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4.0 out of 5 stars A Devastating Exposition of the Stupid White Men, 18 Dec 2007
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This review is from: Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Baghdad's Green Zone (Hardcover)
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. For sure there is a naivety, but the idiocy lay mostly in Washington, where Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfovitz jettisoned the appointment of competent and well qualified staff in favour of political appointees. Many of these were well meaning, but young, inexperienced and wholly unsuitable Republican interns, workers and other party supporters that want to `make a difference'. Thus you have a 24 year old who had never worked in finance put in charge of rebuilding the Baghdad stock exchange on account of his political credentials and numerous others besides. Oddly, Paul `Jerry' Bremner does not come off too badly: he is portrayed as driven, stubborn, battling against the insurmountable odds on the ground and in Washington, but most often motivated by what he deems to be right (even though it often isn't; most notably in the case of his dissolution of the Iraqi army, which led directly to the insurgency).

This book loses track a bit in the second part, when there is more discourse on politics and the handover to the Iraqis. However, more lucid than Michael Moore, more polemical than the majority mainstream media, Imperial Life in the Emerald City cuts to the heart of where it all went so horribly wrong, and is essential reading not just for those interested in the Middle East but anyone who might consider voting Republican in 2008.
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J A C Corbett
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Location: Blackheath, London, UK

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