In July 2006 British Diplomat Caroline Jaine volunteered to work in Iraq. As a 36-year-old mother of three, who had rarely been parted from her family, she knew she would face unique challenges. This is the story of Caroline’s struggles as a female civilian in a war zone. It highlights an extraordinary time during the occupation – those 100 days in Basra Palace were perhaps some of the most volatile and uncertain as the coalition fumbled with a plan for a better Basra and the beginnings of an exit strategy – but Caroline’s story is also a touching, personal account of these times and a thoroughly entertaining read.
TITLE: A Better Basra: Searching for Strategy and Sanity in Iraq
AUTHOR: Caroline Jaine
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“Humorous and down to earth insight into how a spirited civilian mother matures into a seasoned professional on the military front line” - Dominic Asquith CMG, former British Ambassador to Iraq
“A tale of danger, loss and of love at the nadir of British fortunes in Iraq – but overwhelmingly an account of one woman’s capacity for humanity in all its depth and colour, richly and originally observed, elegantly and movingly told”. - Mark Etherington CBE, former Governor of Wasit Provence, Iraq
“… brings back fond (and not so fond) memories…” - John Humphrys, author, journalist, broadcaster
“A refreshing and enjoyable read in a genre normally swamped with derring-do and self-justification. This a witty and thought-provoking vignette of a mission founded on misconceptions and grand ambitions – and not much thought about the practicalities of life in a tin can in the middle of a war zone. It takes a middle-aged, middle-class mum from middle England to cast a cold eye, honed through years of detecting homework fraud and the body language of evasion, on Britain’s grand vision for Basra in the wake of a controversial and unpopular war. A better Basra has yet to be built and it is honest appraisals of daily practices and interactions at this critical moment in Iraq’s history that will help perhaps to explain why the “Democracy Project” is still a work in progress.” - Jacky Sutton, international development expert and former UN Iraq staff member
“Journalist, diplomat, artist, mother, Caroline Jaine brings a unique sensitivity to her review of life in Basra during the British occupation of Iraq. Fully conscious of her own journey from idealism to cynicism to resignation, Caroline nevertheless conveys the value of wanting to ‘make a difference’ in a theatre of war. The collision between the hard military values of the US grunts and the soft civilian values of the British volunteers does much to explain why, despite extraordinary efforts and “stubborn optimism” so little good news emerged from the area. Add to that the corrosive effect of inadequate journalism on our side and disinformation on the other and we begin to grasp the frustration she and others suffered as they grappled with ‘Strategy Better Basra’. Even so Caroline leaves us with a small kernel of hope: a sense that enough good people – inside and outside Iraq – care about Basra enough to make a return to normality possible, one day”. -Indra Adnan, Founder, Soft Power Network / The Downing Street Project
“It becomes very easy to sympathise with Caroline Jaine’s account of her time in Iraq working for the FCO. Her book concentrates on her struggles with work, friends, family and sometimes herself. Caroline establishes firm ground with her readers by opening up, describing her initial reactions to terrorism prior to leaving for Iraq, her disillusionment towards politics and her desire to help out with a war that she felt frustrated towards. These aspects of her account were coupled with personal anecdotes from her life at the time, such as her friends at home, who Caroline later stays in touch with throughout her time in Iraq. Caroline’s light hearted way of describing her time seems to pull readers in to the pod she was living in at the time, the blazing desert heat, the tight cornered smoking room, in which she released the stresses of every day life. Caroline accurately depicts life as one of the few women at her military base, as well as one of the few mothers. Her insight on how difficult living abroad can be under such stressful conditions with limited contact with your children makes this story so much more personable. And of course, Caroline’s description of the situation of Iraq on the group is profound and eye opening. A Better Basra describes with great detail the daily tears, sweats and laughter that men and women face in war zones. Her references to those times when she felt the fear of bombings and fire fights gives Caroline’s work the grounding in reality. She delivers to readers a comforting voice of hope for a “Better Basra”. – Lord Ahmed
Speech at the Launch on 2 November 2011 at the House of Lords Interview with Faisal Qureshi on 24/7 TV Review by Tobias Denskus, Review on Peace and Collaborative Development Network Extract on The World Bank blog , Extract on 4Nomadic Blog, Extract on Humanitarian News, Extract in Diplomat Magazine