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The Prince of the Marshes: And Other Occupational Hazards of a Year in Iraq


The Prince of the Marshes: And Other Occupational Hazards of a Year in Iraq Cover

ISBN13: 9780156032797
ISBN10: 0156032791
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A Prince cannot avoid ingratitude.

and#151;Machiavelli, Discourses, Book I, Chapter 29

Pursuant to my authority as Administrator of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), relevant UN Security Council resolutions, including Resolution 1483 (2003), and the laws and usages of war, I hereby promulgate the following: The CPA is vested with all executive, legislative, and judicial authority necessary to achieve its objectives . . . This authority shall be exercised by the CPA Administrator.

Coalition Provisional Authority (Iraq)

Regulation Number 1

Monday, October 6, 2003

On the three-hour drive north from Basra to take up my post in Maysan, I passed through the territory the Prince of the Marshes claimed to control. I saw the canal Saddam had dug: some reeds, a few fishermen in tin boats and some water birds. Long parallel lines stretched for miles across the drab earth. There were very few people to be seen: most Marsh Arabs now lived in slums on the edge of cities. Boats were no longer the standard method of transport and the buffalo herds had gone. The thicket of six-foot reeds in chest-deep water that once covered thousands of square miles had become parched and barren mud.

We turned off the highway down an avenue guarded by two rusting Iranian tanks kept as souvenirs, one with a drunken turret. We passed buildings whose roofs had collapsed under the impact of American J-Dam explosives, came up along the edge of a bastion wall serving as protection against car bombs and stopped at the guard house of Camp Abu Naji. Six months earlier it had been the base of the semi-mystical Saddam-funded terrorist group, the Mujahaddin-el-Halq.

and#160;A private from the Kingand#8217;s Own Scottish Borderers approached the car, recognized the driver, saluted, and lifted the drop bar for us. On either side were low, shabby concrete buildings, rolls of barbed wire, and corrugated iron. There were soldiers on the roofs, presumably sleeping outside because there was no air-conditioning in the tents. I dragged my bags out of the Land Rover and was shown to a room.

and#160;Pushing back the heavy black curtain that served as a door, I lifted the nylon mosquito net and put my sleeping bag on the camp bed and brushed some sand off the tin trunk. The window frames were lined with duct tape and the curtain-door stretched to the floor but, as I was to find over my next six months in the camp, nothing was able to exclude the sand, which accumulated in a thick yellow film across the cement floor and the canvas chair.

and#160;We ate at six-thirty. At the entrance to the cook-house an Iraqi in a blue boiler suit was pouring bottled water into a large tea urn. A private stood next to it, making sure that everyone, officer and civilian alike, washed their hands from the urn to prevent the spread of diarrhea.

I sat with a group of young officers and the regimental padre. A subaltern barked, and#147;Red or green?and#8221; and returned with plastic cups filled with juice of the relevant and astonishingly intense chemical color.

and#160;I was, it seemed, the first civilian to live in the camp. The officer on my left glanced at me and asked, and#147;Do you work at the airport?and#8221; He assumed I was a soldier from the divisional headquarters.

and#147;No, Iand#8217;m the civilian who is setting up the Coalition Provisional Authority office in the province,and#8221; I replied.

and#160;and#147;Whatand#8217;s that?and#8221;

and#147;Itand#8217;s the new civilian administration.and#8221;

and#160;and#147;Thank God youand#8217;ve arrived at last and we can all go home,and#8221; he said, pushing his chair back. and#147;Cake in a box, anyone?and#8221;

and#160;To shower after dinner I walked around the accommodation block, across the edge of the runway and behind the hangars. There was a roar from the diesel-powered generators, and the beat of the rotor-blade of a Chinook helicopter on the landing zone. I had to use a flashlight to avoid the rubble on the uneven sand. Above, I could see stars in a clear sky and imagine something of the desert just beyond the perimeter fence.

and#160;The showers were well-lit. There was a thick slurry of brown mud on the floor from combat boots and camouflage uniforms piled on the wooden benches. While someone cursed the lack of hot water, men dried themselves ostentatiously in the center of the room, talking about the dayand#8217;s patrols, apparently oblivious to the two female officers brushing their teeth with mineral water at the sink.

and#160;The next morning at eight, I called on the colonel of the battle group. He was a slender man in his early forties, with gray hair scraped severely back from his head, dressed, like everyone, in desert camouflage. His office was decorated with the Leslie tartan of his regiment. He introduced me to the province with another PowerPoint presentation; one he seemed to have given many times before. He did not encourage questions.

and#160;and#147;Maysan,and#8221; he began, and#147;is the size of Northern Ireland, and we are running it with only a thousand men.and#8221; He explained that it was a very volatile place, and the battle group were short of equipment and development money. The regional corps headquarters of the Iraqi army had been looted, and all the weapons were now in the hands of the local population. The two key arteries of the province were Route 6, the highway that connected Basra and Baghdad, and the Tigris River.

and#147;As for you, Roryand#151; and#8221; I looked up, midway through my sixth packet of crackers and#147;there are very high expectations here that the British will achieve things. If things donand#8217;t happen they believe it is because we are deliberately trying to suppress their economic and political future. There is no possibility of a Baathist revival here. It is a small place and the Baathists would not be able to move here. There is a potential for Shia opposition here, connected to Iran and criminal gangs. I believe that the supervisory committee we have appointed here is relatively representative.and#8221;

and#160;He brought up a new screen on the monitor: and#147;Vital Ground: Our vital ground is and#145;the concept of regeneration.and#8217;and#8221;

and#160;The colonel seemed confident that he could keep order. He had been in command of his regiment for nearly three years and was a month from the end of his time in Maysan. He answered to no one nearer than a brigadier, two hundred miles away in Basra, had absolute control over his men and weaponry, and traveled incessantly. He knew the district well enough to answer the detailed complaints of local mayors. He had become close to the Beni Lam, an and#147;aristocraticand#8221; tribe that had once been famous for their horses. But his strongest relationship was with Abu Hatim, whom the colonel described as and#147;our local Robin
Hood, sometimes known as the Prince of the Marshes.and#8221; The two of them ran the province together.
and#160;I had no opportunityto discuss the briefings I had been given in London, and I left without a clear idea of our relationship. I had been told in Baghdad that, as the deputy governorate coordinator, I was to be and#147;the deputy and alter ego of the governorate coordinator,and#8221; in charge of a civilian team of eight that would include a political officer, a development projects officer, and others. But there was as yet no governorate coordinator; a U.S. State Department officer was supposed to be arriving in that role in a few weeksand#8217; time. Nor was there yet a political officer, a projects officer, or an Iraqi governor in Maysan. For the time being, I was a team of one, responsible for overseeing development projects and setting up Iraqi political structures. I had been told to act as something like the de facto governor of the province.

The colonel had been ordered by the commander-in-chief to support our office. But he had little interest in the constitutional relationship between the CPA and the military. He was critical of the CPA, which had so far done little. He was doubtful that I would be able to do much. But, he said, the military were forced to perform political and economic roles that were better done by civilians, and it was about time civilians took up their responsibility. He suggested I could start by getting money. He referred to himself as the de facto governor of the province.

Copyright and#169; 2006 by Rory Stewart

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced

or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical,

including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and

retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

Requests for permission to make copies of any part of the work

should be submitted online at contact or mailed

to the following address: Permissions Department, Harcourt, Inc.,

6277 Sea Harbor Drive, Orlando, Florida 32887-6777.

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kewarner, November 25, 2007 (view all comments by kewarner)
Rory Stewart’s “Prince Of The Marshes” is a stunning first-hand account of the failures and frequently disastrous results of the attempt at “nation-building” in Iraq, by the U.S. and its coalition partners. In 2003 Stewart was appointed Deputy Governor, in Maysan province, by the Coalition Provisional Authority. His directive was to build the basic infrastructure for a political system and public services. Stewart’s sincere and balanced attempts to fulfill these goals are blocked by continuous disconnects between Iraqi culture and values versus those of the coalition partners. Matters are further complicated by a bewildering cast of local characters, which include sheikhs, fakes, clerics, former baathists, competing political parties, militias and tribes, and of course The Prince Of The Marshes. A must read for anyone looking for some insight into why the democratization of Iraq has been such a disaster.
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Product Details

Stewart, Rory
Harvest Books
Middle East - General
Personal Memoirs
Social life and customs
Iraq War, 2003
Iraq Description and travel.
Edition Description:
Trade Paper
Publication Date:
One 8-page black-and-white photo insert
8 x 5.31 in 0.9 lb

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Related Subjects

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History and Social Science » Middle East » Iraq
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The Prince of the Marshes: And Other Occupational Hazards of a Year in Iraq Used Trade Paper
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Product details 432 pages Harvest Books - English 9780156032797 Reviews:
"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "Soon after Stewart, a British diplomat and professional adventurer, traveled to Iraq late in 2003 to search for work, he was named a provincial governor. In characteristic understatement, he says of his new role: 'I spoke little Arabic, and had never managed a shattered and undeveloped province of 850,000.' His job was supposed to be easy: the province, Maysan, nestled along the Iranian border deep in Iraq's Shia south, was one of the country's most homogenous, and nearly all of its citizens had fought against Saddam. Stewart spent most of his time navigating through a byzantine and thoroughly unfamiliar political landscape of tribal leaders, Islamist militias, Communist dissidents and Iranian intelligence agents. When he asks an adviser in Baghdad what his goals should be, his friend responds that if, within a year, the province hasn't descended into anarchy and Stewart can serve him 'some decent ice cream,' he will be satisfied. Engrossing and often darkly humorous, his book should be required reading for every political commentator who knows exactly what to do in Iraq despite never having dealt with recalcitrant interpreters or an angry mob. In the end, Stewart prevails and is rewarded with an appointment to Dhi Qar, a much more dangerous province with less military support. 16 pages of photos." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Review" by , "Stewart was able to forge strong bonds with individual Arabs, and his description of his personal relations form the core of an interesting look at a region of Iraq rarely covered in the mass media."
"Review" by , "Despite its exotic setting, the story is strangely familiar. Will reward readers interested in the Iraq war, or disaster management, or anyone interested in taking an intelligent adventure."
"Review" by , "The Prince of the Marshes is his rueful, richly detailed, often harrowing account of his yearlong efforts to build a new civil society from the ruins of the old Iraq."
"Review" by , "Stewart's exasperation with the cultural ignorance of C.P.A. directives is as manifest as his affectionate regard for the rhythms and customs of Arab life, a quality that often recalls an earlier generation of British travel writer."
"Synopsis" by ,
"Important and instructive . . . [Stewart] lays bare the complexity of Americas and Britains mission in Iraq."—The Washington Post Book World

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 Stewarts year. 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.

"Rueful, richly detailed, often harrowing . . . [Stewart] brings his yearlong diary to a conclusion with a thrilling shoot em-up, an Alamo-like last stand in Nasiriya."—The New York Times

"Rory Stewart can write . . . His spare, vivid prose serves him brilliantly . . . Theres sometimes something Monty Pythonesque about the way he sails gallantly, if not quite blindly, into danger."—The Seattle Times

RORY STEWART is the author of the national bestseller The Places in Between. A former infantry officer, diplomat in Indonesia and Yugoslavia, and Fellow at Harvards John F. Kennedy School of Government, he was awarded the Order of the British Empire by the British government for his services in Iraq. He now lives in Kabul.

"Synopsis" by , Stewart chronicles his 11 months of negotiating hostage releases, holding elections, and splicing together some semblance of an infrastructure in an impoverished region of southern Iraq.
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