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The Prince of the Marshes: And Other Occupational Hazards of a Year in Iraq Paperback – April 1, 2007
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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 Stewartâs 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.
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1. Anybody who thinks there is a 'quick and easy' template for postconflict or COIN, in particular,those (like Francis Fukuyama) who supported removing Saddam in 2003 and then absolved themselves of any responsibility for what happened next rather than making any effort to help put it right.
2. Anybody who likes the sound of using military power to enforce 'regieme change' or some other punitive measure and then leaving the locals to it.
3. Anybody who looks at 'far off places of which we know little' and thinks that they just don't want liberty and a civic society badly enough - it's a bit difficult when nobody is willing to protect the good, gentle and public minded from theocratic thugs.
4. Anybody who (while safe and secure in the West) thinks a victory by the aforementioned theocratic thugs is preferable than anything that could possibly be construed as a victory by the US.
5. Anybody who is firmly convinced that everything would be OK if 'stupid Americans' just did what they were told by more sophisticated Europeans in general(or, in particular, the 'more experienced British').
6. Anybody who thinks that in much of the world equitable, secular civic societies will flourish if only meddling westerners will leave them alone.
No easy answers can be found in Stewart's book, I'm afraid - but that's the whole point. Not only is an engrossing story, but it will hopefully provoke the reader to think beyond manichean slogans or (for those of us in related work) our institutional perspectives.
Stewart began as an assistant governor in Maysan province. His tale, wryly told, demonstrates the crazy quilt political context. The Prince of the Marshes (an autocrat from the old Marsh region of southern Iraq), Iranian loyal Shi'ites, and Sadrists (followers of Muqtada al-Sadr) competed with one another for power. In addition, Sheikhs loyal to their own tribes intruded themselves into the process. The end result: A plurality of interests and power centers, sometimes allying with one another and sometimes competing with one another.
Stewart straightforwardly describes his arrival in Maysan province and his efforts to try to develop a functioning provincial governance structure. Simple tasks like selecting police leadership often led to fierce debate across the various factions, with threats routinely made. This, in the context, as Stewart puts it (page 28) with "Iraqis suspicious of our motives, disappointed by our performance, and often contemptuous." Stewart observes that one had to create the image of having power to get things done, so he very soon had to (page 34) "claim authority and bluff people into falling in step." Stewart notes clearly that he was placed into an uncertain position and had to make decisions not fully understanding who the players were and the dynamics among them. But he had to create an air of competence and certainty in order to get things done. It is no coincidence that most of his chapters begin with an appropriate quotation from Machiavelli.
Poignant are his comments about the cluelessness from Coalition leaders in Baghdad and the difficulty of getting support for infrastructure development and the like. Also poignant are his observations about the Shi'ite south becoming more "fundamental" in applying Shi'ite doctrine to everyday life, including killing a female university student because she chose to wear jeans (page 396). The book portrays a long arc into increasing chaos and a strengthening of religious domination in people's everyday lives, as theocracy begin to develop.
An important book, once more illustrating the folly of the American, British, et al. incursion into a country without a full understanding of the situation "on the ground."