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41 of 42 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An eye opening and concise insight into politics in Iraq.
Rory Stewart tells the amazing tale of 2 regions of Iraq before the handover to Iraqi control.

What seems to be a modestly written account of his time in Iraq, this book details the incredibly convoluted politics of the regions he worked in as governor or deputy.

It brings to life the "story behind the headlines" - except there were no headlines...
Published on 15 Aug. 2006 by Chris F

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8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Double up!
I ordered "Occupational Hazards" by Rory Stewart because I had enjoyed his 'other' book 'The Prince of the Marshes", also on his time spent in Iraq, very much.
Today the order was delivered and much to my surprize (and annoyance) it is the same book as 'The Prince of the Marshes', except for the title!
Why rename the book and fool customers?
Published on 30 Mar. 2010 by J. Collinge


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41 of 42 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An eye opening and concise insight into politics in Iraq., 15 Aug. 2006
By 
Chris F (North West UK) - See all my reviews
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Rory Stewart tells the amazing tale of 2 regions of Iraq before the handover to Iraqi control.

What seems to be a modestly written account of his time in Iraq, this book details the incredibly convoluted politics of the regions he worked in as governor or deputy.

It brings to life the "story behind the headlines" - except there were no headlines about the violence and intense political negotiations being carried out on our behalf.

Dealing with everyone from the U.N. to local Iraqi mayors, Rory Stewart pulls no punches, but nor does he set out to criticise any party.

I would recommend that this is read in conjunction with "Dusty Warriors: Modern Soldiers at War" by Richard Holmes which tells a similar story that happened at around the same time, but from the army's perspective.

The best book I have read in quite a few years.
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42 of 44 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A fine book about banging your head against a brick wall, 5 May 2007
By 
Petrolhead (Hong Kong) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Occupational Hazards: My Time Governing in Iraq (Paperback)
Rory Stewart gives us a rare, enlightening and honest (albeit subjective) account of what it was like on the ground as an administrator in provincial Iraq in the early days after the invasion.

Tasked with developing and effectively governing one of Iraq's regions, he encounters slippery sheikhs, treacherous clerics, post-modern civil-society-builders, cowardly Italians and -- later -- mortar bombs and RPGs. On arriving, he seems to be terribly out of his depth, largely because he is unprepared and unsupported, but he never seems daunted and one gets the impression that most people would have done a much worse job. But it's painfully clear that the overall operation was woefully inadequate in preparation, naive in its conception and incompetent in its execution.

The story is littered with broken promises that seem to surprise Stewart and his hard-pressed colleagues. If you were against the war to begin with, you may find yourself wondering: "Just what did you expect? How could you ever expect to just walk in there and run Iraq?" But Stewart seems confident that success is possible and he tirelessly tries to engage with all the major players. His optimism is completely devoid of any neo-con zealotry -- he's just there to do a job. This is laudable, but with hindsight we know all his efforts are doomed, thwarted by US incompetence, Iranian interference, and Iraqi sectarianism, and so, unavoidably, it proves.

Stewart writes well, explains complex tribal politics elegantly, and is thoroughly polite about the people he deals with, often through gritted teeth. Even the people who really let him down, like the Italians, are only a small part of a much bigger picture, so it would have been interesting to hear him explain why he thought the whole project fell apart in the end. Similarly, his descriptions of Bremer's bureaucracy in Baghdad are peppered with black humour and appalling indifference to reality but, although he teeters on the brink, he never launches a real barrage at Bremer and his flunkies. One wonders why not. Is he just too diplomatic? Were they not to blame?

His book is a fascinating insider's perspective and will be a useful source for historians of the war for decades to come.
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69 of 74 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Spectacular Second Book, 27 Jun. 2006
By 
Guy Edmunds (London, UK) - See all my reviews
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This book, Rory Stewart's second, is hugely impressive. Those who enjoyed The Places in Between, his astonishing account of his walk across Afghanistan, may have wondered "Where on earth does he go from here?" The answer lies in this gripping account of his year working for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq.

Stewart clearly makes for a talented administrator, bringing enormous energy, enthusiasm, deft political judgement and skilful diplomacy to the job at hand. His writing is understated, crisp, lucid and occasionally poetic. His descriptions of those he meets reveal a perceptive eye and deep sense of humanity, while his comments on policy reveal a keen intellect and reflect a wisdom borne of experience. He is sceptical about the grand rhetoric and designs emanating from Baghdad, wary of the all-too-easy universal theories of "foreigners in a hurry", and pragmatic about what he can achieve in a limited period of time. And throughout the chaos, confusion and intermittent danger, you have the impression that he is unfailingly polite.

Stewart's narrative is also, I suspect, unusual in at least three other respects. He demonstrates a clear honesty about his own limitations that more careerist bureaucrats might avoid. He records disagreements about policy decisions with little desire to settle scores or have the last word. And he displays a deep interest in Iraqi history and culture that contextualises the narrative magnificently. Should you feel a little perplexed by the proliferation of political factions, sheikhs and tribes that tumble across his pages, do not be put off; consider instead the size of the challenge that confronted those foreign administrators.

This is an insider history that shirks sensationalism, and is all the more powerful for doing so. It provides an important counterpoint to those self-appointed experts whose newspaper columns are often longer on opinions than genuine expertise. If you wish to understand the dynamics of modern Iraq, to explore the grand rhetoric and sobering reality of twenty-first century nation-building, or simply want a damn good yarn, then read this book.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars No Chance to Succeed, 15 Feb. 2007
Rory Stewart, a young veteran of the British Foreign Office, worked as a coordinator in the Iraqi governorate (state) of Maysan from September 2003 to January 2004 and as an advisor in the Coalition Provisional Authority in the Iraqi governorate of Dhi Qar from March through June of 2004. In OCCUPATIONAL HAZARDS: My Time Governing in Iraq, Stewart describes CPA efforts to establish representative government in these two Iraqi states in the first 15 months after the invasion.

Surprising to me was the progress that Stewart and his colleagues made in this visionary project. While local commitment to a representative government in each governorate was shallow, at best, Stewart and his colleagues either appointed representative governments or held actual, albeit imperfect, elections that produced governors. While alternative Sadrist governments existed, the Western diplomats had the machinery for representative government in place.

So what happened? In Maysan, violence immediately after elections demonstrated the weakness of the new democracy, with its politicians then claiming autocratic powers. Thereafter, everything unraveled. And in Dhi Qar, the failure of Italian military units to establish control allowed a relative handful of violent Sadrists to drive out the CPA, as well as intimidate elected officials.

The fundamental failure in Iraq, in other words, was the failure to provide security. Without security, the CPA's new government structures could never establish legitimacy. The existence of violent intimidation also showed moderate Iraqis that they were unprotected if they took the side of representative government.

Of course, most of Stewart's narrative is about the daily grind of establishing a new civic order and undertaking beneficial civic projects. (Much good was done.) At this layer of the narrative, he shows how tribalism, crime, religion, Arab politics, and a history of autocratic rule combined to foment the chaotic and dangerous Iraq we recognize today. At this narrative layer, he also attends meetings in the Green Zone where people close to Bremer discuss "best practice gaps analysis" or applaud the country's long tradition of democracy. But the underlying story of OCCUPATIONAL HAZARDS is the failure in Iraq to establish public safety. (We all know that U.S. Army Chief of Staff Shinseki was right about the occupation.) Without this, reforms just couldn't take hold.

A fantastic must-read book!
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An excellent read, 15 Aug. 2007
By 
Seb M (Melbourne VIC AUS) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Occupational Hazards: My Time Governing in Iraq (Paperback)
This is a very personal account of Stewart's year in Iraq after the coalition victory. Stewart went to the Middle East looking for work and found it as Governorate Coordinator and then Deputy Governorate Coordinator of two provinces; each with its own unique challenges and differences.

He went through some fairly extraordinary experiences such as when his building was mortared and rocketed. Many of the aggressors were also people he had to face day to day on friendly terms. It's got three main themes: the leaders and their followers and the complex dynamics, interactions and challenges including apparently regular changes in police chief through assassination, fear campaigns or otherwise; the siege nature of large portions of his time in Iraq, mortaring, riots and the poor support from the Italians (he really appears not to be impressed with the Italian military); and development and how he interacted with Baghdad in this regard.

This really is a well written exciting and enjoyable story that really illustrates the perversities and complexities of life in a post-war Iraq. Today's enemies are tomorrow's friends - and vice versa.

Stewart writes with enormous detail on what he sees and feels. One feels that he is watching his own life go by with a telescope to zoom in on the minutiae of his own interactions as if they are those of a third party. He recounts levels of detail that most of us would struggle to recall in daily life because we're busy living it.

It is as if he presses 'pause' for each poignant moment, takes a detailed diary note, and then carries on. This ability to slow the pace of life isn't just evident in how he manages to capture incredible levels of detail. It's also apparent in his level headedness and ability to think very hard in a very short time before speaking: where other bright diplomats and soldiers might take the most obvious decision on a complex subject; Stewart always thinks it through before most of us have even reacted intuitively with what we would do.

His experiences are incredible. Extremely unpleasant situations such as long term mortaring, his bodyguards firing from exposed rooftops. He comes across as responding well to stress and providing a calming influence - but writes with such modesty you can't help thinking that he must have done far more than is in the book.

On the development front: this isn't a diatribe against US management, or a self-congratulatory valediction. He's very very balanced and admits to his own mistakes. But he does make clear that he was fighting an uphill battle to 'do the right thing.'

This book is completely different to 'Life In the Emerald City' which is an easier read but far less personal. That book is very racy, very blunt, littered with facts and history and only occasionally uses the first person. This book isn't racy and has a LOT of first person. You feel like you're sitting just behind Stewart's cornea for most of it.

This book is perhaps a little less poetic than Stewart's other book - there is no other main actor in this one; no dogs (well...one but never mind) for Stewart to convey emotion but it's a good book. It's more exciting and more accessible without being an Andy McNab shoot-em-up. It's also probably the first account of its kind since the end of the British Empire in the sixties.

I suspect this isn't a mass-market best seller and will appeal to very specific people. The in-and-out expats who worked in Iraq and yet learned nothing about it may resent Stewart for his candour and non-ethnocentric approach, which can come across as a bit sanctimonious or even supercilious in places. The average reader with no experience of Iraq could struggle with all of the leaders and find it a touch demanding for narrow reward.

But it should find interest in people who genuinely want to make the world a better place, including those who worked in Iraq. And it'll end up being a near-textbook for those interested in the politics of occupation or the interactions between ethnology and politics in a multicultural Muslim country. People interested in Iraq, not least of all Iraqis could well find this interesting.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An intriguing and insightful account of important recent history, 27 April 2013
By 
Andrew Johnston "(www.andrewj.com/books)" (LEATHERHEAD United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Occupational Hazards: My Time Governing in Iraq (Paperback)
Rory Stewart is almost unique as a commentator on the post-war development of Iraq and Afghanistan in the last decade. Following an early military career and extensive travel in the Muslim world, he then spent over a year trying to run the civilian administration in two Iraqi provinces as the coalition tried to prepare the country for post-Saddam self government. This book is a memoir of that period, plus what followed.

Following in the best tradition of Winston Churchill and T E Lawrence, Stewart is evidently not just a administrator, but also both a leader and do-er, an entertaining writer, and an insightful analyst. His memoir is, by turns:

* Inspiring, describing those who strove to improve and reform Iraq, in many cases risking and even losing their lives in the process,
* Shocking, describing acts of repression and violence, and also when describing the atrocious incompetence and cowardice of the Italian military,
* Intriguing, as Stewart describes scheming Iraqi politicians who could have given lessons to Nicolo Machiavelli,
* Thought-provoking, particularly in the final reflections about which interventions succeeded, and how many failed,
* Exciting, for example when describing the protracted siege of their office in Nasiriyah,
* Highly amusing. My favourite was the Islamist militant who publicly compared Stewart to Hitler, and then immediately asked him for help with an injury to the militant's penis. Stewart's descriptions of his interactions with the Bhagdad bureaucracy, with their management consultancy and PowerPoint "solutions", also made me laugh out loud.

This is a strong analysis of an important piece of the world's recent history, the latter acts of which are still playing out. It's also an insightful study into the reality of politics in an environment as complex as post-invasion Iraq, which may genuinely have no peers. The book is eminently readable, and I strongly recommend it.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A very human and engaging description of early post-war Iraq, 1 Jun. 2007
This review is from: Occupational Hazards: My Time Governing in Iraq (Paperback)
Stewart spent just under a year in Maysan and Dhi Qar provinces between September 2003 and May 2004, as a coalition `deputy governorate coordinator', working above and alongside the local power factions. The book describes his attempts to address administrative problems from job-creation schemes to the filling of his compound swimming pool.

The book is fascinating politically, as an account of a complex local situation with three mutually unfriendly power groups, a coalition uncertain of its role post-invasion, and a set of improvised power structures. Almost none of the characters' names are recognisable outside their own country (with the possible exception of Abu Hatim, the Prince of the Marshes), or even outside their own province. Stewart successfully builds the reader's sympathies for this large cast, giving depth to the protagonists' complex loyalties and to the quirks of minor characters.

It is amazing to read, given events in Iraq today, of a time we have now completely forgotten if we ever knew it existed, when a certain amount of civilian movement in public was possible; and the coalition was welcomed in places as a partner in development and reconstruction. Amazing that the coalition frittered away precious months of goodwill as security and services gradually deteriorated, with all sorts of projects to build minority rights and even an Iraqi Olympic bid.

Stewart is fond of understated pluck, as when he decides not to allow the erection of an anti-sniper fence along one side of the compound because he prefers to preserve the river view, or when he lays on wine and opera as the team shelters from mortar attack. There is a surprising amount of comic material here, much of it darkly so. As with his first book The Places In Between, he avoids milking laughs from obviously absurd scenes, preferring to let events speak for themselves.

The book inevitably dwells in the first person singular. Stewart is clearly proud of his administrative talents. Thankfully, the events are so intense and varied, and the touch light enough, that this does not bog the book down. He is matter of fact in his descriptions of his skills, which are clearly annoyingly wide-ranging, and he does not pretend to have a clear view of anything in Iraq but his local politics. As he disarmingly suggests, others who served in Iraq will disagree with him. In fact, as someone who would not have the first idea how to respond to a peaceful but threatening attempt by one group to displace the council from the town hall I came to enjoy his wry, self-detached writer's voice. It was a bit like watching Red Adair cap an oil-well - lots of pluck, pretty messy, and rather him than me.

Anyone who is angry about what the West has done in Iraq will probably take issue with Stewart's character, which clearly draws on wellsprings of unshakeable British self-confidence. They may find smug his accounts of protracted greetings in the Arabic language. And they will find that the author has done little wrong, except to learn lessons in order to improve his performance. Would we expect different from any other political memoir?

This book is a great way to make sense of the roots of the situation which has now developed in Iraq. I recommend it to any general reader looking to dip an Iraq-fatigued toe back in to the country.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Before you buy this book - read this, 24 Feb. 2008
By 
E. Coles "ichabod" (Staffordshire, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Occupational Hazards: My Time Governing in Iraq (Paperback)
I had this book AND 'The Prince of the Marshes' recommended to me by Amazon. I looked carefully at both descriptions and although I was suspicious because the titles are so similar - since they had different ISBNs - I ordered both. The content of both books is identical. Please don't make the mistake I did - if you are tempted to buy 'The Prince of the Marshes' DON'T - you only need one of these. Haven't read it yet so can't review it. I filled in the stars because I had to.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Intriguing, informative, intellectually satisfying., 16 Aug. 2011
By 
G. R. Buck "Voyageur2010" (Leeds UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Occupational Hazards: My Time Governing in Iraq (Paperback)
Please read the reviews of Guy Edmonds, 'Petrolhead' and others above - I can't add anything more, other than PLEASE NOTE, this book has apparently the same content as 'Prince of the Marshes'. Others have pointed this out; Amazon please note too and stop recommending each book to purchasers of the other.
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15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars WHERE HAVE AL THE QAEDA GONE?, 28 Aug. 2007
By 
DAVID BRYSON (Glossop Derbyshire England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Occupational Hazards: My Time Governing in Iraq (Paperback)
In the absence of an index, I can't easily verify whether Al Qaeda get only one solitary mention (and that as just one of a list of suspects) in all the 400-odd pages of this book. They are conspicuous by their absence throughout, and that strikes me as being one of the most significant aspects of the story. To this day I am hearing about the need to defeat Al Qaeda in Iraq, and to this day I am puzzled as to what makes that so important. If we want to find their local operatives who actually plan the bombings in America and Europe we ought to be searching in Europe; and if we want to find their main leadership we should look in Afghanistan or Pakistan. However if the Al Qaeda presence in Iraq is as insignificant as it might seem from Stewart's narrative then it adds to the sense of confusion regarding the coalition's objectives.

Stewart served for a year as Deputy Governorate Coordinator in two provinces, often being left in effective charge. He was no more than a freelance contractor, but his previous experience ensured that his job-application was gratefully snapped up by HM Foreign Office, doubtless short of volunteers from within its own ranks. He restricts his narrative to what he saw at first-hand. He took up his post in a genuine attempt to make the ostensible coalition objective of a democratic and peaceful Iraq work, and he does not analyse or evaluate that and the other supposed objectives. However his direct involvement included reporting periodically to Bremer in Baghdad, and anyone able to put 2 and 2 together in such a manner as to make 4 and not 22 can easily read between the lines. Imagine the following pronouncement from the colonel in charge of strategic planning, for instance. 'What we are hoping to do is to lay out some philosophical underpinnings of a plan...to begin a journey of discovery for building a more cohesive implementation of plans and policies in the five core areas.' A fine time to be getting round to that in April 2004, Stewart seems to say. Elsewhere he notes Bremer's MBA from Harvard and it's not hard to read into what he says his exasperation at the know-all fatuity of Bremer's 7-point plans for privatisation and such like and at the ghastly gobbledegook ('best practice gaps analysis' etc) in which language seems to function not as a vehicle for thought but as a substitute for thought.

Back at the ranch Stewart was having to confront the realities of the situation. There were, he says and I believe him, some genuine successes before and independent of Gen Petraeus. The trouble was -- few if any Iraqis believed in the successes; or if they did it was not for long. Any seeds of improvement the coalition was sowing had roots too shallow to have much hope of permanence. Stewart's own despairing conclusion comes in his last sentence - however bad the native Iraqi movers and shakers might be, local loyalties always revert to one or other of these, and foreign-imposed improvements, some of them real others just speculative and hopeful, do not stand a chance in this culture. He was trying to make order out of chaos, but they preferred the chaos. He was trying to win hearts and minds, but the minds never stayed with him for long because the various men of power and influence had their own fluid and shifting agendas and alliances, and whether anyone's heart was ever with him is anyone's guess.

It stands to elementary reason that Stewart was in no way opposed to the occupation of Iraq. He went there at all because he believed that some good could come of it. As I read his account, he sees no prospect of success for it now, although he is not explicit about whether a totally different approach might have fared better. He was battling with bureaucracy, incompetence, ignorance, infighting, grandstanding and pretence from Bremer's outfit in Baghdad, opposition to his own role from his own coalition military let alone from the populace he was trying to help, and near-ludicrous ineptitude from the Italian component of such military day in and day out. He was improvising most of the time, and while he has no illusions that his snap decisions were always or even mainly right, the real truth of the matter seems to me to have been that in most cases he didn't rightly know whether he had been right or wrong, because there was no real criterion for judging of that.

The book has been put together from such notes as the author managed to take and retain, but in conditions of such pressure some of the material depends on his memory. I have no reason to suppose that any of these are unreliable, and mental honesty is shiningly apparent throughout, not least in his candour about the minor lies he felt he had better tell from time to time. Whether his own bravery was apparent to him I can't tell, but it's apparent to me. There is much quiet tongue-in-cheek humour, and the tongue comes right out of the cheek in his account of the exploits of the Italians, who were, in the homely Lancashire phrase, as much use as a one-legged man in an arse-kicking competition. His particular angle on the events is one that we don't often see recorded, let alone recorded as well as this. It does not purport to give the wider picture, but he is free of the temptation to blow his own trumpet, and I expect future historians will derive more solid benefit from Stewart than from, say, the memoirs of Gen Franks. He stayed his year's course, he had nothing more to stay for, and he leaves me wondering what the rest of them, even the admirable Gen Petraeus, can possibly hope to achieve. There were successes before and independent of him, they put down no roots, and it looks as if lasting successes will require divine intervention rather than human generalship.
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Occupational Hazards: My Time Governing in Iraq
Occupational Hazards: My Time Governing in Iraq by Rory Stewart (Paperback - 4 May 2007)
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