Patrick Oliver Cockburn (/ˈkoʊbɜːrn/ KOH-burn; born 5 March 1950) is an Irish journalist who has been a Middle East correspondent for the Financial Times since 1979 and, from 1990, The Independent. He has also worked as a correspondent in Moscow and Washington and is a frequent contributor to the London Review of Books.
He has written three books on Iraq's recent history. He won the Martha Gellhorn Prize in 2005, the James Cameron Prize in 2006, the Orwell Prize for Journalism in 2009, Foreign Commentator of the Year (Editorial Intelligence Comment Awards 2013), Foreign Affairs Journalist of the Year (British Journalism Awards 2014), Foreign Reporter of the Year (The Press Awards For 2014). Seymour Hersh has described him as the "best western journalist at work in Iraq today."
Cockburn was born in Ireland and grew up in County Cork. His parents were the well-known socialist author and journalist Claud Cockburn and Patricia Byron, née Arbuthnot, author of the book Figure of Eight. He was educated at Trinity College, Glenalmond, Perthshire, and Trinity College, Oxford. He was a research student at the Institute of Irish Studies, Queens University Belfast, from 1972 to 1975.
Cockburn married in 1981 Janet Elisabeth ("Jan") Montefiore (14 November 1948), Professor of English Literature at the University of Kent, Canterbury, Kent, daughter of the late Bishop Hugh Montefiore, and has two children, Henry Cockburn (4 January 1982) and Alexander Cockburn (17 April 1987). His two brothers also became journalists, Alexander Cockburn, who died in 2012, and Andrew Cockburn, and a half-sister, mystery writer Sarah Caudwell. Journalists Laura Flanders and Stephanie Flanders are his nieces, daughters of his half-sister Claudia Flanders, and civil rights lawyer Chloe Cockburn and actress Olivia Wilde are his nieces, daughters of Andrew and Leslie Cockburn.
Cockburn has written three books on Iraq. The first, Out of the Ashes: The Resurrection of Saddam Hussein, was written with his brother Andrew prior to the war in Iraq. The same book was later re-published in Britain with the title Saddam Hussein: An American Obsession. Two more were written by Cockburn alone after the U.S. invasion, following his reporting from Iraq. The Occupation: War and Resistance in Iraq (2006) mixes first hand accounts with reporting. Cockburn's book is critical of the invasion as well as the Salafi fundamentalists who comprise much of the insurgency. The Occupation was nominated for the 2006 National Book Critics Circle award for nonfiction. The second, Muqtada: Muqtada al-Sadr, the Shia Revival, and the Struggle for Iraq was published in 2008. Muqtada is a journalistic account of the recent history of the religiously and politically prominent Sadr family, the rise of Muqtada, and the development of the Sadrist movement since the 2003 U.S. invasion. He is also the author of The Jihadis Return: Isis and the New Sunni Uprising (2014), which has been translated into nine languages, and The Rise of Islamic State: Isis and the New Sunni Revolution (2015). Both are about how the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant was able to set up its own state in northern Iraq and eastern Syria.
Cockburn has written a memoir, The Broken Boy (2005), which describes his childhood in 1950s Ireland, as well as an investigation of the way polio was handled – Cockburn himself caught and survived polio in 1956. He has also published a collection of essays on the Soviet Union, titled Getting Russia Wrong: The End of Kremlinology (1989). He co-wrote the book Henry's Demons with his son, Henry, which explains their coming to terms with the latter's diagnosis with schizophrenia. In addition he writes for CounterPunch and the London Review of Books.
Cockburn was criticized for an apparent claim made in his 2015 book The Rise of Islamic State about the Adra massacre of Alawites and Christians during the Syrian Civil War. Idrees Ahmad pointed out that in the book the Cockburn was apparently claiming to be an eyewitness to the event and noted that this claim disagrees with Cockburn's reportage at the time, in which he stated he learned of the killings via "a Syrian [Assad regime] soldier who gave his name as Abu Ali". Ahmad also questioned whether the massacre had actually even taken place.
In his response, Cockburn said that he had made no such claim; rather, he charged, an "obvious error" had been, at best, misconstrued by Ahmad. Cockburn confirmed that it was his contemporary report that was correct — that is, he did not personally observe the massacre — and admonished Ahmad for doubting the actuality of the massacre, mentioning the existence of "reports from the AP and Reuters news agencies" describing the massacre by Islamic militants and quoting local eyewitness. Cockburn's publisher explained the error arose from the publisher summarizing but misunderstanding already-existing writings by Cockburn, that Cockburn had never claimed to be an eyewitness, and that the error would be corrected in subsequent printings of the book. The publisher criticized Ahmad for using a "minor" mistake "made evident by text that surrounds and contradicts it" to "impugn the integrity" of Cockburn.