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

Rajiv Chandrasekaran
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)

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Book Description

19 Sep 2006
An unprecedented account of life in Baghdad’s Green Zone, a walled-off enclave of towering plants, posh villas, and sparkling swimming pools that was the headquarters for the American occupation of Iraq.

The Washington Post’s former Baghdad bureau chief Rajiv Chandrasekaran takes us with him into the Zone: into a bubble, cut off from wartime realities, where the task of reconstructing a devastated nation competed with the distractions of a Little America—a half-dozen bars stocked with cold beer, a disco where women showed up in hot pants, a movie theater that screened shoot-’em-up films, an all-you-could-eat buffet piled high with pork, a shopping mall that sold pornographic movies, a parking lot filled with shiny new SUVs, and a snappy dry-cleaning service—much of it run by Halliburton. Most Iraqis were barred from entering the Emerald City for fear they would blow it up.

Drawing on hundreds of interviews and internal documents, Chandrasekaran tells the story of the people and ideas that inhabited the Green Zone during the occupation, from the imperial viceroy L. Paul Bremer III to the fleet of twentysomethings hired to implement the idea that Americans could build a Jeffersonian democracy in an embattled Middle Eastern country.

In the vacuum of postwar planning, Bremer ignores what Iraqis tell him they want or need and instead pursues irrelevant neoconservative solutions—a flat tax, a sell-off of Iraqi government assets, and an end to food rationing. His underlings spend their days drawing up pie-in-the-sky policies, among them a new traffic code and a law protecting microchip designs, instead of rebuilding looted buildings and restoring electricity production. His almost comic initiatives anger the locals and help fuel the insurgency.

Chandrasekaran details Bernard Kerik’s ludicrous attempt to train the Iraqi police and brings to light lesser known but typical travesties: the case of the twenty-four-year-old who had never worked in finance put in charge of reestablishing Baghdad’s stock exchange; a contractor with no previous experience paid millions to guard a closed airport; a State Department employee forced to bribe Americans to enlist their help in preventing Iraqi weapons scientists from defecting to Iran; Americans willing to serve in Iraq screened by White House officials for their views on Roe v. Wade; people with prior expertise in the Middle East excluded in favor of lesser-qualified Republican Party loyalists. Finally, he describes Bremer’s ignominious departure in 2004, fleeing secretly in a helicopter two days ahead of schedule.

This is a startling portrait of an Oz-like place where a vital aspect of our government’s folly in Iraq played out. It is a book certain to be talked about for years to come.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf; First Edition edition (19 Sep 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400044871
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400044870
  • Product Dimensions: 3.1 x 15.2 x 23.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,469,374 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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'A vividly detailed portrait of the Green Zone and the Coalition Provisional Authority (which ran Iraq's government from April 2003 to June 2004) that becomes a metaphor for the administration's larger failings in Iraq... reads like something out of "Catch-22"' New York Times 'A riveting tale of American misadventure...a mission doomed to failure before it had even been launched' Samantha Power, author of 'A Problem from Hell' 'Full of jaw-dropping tales of the myriad large and small ways in which Bremer and his team poured fuel into the lethal cauldron that is today's Iraq' Washington Post 'An indispensable saga of how the American liberation of Iraq turned to chaos, calamity, and civil war' Rick Atkinson, author of 'An Army at Dawn' --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
4.4 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
25 of 25 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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11 of 11 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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10 of 10 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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18 of 20 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
5.0 out of 5 stars very good
green zone shows the cruelty and arrogance of imperial U.S.
to destroy a soevereign country is a war crime a crime against humanity
Published 1 month ago by janu
4.0 out of 5 stars iraq
This is an interestiung account of the Gulf War and its aftermath by yhe author who is an assisyant managing editor at the Washington Post. Read more
Published 2 months ago by G. I. Forbes
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 12 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 12 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 17 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 19 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 21 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
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