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.

Iraq's war against the Islamic State is gaining momentum. Intensified U.S. airstrikes and more than a year of U.S. training of Iraqi soldiers seem to be paying off. ISIS supply lines have been cut and its access to oil has been reduced. When Iraqi forces with coalition airstrikes retook the western city of Ramadi, it was the latest in a series of successes.

But ISIS is just one of many groups trying to carve out power for itself in a country where the central government is looking ever weaker.

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

On a cold desert morning full of birdsong and smokers' coughs, the head of Iraq's special forces is holding court in the master bedroom of a commandeered family home, perched on the edge of a rumpled pink bed and lighting his first cigarettes of the day.

"In Ramadi city, and Ramadi's suburbs, ISIS is broken, they no longer exist," declares Maj. Gen. Fadhil Barwari, blowing smoke over curlicued bedroom furniture.

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.

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

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Pages