Cover of Ungovernable Life by Omar Dewachi
Ungovernable Life
Mandatory Medicine and Statecraft in Iraq
Omar Dewachi


264 pages.
from $26.00

Hardcover ISBN: 9780804784443
Paperback ISBN: 9780804784450
Ebook ISBN: 9781503602694

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Winner of the 2019 New Millennium Book Award, sponsored by the Society for Medical Anthropology.

Iraq's healthcare has been on the edge of collapse since the 1990s. Once the leading hub of scientific and medical training in the Middle East, Iraq's political and medical infrastructure has been undermined by decades of U.S.-led sanctions and invasions. Since the British Mandate, Iraqi governments had invested in cultivating Iraq's medical doctors as agents of statecraft and fostered connections to scientists abroad. In recent years, this has been reversed as thousands of Iraqi doctors have left the country in search of security and careers abroad. Ungovernable Life presents the untold story of the rise and fall of Iraqi "mandatory medicine"—and of the destruction of Iraq itself.

Trained as a doctor in Baghdad, Omar Dewachi writes a medical history of Iraq, offering readers a compelling exploration of state-making and dissolution in the Middle East. His work illustrates how imperial modes of governance, from the British Mandate to the U.S. interventions, have been contested, maintained, and unraveled through medicine and healthcare. In tracing the role of doctors as agents of state-making, he challenges common accounts of Iraq's alleged political unruliness and ungovernability, bringing forth a deeper understanding of how medicine and power shape life and how decades of war and sanctions dismember projects of state-making.

About the author

Omar Dewachi is Associate Professor of Anthropology at Rutgers University

"A remarkable and original analysis of the modern history of Iraq and its governing structures through its medical institutions and practices, from their close involvement in state formation and function to the unravelling of governance under wars, sanctions, and invasions."

—Sami Zubaida, Birkbeck, University of London

"Ungovernable Life is essential reading. An engaging and sophisticated account of the trajectory of Iraqi medicine, it tells the story of governance done and undone. Entangled in colonial, postcolonial, and imperial histories, the effects of the production of ungovernability in Iraq continue to resonate widely."

—Ilana Feldman, George Washington University'

"Omar Dewachi examines the paradoxical consequences of efforts to strengthen health systems in his compelling and disturbing study of Iraq (Ungovernable Life, 2017). At one level he tells a simple and tragic story through the illuminating perspective of health. But his investigations also raise uncomfortable questions for advocates of universal health coverage today."

—Richard Horton, The Lancet

"Dewachi is an anthropologist and an Iraqi medical doctor, and his experiences in Iraq and abroad inspire this very accessible inquiry into the formation and destruction of Iraq's health infrastructure. The book demonstrates specifically how biopolitics works—in discourses, expertise, and policies—and therefore it provides rich examples for use in graduate-level medical anthropology and global health classes (and it would be a welcome addition since, in my experience, such classes rarely include examples from the Middle East)."

—Anna Zogas, Somatosphere

"In his monograph, Omar Dewachi offers a compelling yet disturbing account of the genesis of Iraqi state medicine under the British mandate, and its dissolution following the end of the Gulf War....Ungovernable Life is a welcome addition to the relatively uncharted field of West Asian medical history."

—Vivek Neelakantan, Economic & Political Weekly

"Ungovernable Life provides a compelling history of modern Iraq and imperial modes of governance....[Dewachi's] work clears a path for a whole new body of research."

—Nadje Al-Ali, Medical Anthropology Quarterly

"[We] would do well to grapple with the politics of life itself the way Dewachi does, by noting difference as not a comparison of fixed types, but rather as a difference in the forced mobility and immobility of bodies, states, and survival."

—Harris Solomon, Medical Anthropology Quarterly

"Ungovernable Life is a timely and important book...There is little to detract from Dewachi's quietly brilliant writing."

—Michelle Pentecost, Medical Anthropology Quarterly

"Ungovernable Life is a masterful and timely work in historical medical anthropology, which renders visible the concealed effects of the unraveling of Iraqi medical infrastructure, and situates this unraveling in a thick national historical experience of European colonial domination, draconian sanctions, and imperialist war....Comprehensive in historical reach, analytically powerful, and offering a profound critique of violence, Ungovernable Life opens new ethical and political possibilities for thinking about the critical role that medical infrastructure plays in making, and unmaking, both the power of the state and the lives of the people under its care."

—Graham Good, WAR SPACE