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An intriguing and insightful account of important recent history,
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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.