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Freya Stark first journeyed to Iraq in 1927. Seven years after the establishment of the British Mandate, the modern state was in its infancy and worlds apart from the country it has since become. During her many years in Iraq, Stark was witness to the rise and fall of the British involvement in the country as well as the early years of independence. Typically—and controversially—she chose to live outside the close-knit western expatriate scene and immersed herself in the way of life of ordinary Iraqis—living in the “native” quarter of the city and spending time with its tribal sheikhs and leaders. Venturing out of Baghdad, she traveled to Mosul, Nineveh, Tikrit and Najaf, where she perceptively describes the millennia-old tensions between Sunni and Shi'a. In the 1940s she returned again, this time traveling south, to the Marsh Arabs, whose way of life has now all but disappeared; north into Kurdistan and later, Kuwait, in the days before the oil boom.
Freya Stark (1893-1993), called "the poet of travel", was the doyenne of Middle East travel writers and one of the most courageous and adventurous female travelers in history. She traveled extensively through Syria, Palestine, Lebanon, Iran, Iraq and Southern Arabia, where she became the first western woman to travel through the Hadhramaut. Usually solo, she ventured to places few Europeans had ever been. Her travels earned her the title of Dame and huge public acclaim and her many, now classic, books include Travels in the Near East, Ionia, The Southern Gates of Arabia, Alexander's Path, Dust in the Lion's Paw, East is West and Valleys of the Assassins.