cover image 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

Rory Stewart, . . Harcourt, $25 (396pp) ISBN 978-0-15-101235-0

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. (Aug.)