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

really liked it 4.00  ·  Rating Details  ·  4,379 Ratings  ·  544 Reviews
The Green Zone, Baghdad, 2003: in this walled-off compound of swimming pools and luxurious amenities, Paul Bremer and his Coalition Provisional Authority set out to fashion a new, democratic Iraq. Staffed by idealistic aides chosen primarily for their views on issues such as abortion and capital punishment, the CPA spent the crucial first year of occupation pursuing goals ...more
Paperback, 384 pages
Published September 4th 2007 by Vintage (first published 2006)
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Will Byrnes
Baghdad’s Green Zone is a world unto itself, with its own power supply, water, restaurants. One need never leave, and many never do. The author describes the separateness of the place but uses that as a base from which to foray out to related subjects. Some of his examples are particularly poignant. One enterprising fellow built a pizzeria just outside the compound, only to discover that the Americans all eat inside. He talks much about the plague of outsourcing and how it resulted in oddities l ...more
Apr 01, 2007 Megan rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: americans
The short take: bad organizational structure and writing that is really just mediocre journalistic prose.
Although Chandrasekaran begins with a narrative "I," he never really identifies himself, and then launches into details about things like relationships between State department members and Pentagon members back in Washington, making one wonder where the information is coming from. There is little direct quotation, and his presentation and interpretation of events are so mixed that it's diffic
May 05, 2012 Rick rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
A brilliant satire on the occupation of a Middle Eastern country....well it would be, if it weren't true. This gives the reader a fairly shocking insight into the incompetency, arrogance and corruption involved in the Iraq occupation.

The Coalition Provisional Authority sets up shop in one of Saddam's palaces and creates a little bubble of Americana called the Green Zone surrounded by a Baghdad teetering on and, subsequently, falling into an abyss.

The author, Rajiv Chandrasekaran, restrains hims
Feb 02, 2010 Daniel rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Alternate Titles for this book could have been:

1. How not to rebuild a nation you just bombed the sh*t out of
2. How to F*ck up everything you touch, the Neocon way
3. Corruption, cronyism and good old fashioned incompetence on an unforeseen scale
4. Southern Efficiency in the Middle East
5. A Confederacy of Dunces
6. Beavis and Butthead Do Iraq

You get the message. In other words, if 10% of what Chandasekaran writes is 10% true, then this was the greatest con job in the history of the American Republ
Jun 28, 2008 Shane rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: middle-east
I knew the war was hatched by a fantasy driven cabal, but this book really laid it out in detail. It's an interesting contrast to another book I recently read, titled "Muqtada," by Patrick Cockburn. Cockburn's book deals with the Iraq almost exclusively from the standpoint of (anti-U.S.) Iraqi Shias. This book deals with the war almost exclusively from the standpoint of the U.S. crew than ran Iraq up until the elections in 2005. Both compliment each other well.

The gist of the book is that as so
Troy Blackford
Feb 15, 2014 Troy Blackford rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was a well-researched and shocking look at the attempt to provide Iraq with a democratic, capitalistic government and way of life after its US invasion/liberation. That such a massive undertaking was began without a clear idea of the next step is a strange truth that is drilled home again and again. Missteps, misguided actions, and good-but-not-thoroughly-thought-through-intentions make up most of this book, but the insights into day-to-day life in the green zone are no less compelling.

Apr 16, 2008 Eddie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read this during Spring Break. A very informative book. It is kind of depressing to see how the U.S. Government has allowed private contractors carte blanche as well as establishing a bureacracy in the middle of the war zone in Iraq that would compare with any on Capitol Hill. It made this die-hard Conservative wonder about the effectiveness of our involvement in Iraq.
Jul 13, 2014 K rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone is the compelling story about the U.S. occupation in Iraq and the culture of inexperience, arrogance, and cronyism within the U.S. Green Zone. My previous impression of the Iraq war was that U.S. officials were well-meaning but sometimes misguided and the U.S. media portrayed a sugar-coated view rather than the reality of life on the ground. Listening to this audiobook, I felt shocked by just how much worse the situation had been than I ...more
Steven Peterson
Jan 22, 2010 Steven Peterson rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A review of the book when it first came out a few years back:

Rajiv Chandrasekaran is with the Washington Post; he has spent time in both Afghanistan and Iraq since the American missions in both places. His experiences in Iraq as well as his interviews with those in Iraq during the time of the CPA (Coalition Provisional Authority, under the control of Paul Bremer) and the precursor organization (under Jay Garner)provide important bases for this work. The picture is not pretty, and ties in with ar
Apr 16, 2013 Louise rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: middle-east
Rajiv Chandrasekaran brings depth to the story behind the headlines. He has certainly taken a large body of knowledge and distilled it for easy consumption.

Now I know why stories of reconstruction were so fuzzy and few. Tommy Thompson (Secy of Health and Human Services) provides a photo-op for a new hospital --- opened in the Green Zone but not presented as such. Now I know how Casey (son of Cindy) Sheehan (and 7 others) died --- Bremer closed Moqtada al-Sadr's paper without alerting the US patr
Jun 26, 2011 Ms.pegasus rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone interested in current affairs, political science, or the middle east
Recommended to Ms.pegasus by: saw it mentioned in connection with movie, Green Zone
Shelves: nonfiction, history
Rajiv Chandrasekaran's book is journalism at its best, and the loss will be irreparable if newspaper journalists fade into extinction. The Emerald City is an image reminiscent of the Raj – Americans relaxing around a swimming pool, in a 7 square mile enclave, enjoying drinks, eating American food, relaxing in clean clothing in the middle of Baghdad. The segregation from the real Iraq was genuine; the relaxed lifestyle an illusion. The occupation of Iraq brought a flood of ill-prepared, idealisti ...more
Sep 25, 2010 Carly rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I started reading on a Friday night and could not put it down until on reaching page 274 I simply couldn't keep my eyes open.

This is a shocking, damning picture of the idealogically driven attempts of the Coalition Provisional Authority to rebuild Iraq after the fall of Sadaam Hussein. The utter naivity of some at the highest levels is sad, but unforgivably there is also deliberate refusal to engage with the country's actual situation in lieu of creating a utopian America of the Middle East.

Jun 10, 2008 Bear rated it liked it
This book was well done; however, a lot of focus was on the negative. MSM tends to already be trying to drag down what is going on there; Not saying it's all rosy, but as a retired Military person, I know exactly what the cost is in combat and "occupation" force, and really would like to see someone not use this war (and that's what it is) for political badgering because you don't like how the administration is doing things, so much as an opportunity to observe and report and let smart people de ...more
Jan 09, 2016 Stephanie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, politics
Imperial Life In The Emerald City by Rajiv Chandrasekaran is a journalistic recounting of the disastrous American attempts to rebuild Iraq as a mini-America in the aftermath of the second Gulf War. I am British and have read numerous historical accounts of our monumental Empire-building cock-ups, however it would have been nice to believe that such heavy-handed imperialism was a thing of the past. Chandrasekaran's book shows that it certainly isn't and I spent much of the first half in a state o ...more
Mar 06, 2014 Robert rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Although not a supporter of the US administration that entered Iraq under the pretense of finding and destroying WMDs that never existed, this author expresses an unabashed bias against the administration and virtually everything the team in Iraq, and Washington, did during the days immediately following the invasion and the chaos that ensued.

At times the author was contradictory. Criticizing in earlier chapters that some things moved too quickly, the author would, in later chapters, criticize t
Jan 21, 2008 David rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Written by the former Baghdad bureau chief of the Washington Post, this book is simply what he saw in Iraq between the "end" of combat in 2003 and Paul Bremer's ignominious departure in 2004. Mostly what he sees is the complete mismanagement of basic postwar planning; the first raised, then dashed, hopes of Iraqis who have already suffered through the destructive rule of Saddam Hussein; and the arrogant approach of American political appointees, institutions and companies that are intent on tran ...more
Apr 16, 2009 Sydney rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Sydney by: Joe
Never in all of the years of reading have I been as outraged as I was while reading this book. The matter of fact recitation of the never-ending list of inept post-Iraq war decisions, incompetent staffing, corrupt contractors' waste of now-sorely needed tax dollars caused me fits of apoplexy.

Beyond defeating Saddam there were few other identifiable victories during the period covered by the book. Post-war planning occurred organically, as messes developed strategies were eventually devised to co
Jul 08, 2007 Don rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is primarily a collection of anecdotes of the tenure of the Coalition Provisional Authority under Bremer in Iraq, and to a lesser extent the shorter tenure of Jay Garner preceding the CPA. The purpose of the book is to illustrate how badly the U.S. screwed up the occupation of Iraq. While a few of the anecdotes don't strike me as being nearly as negative as the author colors them, on balance this book basically makes one ill, just by emphasizing how badly we were served by our government.

Jul 04, 2010 Greg rated it really liked it
Everyone knows the American occupation of Iraq has been anything but a success, but if you really want to know how and why it spiraled into a free-fall, read Imperial Life in the Emerald City. It’s an enraging document of spectacular failure--about how, during the first year of the occupation, virtually every effort to restore food rationing, medical care, electricity, factory production, traffic law, the university system, the police force, the Iraqi news media, and the writing of a new constit ...more
Hey, I've got an idea. We've got a big project. An important one. Actually, an impossible one. But we're Americans, and we've done some great things in the past. Let's grab our friends and head out. No need to hire selectively and look for highly qualified people. There are 300 million people in this country, but our friends are probably as good as it gets, so we'll use them. No need to train them. Now that they're over there, let's make sure that they can't possibly get their hands on the resou ...more
Bookmarks Magazine

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 Squande

Oct 22, 2014 Chris rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An outstanding, and darkly comic, inside look at America's false hope and ill intentions toward rebuilding Iraq. As someone "who came of age" during the run up to the Iraq invasion and subsequent years, this book took me back to 2003 and 2004 as the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) set out to remake Iraq in Bush's vision of America. This book delves deep into the CPA's Green Zone - and explores the horrible irony of setting up shop in Saddam's former palace grounds with all the trappings of ...more
Noel Burke
It's hard to know what biases the author had when writing or their political leanings. One thing is for sure. We made some poor choices when invading Iraq and trying to establish a new government before leaving. Whether we bit off more than we could chew, had the wrong people in charge, or we had a fatally flawed view of the middle east and how it worked, one thing was certain: we did not accomplish what we set out to do. It was interesting to hear about the "emerald city" and what it was like d ...more
Jan 31, 2015 Yas rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The books explains why post Saddam iraq was such a mess. You would expect a Superpower to administer better. but all the details uncovered in the book are scandals in the true meaning of the word.

Competition between different US administrations and close private companies like Defense, State department,Pentagon, Halliburton..private companies,CIA and ofcourse Bremer), gross incompetence by inexperienced officials, the exception mentioned nearly was the one responsible for the iraqi science cente
Michael Burnam-fink
Dec 17, 2014 Michael Burnam-fink rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: war, 2014, non-fiction
The enormity of the incompetence and insanity of the American occupation of Iraq is difficult to grasp, but Chandrasekaran gives us a pretty good picture of the 15 month misrule that was the Coalition Provisional Authority. The CPA started out small, without resources or personnel, and never improved, as short-timers selected primarily for their loyalty to the Bush Administration rather than any expertise in reconstruction or Iraq rotated through. There was just enough energy to implement yet an ...more
Steve M.
Mar 08, 2014 Steve M. rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
So I have avoided Iraq -- professionally, personally, etc -- forever. I thought going into Iraq was absurd from the get-go and have only had that initial opinion reinforced as all the Iraq shenanigans -- and not the fun kind -- dragged on for year after year. I think the war in Iraq was the biggest own goal in American history. That said, I became interested in reading more than NY TImes articles and so on about and figured this was a fine way to start. And it was. That said, with non-fiction bo ...more
Feb 01, 2016 Jacob rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I don't think I can read books like this very often. This is not to say it's not a good book, anything this revealing, by the power of its truth alone, must be worth reading, but what this book contains, the level of incompetent, political stupidity is infuriating. I grit my teeth while reading it.

The entire thing.

If the looming tower was the first chapter of the currently unfolding history of America, than the green zone is chapter 3 or 4. (when I find the chapter(s) before I will let you know
Sadaam is toppled. Iraq has fallen. The US rolls in on chariots of fire with trumpets blaring about how we are absolutely awesome and will rebuild everything to make it the model of democracy. Except, via a comedy of errors in so many ways, we fail. And why? Imperial Life in the Emerald City lays out a multitude of issues in post-war Iraq; terrible organizational structure, positions for US individuals in the rebuilding effort are granted via favors (and political leanings), money is haphazardly ...more
Banu Altunbas
Oct 18, 2015 Banu Altunbas rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Before writing this review, I just checked few of the previous ones. It is amazing to see a wide array of understanding of this book. When USA announced the war on Iraq in 2003 with the pretext that Iraq possessed WMDs, I was raged and jumping up and down in my living room with my uttering of 'no, no, no!!!!!' To myself. Even a person like me watching the events unfold in Iraq from a distant, I was not convinced by this rhetoric. Eventually when no WMDs were found in there (and frankly quite dis ...more
Mar 03, 2015 Jonathan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is not a detached academic study of, say, management styles and international relations.

This is just page after page of hair-pulling, rage-inducing acts of reckless negligence. An excerpt:

Jay, we need someone to run Iraq for us.

Gee, Don, I don't think I'd know where to begin. And the invasion is next month, isn't it? Do you have a plan I could look at?

See, that's the first thing. Your country needs you to write an occupation plan.

Write a plan? Me?
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Rajiv Chandrasekaran is an Indian-American journalist. He is currently assistant managing editor for continuous news at The Washington Post, where he has worked since 1994. Originally from the San Francisco Bay area, Chandrasekaran holds a degree in political science from Stanford University, where he was editor-in-chief of The Stanford Daily.

At The Post he has served as bureau chief in Baghdad, C
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“History will judge the war against Iraq not by the brilliance of its military execution, but by the effectiveness of the post-hostilities activities.” 3 likes
“Do not try to do too much with your own hands. Better the Arabs do it tolerably than that you do it perfectly. It is their war, and you are to help them, not to win it for them. Actually, also, under the very odd conditions of Arabia, your practical work will not be as good as, perhaps, you think it is.” 0 likes
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