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The Prince of the Marshes: And Other…
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The Prince of the Marshes: And Other Occupational Hazards of a Year in…

by Rory Stewart

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Stewart conveyed the sense of tribal loyalties and religious differences, which have always governed the political management of the Mesopotamia. The Marsh Arabs are distinct people in the area called 'Iraq' and this recounting of an interim government is spot on. There was humour coupled with cynicism and certainly ineptitude in the expat hierarchy. The portrayals of day to day life were brilliant. However, some of the author's writing in this book was rather dreadful, not typical of his ability for incisive observation and clarity, such as in "The Places in Between". ( )
  SandyAMcPherson | Jul 3, 2017 |
When Rory Stewart is tapped by the Coalition government to help run one of Iraq's southern provinces, it seems to be a surprise to everyone, including Rory. And what the author finds there is even more surprising. At a time when Iraq is quickly becoming known for its violence, it is clear that the Coalition government in Baghdad has little power and even less help for Rory and the mixed bag of Brits and Americans in charge of the province. Between attempting to learn Arabic, dealing with Iraqi tribal leaders, power-hunger military leaders and Islamic extremists, Rory does his best to create a stable government run by the Iraqis, an effort that is constantly undermined.

Overall, a fascinating look into how Iraq's provinces were lead in the early days of the occupation, and how any success was more luck and force of will and firepower than a thought out effort by the occupying Americans. ( )
  Kordo | Mar 11, 2009 |
Rory Stewart takes on a various government roles in the provinces of Iraq during 2003 and 2004. The reading I have done on the occupation and the CPA have either been from the point of view of the military or very Baghdad centric. This is the view from the forntline of the occupation in South Iraq,. The attempt to crow bar Western ideals into Iraqi culture and it underlines the absolute futlity of 99% of the work attempted in that first year. How anyone could keep their patience when met with incompetence, misunderstandings, deceit and cowardice to the level seen here is beyond my understanding. Bureaucracy seems determined to make life tough for itself, the military are playing by their own rules but they won't share the rulebook, the bewildering number of factions seem more interested in hamstringing each other rather than moving forward. It is a tragicomic tale and while don't agree with all of RS's conclusions I do applaud his efforts and recommend this book to anyone puzzled as to how we made such a mess of the whole situation. ( )
  furriebarry | Mar 1, 2009 |
A memoir of a Scottish eccentric of the old (and by "old" I mean "Chinese Gordon") breed, who, fresh from walking across Iran and Afghanistan in 2002, decided to live dangerously by serving as a provincial governor in Iraq under the CPA. He proceeded to discover that when you're trying to administer a restive local population for a foreign army trying to keep its country safe, you will very quickly learn to understand Pontius Pilate; and, that if your personal security is entirely provided by Italians, you might as well kill yourself now and spare yourself the stress. (Luckily, the author had an American gunship and US and UK security contractors to call on.)

If you've ever wondered what went right in Iraq, what went wrong, and why I would vote for David Petraeus as dictator of the world, you'll find out here. (And if Petraeus wasn't on the ballot, I'd vote for Stewart himself.) Extremely interesting reading; and you'll learn a great deal about the cultures of the Iraqis (who don't deserve the hand history, by which I mean Saddam, dealt them, but many of whom aren't trying all that hard to improve it), the US military (much more principled, and indeed more intellectual, than Hollywood would have you think), and the Italians (if you think they're any less contemptible than they were in WWII, you're wrong).

An intriguing thing about this book is that you can practically see the game mechanics; I don't think it would be particularly hard to create an Iraq-occupation sim... ( )
  ex_ottoyuhr | Dec 22, 2008 |
"Occupational Hazards" is Rory Stewart's memoir of his time as deputy governor of two of Iraq's southern provinces. Like his previous book, "The Places In Between", it's a good read, thoughtful, well-written, and an insight into a place which very few other Westerners are likely to be.

Unlike its predecessor, though, this isn't a travel book; but then it doesn't quite fit the mould of the Iraq debacle post-mortem, either. This is a book immersed in detail: what it was actually like trying to govern day-to-day. Apart from an epilogue, Stewart avoids analysis of the wider context, although this doesn't stop him building up a pretty clear picture of the problems. His story is often absurd or even farcical - early on, Stewart points out the contrast between his vast power (on paper) and scant authority to back that up, and he wrings a grim humour from the parallel-universe instructions he receives from head offices in Basra and Baghdad. Tellingly, the majority of the chapter epigrams are from either Machiavelli or Don Quixote.

Stewart comes across as sensible, and reasonably alert to local culture and nuance - although he's clearly a thorn in the side of some of his colleagues. At one point he laments, "we were not allowed to return to our office [after a serious insurgent attack]. My superiors said that whatever my work had been, it wasn't worth getting killed for. This seemed a pretty depressing statement of how serious we were about the occupation". This brought me up short when I first read it - but it fitted with the overall picture of the lack of clear thinking about what the conflict aimed to achieve. The overwhelming impression is that the people who were setting the agenda believed that anything was possible, however limited the resources - from time and money to people and skills.

In particular, the question that came out most strongly for me was that of security. Restoring security was the linchpin of everything the Coalition Provisional Authority was trying to achieve - so, expeditiously, they selected existing networks and groups who could act as a police force. But this ignored the fact that while in the developed world we implicitly accept the social contract involved (that the state is entitled to the monopoly of force because it also has responsibilities to use that force for the good of the people), there was nothing in ordinary Iraqis' experience to explain this - making the distinction between legitimate and illegitimate use of force much more arbitrary.

Stewart does not discuss this directly - and indeed, in the main body of the book, says little about his feelings about the job he had been assigned. However, in his epilogue (which I think was added to the paperback version of the book), he argues clearly that only the Iraqi people can credibly tackle the problems which they are facing. ( )
6 vote wandering_star | Aug 28, 2008 |
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To my father, A great man, a fierce ally, and most constant friend.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0156032791, Paperback)

In August 2003, at the age of thirty, Rory Stewart took a taxi from Jordan to Baghdad. A Farsi-speaking British diplomat, he was soon appointed deputy governor of Amarah and then Nasiriyah, provinces in the remote, impoverished marsh regions of southern Iraq. He spent the next eleven months negotiating hostage releases, holding elections, and splicing together some semblance of an infrastructure for a population of millions teetering on the brink of civil war.

The Prince of the Marshes tells the story of Stewart’s year. As a participant, he takes us inside the occupation and beyond the Green Zone, introducing us to a colorful cast of Iraqis and revealing the complexity and fragility of a society we struggle to understand. By turns funny and harrowing, moving and incisive, this book amounts to a unique portrait of heroism and the tragedy that intervention inevitably courts in the modern age.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:06:18 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

"Iraq. September 2003; it's six months after the US-led invasion, and the country is in anarchy - the infrastructure has collapsed, terrorist attacks have begun and the coalition has decided to rule directly via the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA). Rory Stewart, a young British diplomat, is appointed as the coalition deputy governor (CPA deputy governorate coordinator) of a province of 850,000 people in the southern marshland. There, in the cities of Amara and then Nasiriyah, he and his colleagues confront gangsters, Iranian-linked politicians, tribal vendettas and a full Islamist insurgency, in which Stewart is besieged in his compound under continual fire, struggling to keep his staff alive. They negotiate hostage releases, appoint Iraqi governors and police chiefs, patch up the shattered infrastructure and, in June 2004, hand over sovereignty to the Iraqi government." "Stewart's almost colonial role may never exist again. His insider's account reveals a side of Iraq hidden from most foreign journalists and soldiers and raises questions about the whole project of 'state-building' in the twenty-first century."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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