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An unfortunate effect of more than two decades of war between the West and the Middle East, and the resulting terrorist campaigns launched from there, is the replacement of the charm, even the magic, the historical Persia held for Europeans—and for me—by their opposite: contempt, disgust, even fear.  In the late 80’s and the 90’s I read widely in the literature European writers fascinated and enthralled by the Arab and near-Eastern cultures produced, beginning with Charles Doughty in the late 19th century and continuing on through T.E. Lawrence, Sir Richard Burton, and Wilfred Thesiger in the 20th.  Among Thesiger’s books is The Marsh Arabs, a moist companion to his Arabian Sands, about a continuous culture more than 5,000 years old in southern Iraq deliberately destroyed by Saddam Hussein when he drained its native habitat, part water and part reeds, in 1992 in revenge for the part its Shi’ite inhabitants had played in an uprising against him the year before.  So when I came across The Prince of the Marshes: And Other Occupational Hazards of a Year in Iraq (2006) in a secondhand book shop, I bought it.

The book is a personal account by a Scotsman, Rory Stewart, who in 2003 at the age of 30 was appointed deputy governor of the Province of Amara...

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