Mark Urban, Diplomatic and defence editor, Newsnight

Mark Urban Diplomatic and defence editor, BBC Newsnight

This is where the global struggle for peace and security gets incisive, informed, coverage

What else happened in the Middle East as Gaza burned?

7 August 2014
Refugees in Kurdistan
Refugees from the Isis offensive have been pouring into Kurdistan

The Middle East is going through such turmoil that much has been going on during the month Gaza dominated the headlines. Here's my summary of the five key events.

1. The onward march of the Islamic State in Iraq

The jihadist movement has attacked and routed Kurdish forces on the Syrian border. This has resulted in the Islamic State (IS), previously known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (Isis), securing the last significant border crossing into Syria and gaining control of Iraq's biggest dam, near Mosul. It has also produced what the UN in Iraq has described as "a humanitarian tragedy".

Up to 300,000 people may have fled the town of Sinjar and newly captured lands around it, and there have been unconfirmed reports of up to 2,000 people being killed by the militants.

Attention is now focused on about 40,000 of the refugees stranded on a mountainside without food, water, or shelter. Like most of those who have fled, they are from Iraq's Yazidi religious minority and are terrified they will be persecuted by IS. Christians from Qaraqosh, estimated to number 50,000, have also fled the jihadists.

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Ukraine crisis creates high-level tensions in UK

Russian President Vladimir Putin in Ukraine
President Putin visited Crimea in May after it was annexed by Russia

Senior officers in the armed forces and ministers have been at loggerheads about the implications of the Ukraine crisis for Britain's defence.

I've learned that Philip Hammond, as defence secretary, threatened one officer, General Sir Richard Shirreff, with disciplinary action after he gave an interview in March suggesting the armed forces were not capable of meeting this new challenge.

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New alliances amid Middle East chaos

The great hope of the Arab Spring that began more than three years ago was that democracy and stability would break out across the Middle East.

It didn't happen. Instead there has been turmoil and bloodshed, with an elected leader turfed out in Egypt, Libya apparently disintegrating and a new jihadist group, Isis, capturing swathes of Iraq and Syria.

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Iraq crisis: Where next in the struggle for the country?

A burned out vehicle in Mosul
Mosul fell under the control of Isis earlier this month

For much of last week the battle for Iraq entered a kind of strategic pause, in which both sides attempted to adjust to the capture of Mosul and Tikrit by Isis and prepare their next move.

Over the past couple of days it has become clear this lull is over and that it is Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's opponents who have got their act together first.

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What does D-Day really mean to the mix of people in Normandy?

People in military uniforms on Sword Beach
Military uniforms of the time have been on display

There are many commemorations of D-Day going on, from official to public, or those of the veterans themselves, and the scale of it all is perplexing.

These events have drawn hundreds of thousands of people to the Normandy beaches, all outwardly here for the same reason, but actually taking away very different things.

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Powerful emotions stirring in Russia's 'divided nation'

Woman waving a Russian flag
Recent events have stirred up feelings of pride among many Russians

In 1993, during a filming trip to Tajikistan, we chanced upon an extraordinary and disturbing scene.

Hundreds of Russians were huddling in railway cattle trucks, in sub-zero temperatures, desperate to escape the civil war ravaging a newly independent Soviet republic.

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Ukraine crisis: West faces election nightmare

25 April 2014
A man behind a barricade outside local government buildings in Horlivka
Pro-Russian groups have seized local buildings in a number of areas of eastern Ukraine, including Horlivka

As the days pass without an overt, large-scale, Russian military intervention in eastern Ukraine, Western leaders are focusing increasingly on another nightmare scenario - that elections planned for 25 May will not be able to take place.

The nervousness about this possibility among US and EU politicians stems from a knowledge that despite their vocal support for the interim authorities in Ukraine, they are in fact, as Russian statements never cease to point out, an unelected group who seized power.

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Ukraine crisis: Is this Cold War Two?

24 March 2014

We overdo the talk of turning points and milestones in covering summits, but, when it comes to the G7 at The Hague, it's very hard to see it in any other terms.

Events in Ukraine have profoundly changed Western perceptions towards Russia and it's very hard to envisage any rapid return to business as usual.

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About Mark

Mark has covered diplomatic and defence matters for more than 20 years at the BBC.

His major stories have included: the 1990 invasion of Iraq and subsequent Desert Storm campaign; the collapse of the Soviet Union; the Oslo peace process in the Middle East; the wars that broke out in the former Yugoslavia in the mid-1990s as well as the diplomacy that stopped them; the Second Palestinian Intifada; 9/11 and its aftermath; the Coalition campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq; and the Arab Spring.

Before joining the BBC as a reporter he was Defence correspondent for The Independent newspaper for four years, covering the end of the Cold War and the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan.

He is also the author of several books on military matters, both current and historical. Mark read International Relations at the London School of Economics and served for a short time in the British Army.

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