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Among the most experienced commentators on Iraq, he has written four books on the country's recent history. He won the Martha Gellhorn Prize in 2005, the James Cameron Prize in 2006 and the Orwell Prize for Journalism in 2009.
Early life and family 
Cockburn was born in Ireland and grew up in County Cork, Ireland. His parents were the well-known socialist author and journalist Claud Cockburn and his third wife Patricia Byron, née Arbuthnot (who also wrote an autobiography, Figure of Eight). He was educated at Glenalmond College, Perthshire, and Trinity College, Oxford.
Cockburn married in 1981 Janet Elisabeth ("Jan") Montefiore (14 November 1948), an English Lecturer at the University of Kent, Canterbury, Kent, daughter of Rt. Rev. Hugh Montefiore, and has two children, Henry Claud Cockburn (4 January 1982) and Alexander Cockburn (1987). He has two brothers, Alexander Cockburn and Andrew Cockburn, who are also journalists, and a half-sister, mystery writer Sarah Caudwell. Journalists Laura Flanders and Stephanie Flanders are his half-nieces, daughters of his half-brother in law Michael Flanders, and actress Olivia Wilde, is his niece, daughter of his sister in law Leslie Cockburn.
Cockburn has written three books on Iraq. One, Out of the Ashes: The Resurrection of Saddam Hussein, was written with his brother Andrew Cockburn 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 Patrick alone after the U.S. invasion, following his award-winning reporting from Iraq. The first, 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 resistance. 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.
Cockburn's memoir is The Broken Boy (2005), a memoir of his childhood in 1950s Ireland, as well as an investigation of the way polio was handled – Cockburn himself caught and survived polio at the time. He has also published a collection of essays on the Soviet Union, titled Getting Russia Wrong: The End of Kremlinology (1989). He also writes for CounterPunch and the London Review of Books.
- 2011 Costa Book Awards (Biography), shortlist, Henry’s Demons: Living with Schizophrenia, A Father and Son’s Story (with Henry Cockburn)
- 2010 International Media Awards Peace Through Media Award.
- 2009 Orwell Prize, coverage of Iraq and his son's schizophrenia.
- 2006 James Cameron Prize
- 2005 Martha Gellhorn Prize
- (1989), Getting Russia Wrong: The End of Kremlinology, Verso Books, ISBN 978-0-86091-977-3
- (with Andrew Cockburn, 1999), Out of the Ashes: The Resurrection of Saddam Hussein, HarperCollins. (British title: Saddam Hussein: An American Obsession, 2002.)
- (2005), The Broken Boy, Jonathan Cape, ISBN 978-0-224-07108-6
- (2006), The Occupation: War and Resistance in Iraq, Verso Books, ISBN 978-1-84467-164-9
- (2008), Muqtada: Muqtada al-Sadr, the Shia Revival, and the Struggle for Iraq, Scribner, ISBN 978-1-4165-5147-8. (British title: Muqtada Al-Sadr and the Fall of Iraq, Faber and Faber, ISBN 978-0-571-23974-0; Muqtada Al-Sadr and the Shia Insurgency in Iraq, Faber and Faber, ISBN 978-0-571-23976-4)
- (2011), Henry’s Demons: Living with Schizophrenia, A Father and Son’s Story
- Charles Mosley, editor, Burke's Peerage, Baronetage & Knightage, 107th edition, 3 volumes (Wilmington, Delaware, U.S.A.: Burke's Peerage (Genealogical Books) Ltd, 2003), volume 1, page 120.
- Peter Preston, The Observer, 12 June 2005, When polio stalked the land
- Stephen Brook "Independent's Patrick Cockburn wins 2009 Orwell journalism prize", The Guardian, 23 April 2009
- "Iraq's Looming Peril: A Plague of Snakes" (June 16, 2009)
- "US Troops Leaving the Cities: A Whole New Ballgame in Iraq " (June 15, 2009)
- "US Frees Top Shia Fighter in Deal to Free British Hostages Prisoner Swap in Iraq " (June 12–14, 2009)
- "Exodus of Iraq's Ancient Minorities" (March 2007)
- Kurdistan: Birth of a Nation? (22 June 2006)
- The Occupation (November/December 2005)
- Iraqis are Naming Their New Babies "Saddam" (31 October 2003)
- US Troops Bulldoze Crops (15 October 2003)
- The Iraq Wreck (16 September 2003)
- Patrick Cockburn on Missing Billions in Iraq and Soaring Cancer Rates in Fallujah – video interview by Democracy Now!