Leew49's Reviews > Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone

Imperial Life in the Emerald City by Rajiv Chandrasekaran
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May 29, 12

bookshelves: history
Read from May 06 to 29, 2012

"Thank you, and God bless you, and enjoy your barbecue."
These were the farewell words of George W Bush to the members of the CPA (Coalition Provisional Authority, or sometimes referred to as Can't Provide Anything), the US organization charged with the administration of post-war Iraq. The author sees the CPA as largely ineffective, making matters worse than they needed to be, and pigheadedly blind to its own failures. In an early chapter we see them ensconced in the Green Zone, barricaded and insulated from the real Iraq, listening to American food, watching Fox News, sitting beside the swimming pool, or helping themselves to the all you can eat pork buffet attended by Muslim waiters.

Chandrasekaran argues that too often loyalty to the Republican party and to the Bush-Cheney vision for Iraq counted for more on a candidate's resume than real experience, resulting in appointees who had little experience, no knowledge of Iraqi traditions or politics or even the language, and a short-term commitment at most. Several CPA personnel are described as viewing Iraq as "an adventure." Many looked forward to working on the Bush-Cheney re-election team.

The postwar problems confronting Iraq were substantial. Long-standing financial penalties had already weakened the economy, leading to neglect of vital services and the country's infrastructure. Further damage came from Shock and Awe followed by postwar looting and vandalism by the Iraqis themselves. Ambitious politicians like Chalabi, religious leaders like al-Sistani and rabble rousers such as al Sadr all complicated the political picture. The decision to move from an economy that had been largely based on oil wealth and government subsidies toward a free market presented more problems than had originally been foreseen. And the belief on the part of many Iraqis that all they had to do was out-wait the American occupiers slowed down many projects and reforms that might otherwise have moved forward.

In the Green Zone the State Department was the least important organization, and its representatives sometimes had to wheel and deal to get the simplest things done. The neoconservatives and Halliburton had more to say about what was important on the US agenda. Outsourcing resulted in inflated profits for groups such as Custer Battle, which multiplied its "cost plus" reimbursement through the use of shell companies. There was lack of control over private security firms such as Blackwater and their personnel. Unrealistic timelines and the wrong priorities wasted time and money in the reconstruction of Iraq. Bremer and the CPA focused on minutiae when Iraqis lacked the basic essentials of every day life. The once respected hospital ay Yarmouk told the author, "We don't need a formulary; we need drugs." CPA personnel worked on a set of traffic laws when they should have been addressing terrorism.

Against this backdrop the attacks in Fallujah and Sadr City seem almost inevitable. The book closes with a reunion of CPA workers one year later in Washington. Interestingly they have decorated their reunion hall to look like the Green Zone and not Iraq, and they dismiss criticism of their role in Iraq as sheer negativity.
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