Bookmarks Issue: 

Inside Iraq’s Green Zone

A-Imperial Life in the Emerald CityAccording to journalist Rajiv Chandrasekaran, the surreality of Baghdad’s fabled, seven-square-mile Green Zone—home of the Coalition Provisional Authority, which for many months governed Iraq—forms a startling contrast to the chaotic insurgency on the outside. Although the author finds examples of individuals struggling to challenge and improve the Iraqi way of life, the Green Zone is a place where cronyism and a myopic neglect of the larger mission overshadow efforts at rebuilding. An exchange between the author and a Green Zone staffer reveals this disconnect between the "Emerald City" and the disorder that surrounds it. When Chandrasekaran tells the staffer that he lives in the Red Zone and travels unaccompanied to the homes of Iraqis in Baghdad for his stories, the incredulous reply is, "What’s it like out there?"
Knopf. 336 pages. $25.95. ISBN: 1400044871

Houston Chronicle 4 of 5 Stars
"Chandrasekaran has written a fascinating book, required reading for anyone who wants to know about that crucial first year of America’s rule in post-Saddam Iraq. While he pulls no punches, Imperial Life in the Emerald City is far more vital than the rash of ‘Bush Lied, People Died’ tomes that soon will fill the bargain bins of the nation’s bookstores." Mike Glenn

Milwaukee Jrnl Sentinel 4 of 5 Stars
"Memo to all readers of this meticulous, uncompromising, brilliant exposé of the first year of the American occupation of Iraq: Read this on an empty stomach. … Emerald City offers a detailed and surprisingly even-handed account (the Iraqis don’t fare much better than their occupiers in this book) of the myriad fumbled attempts to restore basic security and infrastructure in a collapsed country." Adam Dunn

New York Times 4 of 5 Stars
"His book gives the reader a visceral—sometimes sickening—picture of how the administration and its handpicked crew bungled the first year in postwar Iraq, showing how decisions made in that period contributed to a burgeoning insurgency and growing ethnic and religious strife." Michiko Kakutani

Newsday 4 of 5 Stars
"The book is an eye-opening tour of ineptitude, misdirection, and the perils of democracy-building, kind of like those college campus tours where the guide strides by the official sites and points out the salacious ones instead." Andrew Metz

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"Imperial Life in the Emerald City is 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. … Chandrasekaran does not set out to score partisan points or unveil large geopolitical lessons; he is, essentially, a reporter telling readers what he saw." Moises Naim

Critical Summary

Rajiv Chandrasekaran, assistant managing editor of the Washington Post and its former Baghdad bureau chief, knows the landscape in Iraq as well as anyone, having spent two years in-country as a reporter. His careful, evenhanded reportage amplifies the seriousness of the problems that America still faces in Iraq. As Adam Dunn points out, "the Iraqis don’t fare much better than their occupiers" under Chandrasekaran’s judicious gaze. The book covers ground similar to that of Larry Diamond’s Squandered Victory (2005) and Anthony Shadid’s Night Draws Near (2005), though the author’s proximity to the events he reports in this "withering assessment" (Andrew Metz) separates Emerald City from the spate of books being published on the war in Iraq.

Cited by Critics

Squandered Victory The American Occupation and the Bungled Effort to Bring Democracy to Iraq | Larry Diamond (2005): Stanford University professor Diamond was asked by his former colleague Condoleezza Rice to serve as an advisor to the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq. Though he opposed the war, he spent three months with the CPA, and details mistakes made and opportunities missed.

Night Draws Near Iraq’s People in the Shadow of America’s War | Anthony Shadid (2005): Shadid, a Washington Post reporter, won a Pulitzer Prize in 2004 for his coverage of the Iraq war. A Lebanese American fluent in Arabic, Shadid interviewed many Iraqis and provides their firsthand accounts and perspectives on the run-up to the war, the war itself, and its aftermath.