Imperial Life in the Emerald City

Published By: Knopf

Book Category: Non-Fiction, Social Science

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Reviewed by Muhammed Hassanali

Subtitled: Inside Iraq’s Green Zone

Chandrasekaran was Baghdad bureau chief for the Washington Post when the American troops invaded Iraq. Imperial Life in the Emerald City chronicles life in the Green Zone based on his experiences and what he gleaned from his countless interviews. The time period covered is roughly from the first days of the U.S. invasion to Bremer’s departure in 2004.

It is a tale of cronyism, hubris, myopia, incompetence, and well-intentioned people not having the appropriate resources (training, information, human or material resources) to perform their duties. It is about inter-governmental in-fighting, and about how political loyalty trumped experience (often with disastrous results). It is a story of how disconnected those leading the rebuilding effort in Iraq were with the Iraqi people and how imposing their ideals in Iraq resulted in greater unrest. It is a paradigm example of how failing to plan resulted in planning to fail.

The book would have been hilarious, except that the stories – as incredible as they are – are true! Knowing that this work is non-fiction makes it sad. Rick (Fiasco), Stewart (The Prince of the Marshes), Packer (Assassin’s Gate), Woodward (State of Denial) and others seem to concur that the U.S. government has grossly mishandled the efforts in Iraq. Unfortunately, the price has been lives (both American and Iraqi, both civilian and military) as well as Iraqi and U.S. national resources.

Chandrasekran writes in the first person, and his writing style is easy, straight forward and engaging. Interspersed between chapters are vignettes on life within the Emerald City (a.k.a. Green Zone, “Imperial Life” refers to life under Bremer’s rule). Chandrasekaran does not pass judgment; he merely reports what he saw and learned from his interviews.

Examples of ignorance, ineptitude, and denial litter the pages that at times I could not bear to read any more. It was difficult for me not to get appalled and angry at the egregious decisions that were made. After reading this book, most readers would agree with the Iraqi leader Chandrasekran quotes as saying “The biggest mistake of the occupation was the occupation itself, pg. 290.”

Armchair Interviews says: First-hand reporting well done in this book.

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