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The play exposes political confrontations, blood feuds and deeply held feelings in Iraq.


Documentary drama. Scene from “Occupational Hazards” in which Rory Stewart tries to reason with Karim. (The Independent)

2017/05/28 Issue: 108 Page: 22

The Arab Weekly
Karen Dabrowska

London - The Arab saying that “sometimes things are so bad you have to laugh” sums up the situation of a young, idealistic British adventurer put in charge of south­ern Iraq’s Maysan province in 2003 by the Coalition Provisional Author­ity.

The man was then-30-year-old Rory Stewart, who once spent 20 months walking 9,700km across Iran and Afghanistan, as well as through Nepal, India and Pakistan, from 2000-02. He wrote about his 2003-04 tenure as governorate coor­dinator in the award-winning mem­oir “Occupational Hazards: My Time Governing in Iraq,” which his friend of 30 years, Stephen Brown, turned into a 110-minute play with ten char­acters.

Unlike previous Western plays on Iraq, which have been about being a soldier in the country, Stewart’s story goes into the nitty-gritty of the political confrontations in Iraq after the 2003 US-led invasion, exposing blood feuds and deeply held feel­ings. It is very comic and absurd and there is a lot of misunderstanding in it.

The play charts Stewart’s attempts to organise local elections, intro­duce democracy and create a local council to reconcile the followers of Karim Mahood, a tribal sheikh, and Seyyed Hassan, a radical Islamic cleric. Steward arrives in Maysan and is introduced to the province with a PowerPoint presentation, which bombards him with a torrent of information that both he and the audience find difficult to digest.

All the scenes take place in Ama­rah, a mostly modern city of about 300,000 people and are played against the backdrop of oppressive sliding concrete walls and frazzling fluorescent tubes that reflect the grim realities of the occupation and local politics.

The characters are stereotypes rather than individuals.

Stewart is an archetype of a young foreign governor: Innocent and well-intentioned, doing an impossible job in difficult circumstances. Karim is very much the picture-book tribal sheikh, dressed in a Bedouin robe with gold trim and neat headdress. Rana symbolises the educated, self-possessed Iraqi woman determined to serve her country. Abu Rashid is a policeman, sometimes jovial, sometimes serious as the situation demands. Seyyed Hassan, in a wool­len cloak and black turban, is the shrewd, manipulative Islamic cleric who makes excellent use of his reli­gious credentials to further his po­litical ambitions.

Throughout his time as governo­rate coordinator, Stewart never for­gets what his father told him: “Stop making decisions and you’re dead.” He is never indecisive and acts with confidence and determination. However, the British values of tea-and-marmalade diplomacy cannot resolve deep-seated local conflicts and hatred and do little to reconcile foes Karim and Seyyed Hassan, who are both determined to emerge as top dog from the elections.

In the end, Stewart states with a tone of resignation: “It’s democracy. Everyone is equally unhappy. It’s the defining feature of the system.”

The play can best be described as documentary drama and clearly illustrates that politics in Iraq is a form of theatre. The audience is in­volved. Stewart shakes hands with those seated in the front row and welcomes them as if they were pro­spective members of the governing council he is trying to set up.

At first, Stewart takes two steps forward and one step back in his de­mocracy-building mission. Then the backward steps increase and arriv­ing at a representative council is like working out a seating plan at a wed­ding attended by enemies. At the end of the play, the council-building is destroyed by radical Islamists, who have recently killed six British policemen. Stewart rants and raves as it becomes clear he is not able to assert his authority.

“Don’t you dare turn your back on me!” he says to Seyyed Hassan. “I am the senior man here and you will listen to me! You gave me your word as a Muslim.” The plea falls on deaf ears.

The play ends in April 2017 with Stewart standing among the 400 trees he planted in Scotland when he returned home, reflecting on his term as governorate coordina­tor: “I’m 44 years old. Middle-aged. What do we know? What can we do? What do we have the right to do? We arrive, thinking we are superheroes. We leave…”

“Occupational Hazards” recreates actual events on stage and forces members of the audience to answer questions for themselves, such as whether the occupation and its de­mocracy-building attempts did Iraq any good, what moral authority the West has to engage in nation-build­ing and whether the fiasco in Iraq means there should be no future Western intervention in the Middle East.

An Iraqi expatriate living in Lon­don was adamant he would never see the play. “A lover who tragi­cally loses his heartthrob killed by a drunken driver could not be inter­ested in watching a dramatisation of his loss or enjoy it,” said the man, who asked not to be named.

“Occupational Hazards” is to run through June 3 at the Hampstead Theatre in West London.

Karen Dabrowska is an Arab Weekly contributor in London.




Laurie Mylroie

WASHINGTON DC, United States (Kurdistan24) – Condoleezza Rice, former US Secretary of State and National Security Advisor to President George W. Bush, speaks highly of the Kurds in her new book, Democracy: Stories from the Long Road to Freedom.

Most notably, Rice suggests the Kurds have shown themselves to be more effective and skillful at self-government than the rest of the Iraqi population.

As a people, [the Kurds] had long suffered discrimination and persecution at the hands of Arabs and Turks,” she writes.

They dreamed of an independent Kurdistan and “were closest to realizing that desire in Iraq,” Rice continues.

The Kurdistan Region became a self-governing entity within Iraq following the 1991 Gulf War.

In 2003, after Baghdad fell and Saddam Hussein was toppled, it was evident the Kurds had used the previous 12 years very effectively.

The Kurdistan Region “functioned efficiently” and “the infrastructure was far superior to much of Iraq’s,” the former US Secretary of State adds.

Additionally, Rice says, “The Kurds were by far the most competent and coherent group in post-Saddam Iraq.” However, the “very competence” of the Kurds “made the politics of the country more complicated.”

Why should the competence of the Kurds cause problems for Iraq?

Generally speaking, a lack of skills in developing countries is the source of problems, and the US makes a considerable effort to ameliorate those problems through capacity-building programs.

Kurdish competence caused complications in Iraq, because of the “one-Iraq” policy to which the US and other powers adhered.

The international community was united in the view that Iraq had to be a single, unified state,” Rice states.

Preserving the unity of Iraq meant subordinating the more competent party, Erbil, to the less competent party, Baghdad.

However, in her book, of which she began to conceive four years ago, Rice refers to the period before 2014 and the major changes the fight against the Islamic State (IS) and its brutalities have wrought in the region.

Speaking on Friday at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, Rice offered a somewhat different perspective.

She affirmed that Iraq, with US help, would soon defeat IS, but the question would then be understanding what form the country of Iraq had assumed.

She noted the Kurds would likely have new demands, regarding greater autonomy or even independence. Iran will have substantial influence in the south, while Sunni alienation from the government in Baghdad will continue.

Rice, thus, suggested it will be difficult to reconstitute Iraq and its political institutions, as they now exist.

So why bother? Kurds and their friends might well suggest the difficulty of reconstituting Iraq in and of itself makes a strong argument for Kurdish independence.

After all, why should a political entity that is more successful at self-government be subordinated to a larger entity that is less successful and which can only be put back together with considerable effort? If that can be done at all?

Rice also made some interesting points about Operation Iraqi Freedom, which remains controversial to this day in the US and elsewhere.

Indeed, the current US president Donald Trump has called it a mistake, as did his predecessor.

Rice explained the war was motivated by security concerns, and it was not a decision simply to spread democracy.

She said Hussein had been a threat to the region and the Bush administration believed he had rebuilt his proscribed weapons of mass destruction. That was the basic reason for the decision to oust him.

Once that decision was made, the question became what should replace Hussein, and Bush decided on democracy.

However, as Rice’s book reveals, some senior officials, including Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, argued the US should simply “install another strongman” to replace Hussein.


Editing by Karzan Sulaivany

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By Arian Mufid:Yazidi women

The night of 2nd-3rd August was one we should have anticipated: when the Kurdish nation suffered at the hands of people who have the same roots as the perpetrators of the Anfal of 1988, which was comparable to the Jewish Holocaust. On that dreadful, recent night when the Islamic State (IS) attacked Sinjar, no one knew they would come to the town so quickly and dramatically. Many people managed to flee but some did not. Some citizens of Sinjar, many of them women and children, were trapped by the criminal thugs of IS. Now the story of the tragedy of three sisters has come to light. Like hundreds of other Yazidi Kurdish woman caught by IS, they were raped. Later they managed to escape to Sinjar mountain to join their mother and father. The three sisters were traumatised. They asked people to kill them. When this was refused, they ended their lives by hurling themselves off the mountain.


IS has auctioned for sale more than 500 women in the market of Mosul. While they revel in the degradation of women, traditionally in Kurdish society women have been highly valued as the backbone of our families. The historian Charles Townshend (1) has written about our more tolerant traditions. ”In religious terms they were also diverse – some were Christians, some Yazidis and a few Jews – though they were overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim”. He judged the ordinary Muslim Kurds as “by no means fanatical’, and writes: “they treated their womenfolk with much more respect than do most Mohammedan races”.

These genocidal and barbaric crimes by IS forces mirror those of other gangsters and terrorist groups; they reflect other atrocities against women around the world. These poor Yazidi Kurdish women who threw themselves from Sinjar Mountain have conveyed the tragedy, sorrow, trauma and pain of too many woman in the 21st century. The world should be united to eliminate this terrorist group and wipe them out from everywhere. The IS should not be allowed to run away without any punishment: if they can get away with it today, they will inflict more tragedies on the streets of London and New York.

(1). Charles Townshend, ‘When God made Hell’, 2010, Faber & Faber Ltd

Arian Mufid (Mufid Abdulla) will no longer be using the surname Abdulla.