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.

On a little patch of grass outside a police station in the small town of Rubayda in northern Iraq, a half-dozen women with small children sit on a rug, with a haggard-looking group of men nearby, eager to talk about how they walked here.

"Day and night, for 48 hours, without food or water or sleep," says Khalaf Hussein Karam, a former soldier with a deeply lined face. He escaped from his town in the Islamic State-held area around the city of Hawija. With numerous relatives including women and children, he crossed the Hamrin mountain range.

Nine months ago, the only way into Tikrit was to roll along dirt roads recently cleared of ISIS explosives. You also had to avoid celebratory gunfire as Iraqi security forces and their allies wildly announced their victory over the extremist group.

The city, about 100 miles north of Baghdad, was deserted at the time. After months of ISIS occupation followed by heavy fighting, houses were shattered, public buildings were burned and there was no electricity or water.

Let's start on the front line of every faltering economy: the grocery store. In a Baghdad shop lined with baskets of spices and rose petal tea, owner Osama al-Hassani is measuring out roasted, salted beans.

"Is that enough?" he says to a customer.

It's not very much. The customer says he'll actually take a bit less. And the shopkeeper complains that this is the situation now. He says he used to have 30 workers in his store and now he has only two. Business has been down for months. His customers are squeezed and worried

Like everyone else, the Republican candidates talk about ISIS a lot. And what they — at least Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush — charge is that ISIS is President Obama's fault, because he withdrew troops from Iraq in 2011 — when he should have kept them there to keep a lid on the insurgency.

Let's Break It Down:

Editor's Note: Jordan is a staunch ally of the US in the war against ISIS. A year ago, it paid a price when one of its planes crashed in Syria and ISIS captured a pilot. NPR's Alice Fordham kept in touch with his family

It was so cold, the day I first met the parents of Moath al-Kasasbeh, that they were wearing coats in their immaculate living room as they waited to receive me. Bundled up, they looked solid and dignified.

Their 26-year-old son, the captured pilot, was then probably the most famous man in Jordan after King Abdullah II.

It's a common sight in Lebanon: a construction site where every laborer slapping cement onto cinder blocks is a Syrian refugee working illegally. The men take a break to smoke and to tell me how things are.

Yeah, they say, their breath clouding the cold air. Of course they owe money.

"Especially in wintertime," says Radwan Mahmoud. "The jobs are getting less and less."

The farms near this village in the fertile Bekaa Valley don't need laborers now.

There's something regal about Abdi Ismail. The white-bearded paterfamilias sits cross-legged on a mattress, a scarf wrapped turban-like round his head, his children and chickens keeping a respectful distance.

Ismail's extended family lives in a tent stamped with U.N. logos. He's proud they're here.

"We didn't leave our mountain," he says. "We stayed here and we fought."

They've been eking out an existence on the rugged slopes of Iraq's Mount Sinjar since ISIS took their village of Tal Azer in summer last year.

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Palestinians sit in a line of idling cars that stretches downhill, waiting to be allowed out of their East Jerusalem neighborhood via a road partially sealed off by Israeli police.

Around the corner, Palestinian driver Waleed Mattar has stopped the school bus at a row of new, sharp-edged concrete cubes blocking his usual route. The kids now have a long walk home.

This is a neighborhood in East Jerusalem called Jabel Mukaber, with a population of more than 20,000 and a median age of just 18.

More than a year after the U.S. led the formation of an anti-ISIS coalition, the extremists still hold large parts of western and northern Iraq.

In the west, ISIS took the desert provincial capital, Ramadi, four months ago. A much-anticipated counteroffensive never materialized.

In a small area of Anbar Province that ISIS doesn't control, five Iraqi flags on bent brass poles mark out a parade ground bordered by a junkyard and dilapidated warehouse.

The Baghdad City of Peace Carnival started four years ago, with a young woman named Noof Assi.

"We started talking to people about a celebration for peace day in Baghdad," Assi says. She's referring to International Peace Day, which is September 21 — and which hadn't been celebrated in the war-beleaguered Iraqi capital.

"Everybody was taking it as a joke and never taking us seriously," she says, "because, like, in Baghdad? Celebrating peace?"

At first it seems lively outside on the weekend in Baghdad — the lights are bright in open-air cafes, music streams from beribboned cars in a wedding party and at Ali Hussein's juice stand, decorated with plastic bananas, they're squeezing oranges on old brass presses.

But even as Hussein offers me a sharp, fresh juice, he's downcast. When I ask about the subject on everyone's mind here — the migrant flood into Europe — he laughs. "We were just talking about this!" he says. Several of his friends just passed by to say farewell.

The sun is beating down on the rocky shore of Lebanon's capital, Beirut, and architect Mona Hallak is taking her son and his friends to see their heritage.

"Who knows how to swim?" asks Hallak, an advocate for public beaches in Lebanon.

The kids say they can, but they learned in private beach clubs. Hallak tells them of the past, when Beirutis learned to swim in the sea because the shore was all public. She shows them a nearby area that was open and has been fenced off. She fears it, too, will be built on as many other places have been.

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A small group of U.S.-trained Syrian fighters entered northern Syria late last month and waited for their mission. They were on a base, with American supplies that included heavy machine guns, communications technology and laser pointers for directing airstrikes.

These fighters are, in effect, the elite members of a much bigger rebel group called Division 30. Their mission is to fight the self-declared Islamic State, though there are multiple factions involved in the Syrian civil war.

The sun has very nearly set on Beirut, and in a bar called Anise, they're mixing the first cocktail of the evening.

There's vodka, vermouth and iced glasses. And next to the bunches of mint for mojitos are sage, wild oregano, rosemary and the Lebanese favorite, za'atar, a kind of wild thyme.

Here in Lebanon, mixologists and brewmasters are taking a national cuisine and reimagining it in liquid form.

Editor's Note: An attacker opened fire on a beach in Tunisia and killed 38 people on June 26. NPR's Alice Fordham went to cover the story. She used to live in Tunisia and reflects on how the country's changed in recent years.

Two years ago, I first went to the town of Kairouan, one of the holiest sites in Islam. Tear gas drifted around the beautiful old stones of the Great Mosque and nervous police sheltered in small patches of shade. They were there preventing a rally by an Islamic extremist group who wanted to wave black flags and chant intolerant slogans.

The al-Nidaa mosque in northern Baghdad looks grand, with clean, modern lines swooping up to a blue mosaic dome. But inside it's squalid, with piled-up mattresses, cooking pots and almost 60 families. Most are Sunni Muslims who fled the western province of Anbar when the self-proclaimed Islamic State advanced against the Iraqi security forces two months ago.

"We suffered a lot in our journey," says Wafaa Ahmed, a widow who walked for days with three sick children. "But the worst suffering was here in Baghdad."

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When the Iraqi city of Ramadi fell to the self-declared Islamic State last month, it was a big defeat. Ramadi is a provincial capital just 60 miles west of Baghdad, and the setback played into the notion that the Iraqi army is weak and inept.

The U.S. Congress and Pentagon were scathing, saying the Iraqi army lacked the will to fight. There were plenty of other critics as well, though we haven't heard much from the Iraqi soldiers themselves.

The dirt roads on the border between Syria and Lebanon wind across a mountain range dotted with little wildflowers.

It's windswept and deserted except for a few hilltop outposts with clumps of gray tents, machine-gun nests and flags that fly the green and gold colors of Lebanon's Hezbollah movement.

These posts are new. In a three-week offensive, Hezbollah has worked with Syrian government forces and other allies to push rebel fighters out of a chunk of territory that the rebels held along this border for two years.

Like lots of young married couples, Kholoud Succariyeh and Nidal Darwish love to show their wedding video. They go all misty-eyed remembering that day two years ago.

"Very beautiful," says Succariyeh. "Everything is nice."

Their wedding was special, not only as a personal milestone for the couple. It was a political milestone, as well.

Darwish says their union was a challenge to the state: It was Lebanon's first civil marriage.

The black flag of the self-proclaimed Islamic State is flying over the Iraqi city of Ramadi after government forces collapsed and the extremists seized control over the weekend.

Thousands of civilians have fled Ramadi and those left behind face a chaotic situation.

"No food, no fuel, no electricity. It's very difficult there," says Sheikh Hekmat Suleiman, an adviser to the governor of Anbar Province. Ramadi is the provincial capital, and the local government has now fled the city, just 70 miles west of Baghdad.

The past few weeks have brought almost daily news of rebel victories in their 4-year-old battle against Syria's President Bashar Assad.

There was the capture of the crucial Nassib border crossing with Jordan — a key trade route and source of government taxes. And some of the biggest rebel victories have come in the northern province of Idlib, where the opposition recently captured the provincial capital, Idlib City, as well as military bases and other key towns.

Driving from Baghdad north to Tikrit, we speed up a main road Wednesday through small towns that have been won back from the self-declared Islamic State, or ISIS. Some still have smoking buildings.

On the outskirts we pass through places that have obviously seen heavy fighting. Half-built houses are pocked with bullet holes, their windows shattered.

As we move into Tikrit proper, the excited fighters begin celebrating, Iraqi style, with gunshots into the air. They have reason to celebrate. A hard-fought battle appears to be nearing a conclusion.

The Abdelaziz sisters live in a world of pretty artifice. Alice, Nadine and Farah answer the door in a flurry of hellos while their fluffball dog Stella barks and tinkles the bells on her tiny collar.

They usually live in the Lebanese capital, Beirut, in a family home, but for the purposes of their new reality show, The Sisters, they reside in this apartment where green hillsides spill down from picture windows to the Mediterranean below.

"The view is amazing here," says Nadine, the middle sister. "And you see the weather today is sunny."

The songs our grandparents sang can tell us who we are. Here in the U.S., the Lomax family became famous in the 1930s, when they recorded America's folk music.

In other countries that are changing fast, people are also trying to hold onto their heritage. The tiny, super-rich state of Qatar takes pride in its modernity, with its gleaming skyscrapers and lucrative gas fields. But it is also investing in a huge history project.

The self-styled Islamic State has released a video showing an orgy of destruction of ancient statues in the Iraqi city of Mosul, with footage at a museum and at least one archaeological site nearby.

The video begins with an image of the police known as the Hisba, tasked with enforcing their strict interpretation of Islamic law, patrolling the streets. Then, the scene cuts to bearded men ripping protective coverings from statues in the museum.

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