership mettle and their willingness to honour the promises they made in opposition.”

Party politics spats aside the article is useful in setting out some of the UK’s counter-terrorism measues and touches on the human rights v security debate.

Global Issies: Terrorism ~ Yemen: Avoiding Freefall

Although the current bomb plot has catapulted Yemen into the media spot light, it is an area which has been attracting concern for some time.  Chatham House’s Wolrd Today Magazine have carried two revealing articles which could both provide useful bakground on Yemen:

Yemen: Avoiding Freefall - Ginny Hill, July 2010 - The World Today, Volume 66, Number “Yemen had its moment in the international spotlight six months ago for all the wrong reasons. Despite the sudden attention, the economy is getting worse. There is a danger too that the country could become a safe haven for radicalism and militancy, but hot pursuit might backfire.”

Yemen: Test for the West - Ginny Hill, February 2010 - The World Today, Volume 66, Number 2
“The botched plot to bomb North west Airlines Flight 253 - believed to have been hatched in Yemen - has turned the media spotlight on terrorism in this strategic Arabian peninsula state. Speaking after the attempted attack, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown described Yemen as ‘an incubator and potential safe haven for terrorism’ that presents ‘a regional and global threat.’ Rising concern about the country’s future has prompted the British government to host an urgent international summit on radicalisation there.”

World Today is a brilliant resource for the Global Issues paper - I will post details on getting a good deal on a subsrciption asap.




Global Issues: Terrorism ~ Bomb Plots, Yemen and AQAP

An apparent plot involving explosive material and US-bound cargo planes has again focused attention on Yemen, which the US sees as the base for an increasingly active terrorist threat. The foiled bomb plot eminating from Yemen and its assumed authors Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) are obviously highly topical for the Global Issues paper on ‘Terrorism’.  Yemen is worth looking at by way of a casestudy - especially given that it is a country is in crisis on many fronts and as some argue heavy-handed security measures may be counter-productive and stir tensions and threats even further.

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Great background reading for typical US politics exam questions

Saturday, October 30, 2010

This week’s edition of the Economist has a load of material that is ideal for inclusion in answers to some of the most common exam questions. These should be read now, and stored in files or folders for use later when preparing for essays or short answers.

This one on Obama covers a load of ground on presidential success and failure. Why are some presidents more successful than others? Why are second term presidencies less successful? etc. It covers Obama’s legislative and policy accomplishments and gives an objective view of why he could and should have done better. This is it here.

How important are midterms? Well, some are more important than others, and 2010 is one of the more signifcant contests. This article clearly explains why.

Why do blacks vote Democratic? Some good quotes and analysis here.

Which groups of voters vote Democratic is a common short answer question or forms part of a longer essay on voting behaviour. Groups that sway Democrat can be identified by gender, demography, race, geography, income, and age. This article looks at the importance of the youth vote.

Global Issues: Aid and Human Rights ~ Human Rights Watch Report : Development without Freedom

Friday, October 29, 2010

So many of the themes which crop up on the ‘Global Issues’ Paper are part of the same continuum.  Human Rights Watch have just published a report on ‘Development without Freedom: How Aid Underwrites Repression in Ethiopia’, in a stroke this issue touches on human rights, the role of NGOs in protecting human rights, corruption, aid and development.

The findings of this report by Human Rights Watch, argues that the Ethiopian government uses donor supported development programs to repress and control its citizens. The World Bank, the European Union, the UK and others give billions of dollars to Ethiopia every year to support development programs in agriculture, health and education and Ethiopia is apparently making good progress towards the Millennium Development Goals. However, the report argues that progress comes at a price. Human Rights Watch found examples of development assistance such as micro-credit loans, seeds, fertilizers, food for work programs and promotion and training opportunities for teachers and civil servants being restricted to supporters of the ruling party. Donors, according to the report, appear to be wilfully ignoring the use of their aid programs as tools of repression simply because Ethiopia reports good progress on eradicating poverty.

Peter Oborne in the Telegraph has picked up on the story with his article “Overseas aid is funding human rights abuses”, according to him: ‘The conspiracy of silence among politicians has been exposed by a shocking investigation of Ethiopia’.  The article is highly recommended reading.

Global Issues: Conflict, War and Terrorism ~ BBC Documentary “Secret Iraq” - UPDATE

Not too long ago the BBC screened an excellent two part documentary called ‘Secret Iraq’, which has been flagged up on two earlier posts: Part 1 Insurgency and Part 2 Awakening.

Unfortunately it is no longer on BBC iplayer; however, it has been uploaded onto Youtube - click here for the link.

Will history repeat itself - Carter and Obama?

With the US mid-term elections approaching, and the House and a third of the Senate up for grabs, there are similarities between Obama’s embattled Administration and that of the Carter Administration (1976-1980). Jimmy Carter had numerous issues in the economy and overseas to contend with.
1. Stagflation in the economy - high inflation and high unemployment at the same time.
2. oil prices went from $13 - $34 a barrel
3. Iranian students took American officials hostage in Tehran.

The public turned against the Democrats as people thought that the President is the only one who can solve the problems of the economy. Unfortunately Carter began to lose confidence in his ability to influence the electorate and there are those that said he should have been more upfront with the bad news but Carter wasn’t one for emotional speaking.

Obama has significant problems also:
1. The economy is still in neutral with 15 million Americans out of work.
2. Consumers face huge debt left over from the borrowing spree of the past decade.
3. Obama is struggling to renew the sense of optimism that saw him elected.

It seems that the Democrats are feeling the pressure from a Republican party buoyed by an active Tea Party movement. Many suggest that the Democrats will lose the House and maybe the Senate. Time will tell. Click here to see Obama on Jon Stewart’s Daily Show - not many jokes on the Comedy Central show

Screaming Lord Sutch and the Tea Party

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Here is a nicely written article from the New Yorker which relates the candidates in the current primary elections in the US to that of Screaming Lord Sutch of Monster Raving Looney Party fame. It addresses the anti-gravity platform of the MRLP and those in the US, most notably Christine O’Donnell, who, with the backing of the Tea Party, won Delaware’s Republican senatorial primary, defeating Mike Castle, the established candidate. It concludes by saying that skepticism about government is an essential element of democracies as Screaming Lord Such demonstrated. But the Obama administration still has to make a more persuasive case that anti-government rhetoric of the Tea Party sort must be met with an equal skepticism. Click here for the New Yorker article.

Initiatives and propositions November 2010

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A heads up on a great site for checking up on the ballot measures at next week’s polls (what one commentator is calling indecision day).

Interesting stuff. You probably know Californians will decide on marijuana use, but what about states considering a ban on affirmative action?

Global Issues: Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index Results 2010

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Transparency International - the NGO dedicated to monitoring political and corporate corruption - has just unveiled its Corruption Perceptions Index for 2010.  War torn states are still the most corrupt in the world - with Somaila, everyone’s favourite ‘failed state’, topping the list as the world’s worst country followed by Burma, Afghanistan and Iraq. Denmark, New Zealand and Singapore tie for top place as the world’s least corrupt countries, with the UK 20th. Other notable results are Russia, rated as among the worst for corruption, in 154th place. And Italy, down in 67th spot, now comes below Rwanda. The US too is now more corrupt dropping to 22.  Overall the 2010 Corruption Perceptions Index shows that nearly three quarters of the 178 countries in the index score below five, on a scale from 10 (highly clean) to 0 (highly corrupt). These results indicate a serious corruption problem.

It is the poor and vulnerable who suffer the consequences of corruption, Transparency International found.  Hence, more should be done to enforce existing rules and laws, according to Huguette Labelle, chair of Transparency International; she said: “These results signal that significantly greater efforts must go into strengthening governance across the globe…With the livelihoods of so many at stake, governments’ commitments to anti-corruption, transparency and accountability must speak through their actions….Good governance is an essential part of the solution to the global policy challenges governments face today.”

Go to Transparency International’s website for full details of the list and use their interactive world map.  Click here.

It also got a mention on tonight’s [Tuesday] Newsnight - here is the link for iplayer.  Click here.

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Ideologies and Parties: Do the coalition’s cuts signal a return to 1980s anti-statist ideology?

Do the coalition’s cuts signal a return to the 1980s?  In the Independent, Steve Richards in “Just as in the Eighties ideology is driving the spending cuts”  - for then, as now, choices were made on the basis of politicians view the state.


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The political compass

I think I blogged on this previously, but here is a reminder of a neat little exercise for teachers and students. It doesn’t take long, and proved highly popular with my students last year.

Here is the link.

Useful Graphics~ Size of British Armed Forces and World’s Armies - Spending Review and Dept Cuts

The Telegraph website has a few useful graphics on the following:

1. British Armed Forces: Army, Navy and RAF in stats

2. Defence spending: the world’s biggest armies in stats

3. Spending Review 2010: what it will mean for key departments

Global Issues: Terrorism ~  Counter Terrorism Measures v Human Rights

Excellent article in the Telegraph by Dominc Raab, some random MP, on “Sacrificing our liberties won’t win the war against terror” in which he argues
‘Use the justice system against terror suspects – don’t corrupt it by criminalising us all’ and concldes ‘It is time to draw a line in the sand. Sacrificing British liberties will not protect us. It just plays into the hands of the terrorists. The justice system is not the problem. It is part of the solution. We can fight terror – and defend freedom’

.  The article ties in with the launch of civil liberties campaign group Big Brother Watch’s new publication ‘Fight Terror, Defend Freedom’ by Dominic Raab MP.

  This ties in perfectly with the Global Issues paper Terrorism module with regard to the balance of counter terrorism measures and preserving civil liberties.  The article is well worth reading in full - here is how it starts:

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Half Term reading

Monday, October 25, 2010

Here is a collection of some of the most interesting and/or thought provoking material I have come across over the past few days. The autumn break is always a good time to recharge the batteries, but it is also a good opportunity for students to expose themeselves to quality writing. I have become increasingly convinced that a regular diet of good article reading is fundamental to developing a proper understanding of politics.

First off, Martin Kettle argues that the Chancellor is a One Nation Tory. Some may argue the opposite, but Kettle produces some solid evidence.

A portrait of the First Lady.

From the Economist, a good piece on the importance of states. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, it sometimes comes as a surprise to students that the single individual politician who most impacts on the day to day life of US citizens in policy terms is the state governor. I wish the US Politics syllabus would acknowledge this in some way, with more attention paid to state politics. Perhaps a case study on the politics of an indvidual state, varying from exam to exam?? Anyway, here is the link.

Lexington offers a feature on Obama and blue collar whites which suggests that while overt racism in the US is pretty much a thing of the past, the country is still divided by the issue.

A heads up on Will Hutton’s latest on fairness in the UK.

Global Issues: Terrorism ~ Parallel Challenges in Yemen and Somalia

Friday, October 22, 2010

Chatham house have just released a paper on Yemen and Somalia: Terrorism, Shadow Networks and the Limitations of State-building, which asserts that: “The juxtaposition of Somalia and Yemen, and their common state of fragility, lies at the heart of emerging security concerns about combined regional risks”.  The regions are riven with insurgencies, terrorism, economic hardship, and ineffective governments that are perceived to lack legitimacy.  It is of obvious interest to the Global issues module on Terrorism, especially in that it explores the activities and nature of terrorist groups such as AQAP and al-Shabaab, and in particular what motivates them and the conditions in which they can thrive.


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Useful UK judges article

Thursday, October 21, 2010

It would be natural to expect a posting about the CRS, but on backreading some copies of the Economist on my return to Blighty I have come across a Bagehot on the judiciary and thought I’d share it with you. It’s a good starting point for introducing what has traditionally been one of the darkest corners of the British politics syllabus.

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Where the (our) money goes

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Guardian continues to publish occasionally interesting graphics relating to government spending—at a time when this is obviously a bit of hot potato (note no ‘e’ fans of Dan Quayle).

In an echo of postings on the neighbouring Economics blog, shame that there is no accompanying graphic detailing where the money (public borrowing, direct versus indirect taxation [young people pay taxes too!], etc) comes from.

Anyhoo, here is the link.

Global Issues: Changing Nature of Warfare ~ Drone Attacks - Death From Above, Outrage from Below

The continued drone attacks in north west Pakistan have prompted a number of articles in the press recently. In terms of the Global Issues course the use of drones is worth exploring both in respect of the ‘Revolution in Military Affairs’ for the Changing Nature of Warfare and also in relation to Terrorism and Counter-Terrorism. 

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Global Issues: Cultural Conflict ~ Clash of Civilizations: Neo-Cons losing the plot

To some neo-cons the ‘clash of civilization’ thesis seems to be an article of faith. In a not quite so recent article (15th September) in the Washington Post entitled “Newt Gingrich, unhinged over Obama”, Eugene Robinson says that Newt Gingrich’s increasingly wild outbursts reveal his belief in a clash of civilisations.

The contributions of the Republican leader, Newt Gingrich, to the public discourse have become increasingly unbalanced, writes Eugene Robinson. The latest example comes when he criticised President Obama in an interview, saying: “What if Obama is so outside our comprehension that only if you understand Kenyan, anti-colonial behaviour can you begin to piece together his actions?” What does “Kenyan, anti-colonial behaviour” mean? Last year, during the confirmation hearings for Justice Sonia Sotomayor, he said that her innocuous “wise Latina” remark proved she is a racist. The rhetorical insanity of Gingrich, who aspires to be president, plumbed new depths last month when he accused supporters of the Lower Manhattan mosque of “triumphalism” and compared them to Nazis. There’s a thread that connects Gingrich’s outbursts: they all fit into the idea that American democracy—indeed, the whole Anglo-American-Judeo-Christian enterprise—is under attack in a titanic clash of civilisations.

Global Issues: Conflict, War and Terrorism: Interactive Crisis Guide on Pakistan

The Council for Foreign Relation’s website has a new addition to its excellent crisis guide series on Pakistan, which explores both its problems and future.  Its good!  Follow the link: Pakistan Crisis Guide.

Global Issues: Cultural Conflict ~ Hezbollah & Iran: Lebanon’s Power Couple?

More in depth analysis on the issue of the relationship between Iran and Hezbollah can be found on the CFR website, which carries a piece entitled ‘Hezbollah & Iran: Lebanon’s Power Couple’ .  The article asserts:

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s state visit to Lebanon this week has created a media circus in the West and stirred new debate over the relationship of the Iranian regime to Hezbollah, Lebanon’s dominant Shiite militia and political party. Ahmadinejad’s visit “suggests that Hezbollah values its allegiance to Iran over its allegiance to Lebanon,” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said on Wednesday.

Gibbs’s analysis is part of an effort by the Obama administration, along with some Arab and Lebanese critics of Hezbollah, to portray the Party of God as primarily an Iranian proxy. While Hezbollah has become more reliant on Iran in recent years, it is a mistake for Western and Arab policymakers to think they can undermine the movement’s base of support by casting doubt on its Arab or Lebanese identity. This approach also reflects a misunderstanding of Shiite history in Lebanon and why that community has grown so dependent on Hezbollah.


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Global Issues: Cultural Conflict ~ Iran and Hezbollah - Sectarian Conflict and Carpets

Monday, October 18, 2010

The recent visit of Iran’sPresident Ahmadinejad to southern Lebanon, close to the Israeli border, has served to raise sectarian tension in the region. Hezbollah, who are Shia Muslims, already the most powerful single group in Lebanon, has been given an extra swagger by the high profile visitor as tens of thousands of people turned out to hear him speak. However, the trip has also sparked controversy among different Lebanese groups - the other Muslim sect, the Sunnis, and many of the country’s Christians, are not at all happy about the Iranian president’s visit.

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Weekend selection

Here are my choices of the best articles for class discussion from the papers on Saturday and Sunday

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Power in the central executive territory

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Questions about the Prime Minister and Cabinet are always popular. So for students looking to distinguish themselves and move into the top end of the mark scheme, recent examples are a must. I have written previously about the lack of illustration relating to the Brown era in exam answers, and where issues such as the three attempted coups or the frosty relations between Brown and Darling were used, students were invariably well rewarded. So looking ahead, examples from the Cameron government would also impress.

There is a good article about the negotiations being held which will lead up to the spending review announcement next week. I include some questions to go with it to highlight the main points.

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Why football and politics shouldn’t mix

Friday, October 15, 2010

Bolivian President Evo Morales fails to play fair

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First Past the Post - October 2010

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The October 2010 edition of FPTP, our digital magazine for A Level Politics teachers and students, is now available to subscribers.  The articles are described briefly below.

A whole-school subscription to FPTP is just £50 and can be ordered here

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U.S. Supreme Court 2009-2010 Term Review


An excellent summary of the key decisions taken by the U.S. Supreme Court during the 2009-2010 term. This is a particularly useful resource for those teaching U.S. politics and developing debate in the classroom about the power that the Supreme Court wield in the political sphere. It could also be used in reference to the importance and significance of Presidential appointments to the Court.

Click here to read the article

Prime Ministers are not like you and me

In the Guardian last Friday Simon Hoggart produced a few anecdotes about recent PMs, all taken from his new book “A Long Lunch”.

What Mrs Thatcher’s Husband, Denis, says about Canada is sure to make anyone laugh.

See the link here.

A Coalition that is Built to Last!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Last night I popped over to a talk by Adam Boulton - Political Editor of Sky News - given at our school’s political society. It was a fascinating hour in the company of one of the most knowledgeable people around when it comes to the hidden wiring of British politics. Here is a collection of some of my tweets

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Ed Miliband steps into the ring, but will he land a knockout blow?


Does Ed Miliband have the arsenal to send Cameron into the ropes?


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The Argument of the Right

Saturday, October 09, 2010

At the Conservative Party Conference last week, Daniel Hannan MEP was a hugely popular speaker at the right-wing fringe events. A cogent, articulate and personable man, he is the current hero of the recidivist Tory right. Although he is a British representative in the European Parliament, his real ideological home is America, and he has just written “The New Road to Serfdom: A Letter of Warning to America”, in which he urges them not to follow the European route towards statism and welfare. To mark its publication, he has been interviewed by the right-wing National Review, and the interview makes for genuinely fascinating reading. He correctly marks the historical beginning of America’s move towards greater federal state action with the two Roosevelts, especially FDR. He rightly sees FDR as in some ways a model for Obama, although draws, naturally enough, rather different conclusions to those of liberal sympathisers from this comparison.

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Global Issues: Conflict, War and Terrorism ~ BBC 2 Secret Iraq Part 2 Awakening

Friday, October 08, 2010
Sheikh Jabbar sought help from the Americans to break al-Qaeda’s hold on Anbar province

On Wednesday night BBC 2 showed the second leg of Secret Iraq - a two-part documentary series that sheds new light on the dramatic story of Iraq after the fall of Saddam. Episode 2 is entitled ‘Awakening’ and Iraqi insurgents describe how they turned against Al Qaeda’s brutal rule. With regard to the Global Issues course the divide between Al Qaeda and Iraqi Sunnis is worth mentioning in relation to the ‘Clash of Civilisation’ debate.  Here is the link to Secret Iraq - Awakening.

There is an excellent supplementary article on the BBC website entitled Iraq’s militia leaders reveal why they turned on al-Qaeda

Read more…

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Accessible article on US midterms, with questions

Thursday, October 07, 2010

I came across this article in the Guardian this week. Lots of fodder for class discussion or as a homework exercise

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US Supreme Court 2010 style

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Here is a good article for introducing the court, with some questions for discussion.

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What’s up with Obama?

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Students of US politics should be keeping a close eye on the Obama presidency as a case study on leadership stretch and the constitutional limits of the office.

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Global Issues: Conflict War & Terrorism ~ BBC Documentary ‘Secret Iraq’ - Insurgency Part 1

Friday, October 01, 2010

Heads up on an excellent BBC 2 Documentary - ‘Secret Iraq’.  Links in perfectly with the Global Issues paper - touching on the growth of the Iraqi insurgency and how the nature of the conflict changed and intensified, the difference and significance of the Sunni and Shia Muslim split in Iraq, cultural conflict etc.  Here is the link to it on BBC iplayer:
The BBC blurb for ‘Secret Iraq’ states:
“Filmed on the ground in Iraq, Secret Iraq is a landmark two-part documentary series that sheds new light on the dramatic story of Iraq after the fall of Saddam.

The series has gained access to Iraqi insurgents who speak about their operations against coalition forces, and the motives which drove them.

To gain access to insurgents the film makers worked in some of the most dangerous trouble spots in Iraq, including Fallujah - where pitched battles took place between US forces and insurgents - and Mahmoudiya, the insurgent stronghold, as well as in Basra, the capital of what was until 2009 the British-controlled South of Iraq.

Eyewitness testimony from key Iraqi insurgents, speaking for the first time about how they fought and why, ranges from that of a fighter credited within the insurgency of launching the first RPG ambush of an American convoy to that of a former colonel from Saddam’s intelligence service who was instrumental in co-ordinating the insurgency’s attacks on the coalition forces in the Triangle of Death.

Alongside the insurgents, American and British soldiers, generals, diplomats and spies also recount their experiences of an Iraq that often bore little relationship to the country being portrayed by the politicians. From the interrogation of Saddam Hussein to the brutal pitched battles fought in Fallujah that killed thousands of civilians, the first episode tells history as it was experienced by those on the ground.”


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