The Prince of the Marshes and other occupational hazards of a year in Iraq
by Stewart, Rory
pub. by Harcourt, New York, 2006 isbn 0-15-101235-0 - - 397 p. - photos in b&w, Iraq timeline from 3000 BC to Dec. 2005, quotes from Machiavelli and Sumerian proverbs head the chapters
This reads fast enough, but is a tough read as it deals with unpleasant situations which one can not ignore. Rory Stewart is from Scotland. He is experienced in attempting to re-establish civil order after conflict. (Had worked in Bosnia after the conflict there.) He also traveled in the Middle East and speaks Farsi (Persian) and only a smattering of Arabic. The British Foreign office asked him to be the deputy governate coordinator of Maysan, a province in southern Iraq whose capitol is Amara. It is north (upstream) of Basara. It is perhaps the poorest province of Iraq. It is one of the provinces where the marsh arabs live. Maysan province was controlled by British military. This is during the time that Bremmer was running Iraq. The book is a narrative which seems to be drawn from a diary. It begins on Oct. 3, 2003 and essentially ends on June 28, 2004 when the governmental handover from foreign control to Iraqui control. There is an afterword from a later visit to the area through 2006.
Rory arrives, sets up and begins to establish some sort of order. About 2 months after he begins the official CPA (Coalition Provisional Authority) governate coordinator, Molly Phee (an American), arrives and they both work attempting to get some projects going, Begin employing many in re-building projects, get a police system up and going, The big project was to assemble a local Council to create the beginnings of representative government. Over 10 political parties create themselves after the fall of Sadam Hussein and they all have wildly different agendas and followers. The situation is chaotic and dangerous. For instance the first police chief lasts less than a month before he is shot and killed.
The Prince of the Marshes is a very powerful sheik whose clan was very opposed to Saddam Hussein and fought against him. As such he was welcomed by the Coalition government. He was however an old school type of leader who was a mixed blessing to the Coalition.
In March 2004 Rory Stewart was transfered to Nasiriyah the capitol of Dhi Qar. Italian military were assigned to control this area. The situation in this area was significantly different from Maysan. Variant methods were used to create the beginnings of civil order there. The Italian military were much less efficient in protecting the CPA compound in Dhi Qar than the British were in Maysan.
Some 6 or 8 weeks before the handover of the government to the Iraquis extreme violence erupted, mostly from the Sadarists. By the time of the transfer of power all order had broken down in both provinces (and very probably the others in Iraq also.) The afterword which was written nearly a year later noted that most of the work done by the CPA was forgotten.
Read this book to get a flavor of what it is like when governments fail to exist and competing power groups can not agree. It is chilling. Nonetheless, in the long run, things seem to be coming together, and a governmental organization is forming.
The book makes no reference to the end of British government in Keynya and the handover to the locals. I wonder if it would be fair to make some comparisons. That book has yet to be written.
Read this book after reading - Desert Queen - The extraordinary life of Gertrude Bell - and get a better understanding of the Iraq history, area and people. I find it interesting that Stewart never mentions Gertrude Bell, but does mention other British in Iraq during the mandate after WWI.
~ 2010-04-07 ~
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