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4.6 out of 5 stars
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4.6 out of 5 stars


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on 11 June 2017
A humbling book, told as it was with little innuendo. An eye-opener. I wish it had come out sooner.
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on 5 April 2017
Shows up the corruption endemic in Iraq politics. Rory had an impossible task but carried it out with his usual panache. a good read
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on 5 July 2017
Great, exactly as described, many thanks
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on 15 August 2006
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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VINE VOICEon 5 May 2007
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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on 12 June 2014
I purchased this book as a birthday present for my mother. When the book arrived, it was in top-notch condition, had never even been read and now has pride of place in the collection of books waiting to be read, would buy from this seller again.
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on 15 February 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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on 19 January 2016
Rory Stewart is a pretentious [fill in something a little rude]; but it is interesting to read how these rather entitled people were able to run amok in someone else's country with their clever notions of 'rulling'. You could think that they were doing it out of the kindness of their hearts, but it comes out as a good old fashioned imperialist power kick. And no, Rory, you were not 'governing' per se. You were an underling.
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on 15 August 2007
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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VINE VOICEon 27 April 2013
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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