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Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Baghdad's Green Zone [Hardcover]

Rajiv Chandrasekaran
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)

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Book Description

5 Mar 2007
From a walled-off enclave of towering plants, smart villas and sparkling swimming pools - a surreal bubble of pure Americana known as the Green Zone - the US-led Coalition Provisional Authority, under imperial viceroy L. Paul Bremer III, attempted to rule Iraq in the first twelve months after the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime. Drawing on hundreds of interviews and internal documents, Rajiv Chandrasekaran tells the memorable story of this ill-prepared attempt to build American democracy in a war-torn Middle Eastern country, detailing not only the risky disbanding of the Iraqi army and the ludicrous attempt to train the new police force, but also bringing to light a host of lesser-known yet typical travesties, among them: * the aide who based Baghdad's new traffic laws on those of the state of Maryland, downloaded * the contractor with no previous experience paid millions to guard a closed airport * the people with prior experience in the Middle East who were excluded in favour of lesser-qualified Republican Party loyalists * the case of the 24-year-old who had never worked in finance put in charge of revitalising Baghdad's stock exchange Written with wit and urgency by a sharp-eyed observer, Imperial Life in the Emerald City provides a hair-raising portrait of the gap between the Oz-like Green Zone and the brutal reality of post-war Iraq. It is American reportage at its best.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC (5 Mar 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0747591687
  • ISBN-13: 978-0747591689
  • Product Dimensions: 13.5 x 21.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 435,272 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


'I cannot remember a book that does more to enhance our
understanding of the country than this one...devastating.' -- The Spectator

`Black comedy, set in the graveyard of the neo-conservative dream.
Superb.' -- John le Carré

`Chandrasekaran...watched the policy bottom-up from within and
beyond the Green Zone. The result is jaw-dropping.' -- Simon Jenkins, Sunday Times

`If anyone still has doubts about what went wrong in Iraq, and
some of the reasons why, this beautifully observed book sets you straight.' -- Metro

About the Author

Rajiv Chandrasekaran is an assisting managing editor of The Washington Post, where he has worked since 1994. He previously served the Post as a bureau chief in Baghdad, Cairo, and Southeast Asia, and as a correspondent covering the war in Afghanistan. He recently completed a term as journalist-in-residence at the International Reporting Project at the Johns Hopkins school for Advanced International Studies, and was a public policy scholar at the Wodrow Wilson International Center. He lives in Washington, D.C.

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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
4.4 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
In recent months a deluge of books regarding the war in Iraq have hit the shelves. Few, however, stand out for their impartiality and refusal to pass judgement. Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone by Rajiv Chandrasekaran is one of those books, offering a well-written and fascinating narrative of the Americans who came to Iraq after the war. Chandrasekaran identifies key mistakes made by the CPA and profiles some of the main figures, but also delves into the experiences of the lower-level staffers who made up the bulk of the CPA. This book is an important addition to the public's knowledge about America's place in Iraq.

Written from a first person perspective, the narrative is smooth and flowing, though it does take a while to pick up. Interspersed with the chapters on the CPA's efforts are vignettes on life inside the Green Zone. Some are amusing, some identify the political influences of the staffers, and many address some of the more bizarre decisions made. During the course of the narrative, the author identifies several problems that hindered the CPA's goal of remaking Iraq. First, little post-war planning was done by the DoD and Department of State, and when it came to plan, political tensions dominated. Second, Bremer's dismissal of the Iraqi Army created a ready-made force of trained, but unemployed soldiers who could have become the foundation of a new Iraqi Army and Police, but instead joined the religious militias or the insurgency. Third, those chosen to staff the CPA were often very young with little or no experience; many were chosen based on their political affiliations. Eager to go to Iraq out of patriotism and adventure, most only stayed 3-4 months, making it increasingly difficult to plan and execute the rebuilding program.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Devastating Exposition of the Stupid White Men 18 Dec 2007
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
As someone who grew adoring Joseph Heller's great World War Two satire, Catch-22, I never thought the day would come when I read a real life account of how the misguided and naive led an occupation effort. That day finally came last week when my postman brought me Rajiv Chanrasekaran's Imperial Life in the Emerald City.
This is an impeccably detailed and revelatory account of the US occupation of Iraq and how the seeds of disaster were sown.

Rajiv Chanrasekaran was the Washington Post's man on the ground in Baghdad in the days leading up to and immediately after the US-led invasion, so has an insight of how pallid life was under Saddam Hussein and how timorous the Iraqi people had become. He is also a rare thing among American journalists working in the daily press out there: a man who asks searching questions of his country and his countrymen's motivations.

Imperial Life is strongest when telling the story of the CPA staffers living in the 'Green Zone', a bubble, supplied with trash food and trash information about the country they occupy. Staffers inherently believe they are doing the right thing, that they have a sense of mission to democratize Iraq and build it according to their political ideals. Of course, when set against the backdrop of a humanitarian disaster, an insurgency, and without the blank cheques needed to bring such changes they never stand a chance of succeeding.

What is perhaps most depressing, beyond the human cost of occupation, is that the corruption and stupidity among most of the American staffers was not as prevalent as one would first think.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating Incompetence 28 Mar 2008
There are many impressive stories in this account of how the American invasion and occupation of Iraq went so disastrously wrong in such a short period of time. The most striking aspects are from inside the encased compound which housed the staff of the US administration:
Saddam Hussein's Baghdad palace seemed to take on the aspect of a college campus, with staff drinking beer, eating junk food and `pork', lazing by the pool, reading The Complete Idiot's Guide to Understanding Iraq to further their knowledge, protected from the ever present and increasing violence and lawlessness around them, in a Baghdad without currency, media or power.
The author systematically reports on how the republican neo-cans picked for their loyalty to W. Bush over any experience
or knowledge of the area and language failed on every level to re-establish any kind of order within the country they had just occupied. I found this account to be a brilliant piece of old-fashioned reportage that at times read like a surreal farce. It was a privilege to have read it so soon after the events described.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant account of the American occupation 7 May 2007
Exceptionally clear account of the structure of the occupation explaining American aims and misunderstandings, interspersed with riveting descriptions of everyday events. This could have been dull but is on the contrary compulsively readable. The author, who spent over two years in Iraq and lived outside the Green Zone, is both knowledgeable and a highly gifted story teller. It is clear that his interviewees trusted him and spoke with unusual frankness. Everyone should read this.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars A good book that raises more questions than it answers
This well written book is in part sad and in part entertaining, but in no way does it give the necessary background information to the Iraq fiasco. Read more
Published 8 months ago by Baraniecki Mark Stuart
4.0 out of 5 stars The Smartest Guys in the Palace
I bought it on the basis that it was an inspiration for the film 'Green Zone' but it turned to be far more than that. Read more
Published 9 months ago by M. Davies
4.0 out of 5 stars A very good read
Eye opening account of the American occupation of Iraq after the second Gulf war, the book looks at very contentious issues and deals with failings from both sides. Read more
Published 14 months ago by Trevor Exhall
5.0 out of 5 stars US in Iraq
An extraordinary account of just how incompetent the US forces were in trying to run an occupation in Iraq. Breathtaking.
Published 16 months ago by Mr C J Doyle
5.0 out of 5 stars If you had any illusions this will shatter them
I never had much faith in what we were doing in Iraq and this book shattered any illusions I might have had about the greater good. Read more
Published 18 months ago by Penelope Simpson
3.0 out of 5 stars Am I the only one who doesn't think this is great?
Despite the photo of Matt Damon on the front, don't buy this book if you are expecting an action story anything like the movie. Read more
Published on 2 April 2012 by Richard
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Insight!
The book provides an excellent insight into the invasion of Iraq. The manner in which the author narrates his experience is commendable. Read more
Published on 26 July 2011 by A Q Hamza
4.0 out of 5 stars Well-researched and well-written account
I don't know that I can say much that hasn't been said. I will be succinct:

The book is really engaging; it isn't easy to put down. Read more
Published on 12 May 2011 by M. Hamann
4.0 out of 5 stars "The biggest mistake of the occupation, was the occupation itself."
I'm assuming we already know that the war itself was viciously premeditated and illegal. This book, through a series of lively vignettes, deftly characterises the fool's errand... Read more
Published on 17 Dec 2010 by Mr. Tristan Martin
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant farce of disastrous fiasco
A mission doomed to failure given the Americans,esconsed in the certainties of their supreme self-belief,the traditions of rugged individualism,the blindness of their... Read more
Published on 16 April 2010 by technoguy
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