Richard Downes first found himself working for the BBC in Iraq in 1998, arising from what he thought would be a short spell in a slow posting in Jordan after nearly four years of hectic reporting action for the Corporation in South Africa.

With barely time to put his feet up, he was sent from Amman to report on Desert Fox, the aerial assault launched by the US and the UK against Saddam Hussein's forces following the forced departure of the UN's UNSCOM arms inspectors.

Between then and the war-torn landscape created by the US-led 'regime change' invasion in 2003, Downes got to know and love the people, and to wonder at their resilience in the face of dictatorship, military reverses in Iran and Kuwait, a withering sanctions regime and finally occupation.

After almost a decade of working trips there, he has assembled some of the unreported thoughts of a working journalist in one of the hottest of current hot-spots.

His personal reminiscences are gathered in a well-structured vade-mecum which introduces readers to the country, its people, and its history. He takes his readers to meet the people he met. He marvels at the stoicism of ordinary Iraqis.

The main focus is on Iraq under threat of disintegration, as he clearly believes it is, but we see the past through the eyes of his interlocutors: a Museum director explains the distant past, ordinary Baghdadis outline more recent times, and explain the culture in a way (and at a length) that journalists rarely have the space for.

Downes is remarkably gentle and understanding in his portraits of the occupying forces - almost as understanding as he is of the multi-faceted 'insurgency', which the US in particular seems unable to separate into its many constituent parts, insisting on fighting a non-existent monolithic al-Qaeda-headed enemy as the latest bunch of ill-organised ad-hoc bombers fades into the shadows.

Not that they're all ill-organised, and one of the most poignant images he purveys is that of the confusion of wanting to be there when he is not, and wondering why he has put himself into such danger when he is. At present, he divides his time between presenting 'Morning Ireland' on RTÉ Radio One, and his next visit to the Middle East.

Richard Downes takes his readers on a remarkably easy-reading, gently educational and vividly lived odyssey through Iraq, and leaves them sharing his confusion as well as... well, yes, his love for the place and the people.

Mícheál Ó hUanacháin

'In Search of Iraq: Baghdad to Babylon' is available from the RTÉ Shop, priced €14.95.

Richard Downes took part in a RTÉ webchat on Monday 13 November. Read his answers to your questions here.