Monday, August 20, 2007

Book Review..Occupational Hazards

Occupational Hazards. Rory Stewart.Picador 2006.434pages.

Stewart's book is based on his year long diary that chronicles his time in Iraq helping to rebuild the infrastructure and establish a new Iraqi government prior to the hand over of power in June 2004.
He was appointed by the Coalition Provisional Authority as a Deputy Governor of two provinces in the Marsh Region of southern Iraq following the U.S led invasion which destroyed Saddams regime along with the huge centralised bureaucracy that had controlled Iraq for the previous 30 years or so.No small challenge.

As with his earlier book,The Places in Between,each chapter is prefaced with a relevant quote.In this book most come from Machiavelli.The author goes to some pains to detail the historical and social background of the regions he was concerned with.
Generations of tribal conflict,religious rivalry and centuries of Islamic tradition stand in the way of Western style democracy taking root in Iraq.
There had been no free elections in Iraq for 50 years,no proper census,voter registration,no agreement on electoral procedures and no voter education.

Most of the book is a day to day account of his work which amounts to meetings.He recalls meetings with locals and his superiors back in the Green Zone.
"Every day we gambled on insufficent information,trusted and suspected,persuaded reluctant bureaucrats,threatened and rewarded and charmed."page 121.

Its not all gloom and despondency.One of the lighter moments involves a released British hostage who phones home and his first words are "Did West Ham win?"p349.
There are other incidents of humor which he lets the reader recognise without labouring the point.

I found the book informative.Not only are there local groups and sectional interest groups competing with each other,there are also externally backed groups trying to fill the vaccum left by Saddam and the Baathists.Im also left with the impression that at the time there was a tension between the civil and military authorities in regard to their coordination and relationship with each other.
In his epilogue Stewart states"I can confidently assert that Iraqis are the only people with the moral authority,understanding and skills to rebuild their nation"p432

Bearing this in mind I read an article from The Chicago Tribune "A New Tune:Analysts see progress in Iraq"August 14 2007.I'll quote an extract from it "In the end the situation in Iraq remains grave.In particular,we still face huge hurdles on the political front.Iraq politicians of all stripes continue to dawdle and maneuver for position against one another when major steps towards reconciliation or at least accomodation are needed.This cannot continue indefinitely."

In summary then an informative book that would appeal to anyone interested in the situation in Iraq described by someone who was involved in its day to day during a difficult period of its history.

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