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

4.04  ·  Rating details ·  6,049 ratings  ·  646 reviews
An unprecedented account of life in Baghdad’s Green Zone, a walled-off enclave of towering plants, posh villas, and sparkling swimming pools that was the headquarters for the American occupation of Iraq.

The Washington Post’s former Baghdad bureau chief Rajiv Chandrasekaran takes us with him into the Zone: into a bubble, cut off from wartime realities, where the task of rec
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published September 19th 2006 by Knopf (first published 2006)
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Will Byrnes
Rajiv Chanrdasekaran - Image from Citizen University

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 pl
Feb 02, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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
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
Jul 14, 2007 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
Jun 28, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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 14, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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.

Jun 14, 2014 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
Apr 14, 2008 rated it really liked it
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.
Jun 26, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Steven Peterson
Jan 22, 2010 rated it really liked it
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 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: middle-east, iraq
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
Rajiv Chandrasekaran is an American journalist. He is the National Editor of The Washington Post, where he has worked since 1994, according to his Wikipedia page.

Author Rajiv Chandrasekaran:

Imperial Life in the Emerald City opens with some interesting writing about life inside the Green Zone:
"...In the back garden of the Republican Palace, deep in the heart of the Green Zone, bronzed young men with rippling muscles and tattooed forearms plunged into a resort-size swimming pool. Ot
Mar 18, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: own, read-2021
Why, oh why, do I keep reading books on topics I find deeply infuriating? (Well, I'll tell you why: Ignorance may be bliss, but it leads to exactly the kind of morons this book contains entirely too many of.)
Chandrasekaran takes a long, hard look at the US occupation of Iraq. It's a tale of arrogance and arbitrariness, greed and hubris, idiocy and incompentence, ruined lives, squandered funds, and a whole lot of American idiots ultimately grinning and patting themselves on the back for a job wel
Jurij Fedorov
Jun 21, 2022 rated it it was amazing

1 Versailles on the Tigris

Fascinating look at the Green Zone in around 2003-2004 or so. The author explains how the Americans in the capital lived in their own zone and Iraqis working there earned 10 time as much. So the Iraqis working there may not have complained as much making the US administration for the country not get the issues in the country. The rest of Iraq was worse than under Saddam as much didn't work and places were looted by robbers during the war.
Stephanie Jane
Dec 30, 2015 rated it really liked it
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
May 09, 2017 rated it really liked it
Given the historical context of American intervention into foreign government, and their foreign policy achievements, the invasion of Iraq appeared very much to be the latest attempt by the U.S empire to extend itself and its considerable resources into a country that didn't need the clumsiness of Americans, but ought to have had the autonomy to rebuild itself. Chandrasekaran's writing is compelling and restrained, although with such a vast cast of characters, sometimes his ability to steam ahea ...more
May 04, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 08, 2007 rated it really liked it
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.

Jun 10, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Sep 25, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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.

Feb 04, 2021 rated it really liked it
This is a book on the chronicles of American imperialism in Iraq— which the author likens to the American-demarcated “emerald city” of air conditioning, dining halls serving disgusting American processed food, self-inflated pompous politicians in a country broken by invasion. Here you will discover the enormous waste of taxpayer money by outsourcing >1b dollars to Halliburton to transport fuel. The relentless optimism of Republicans that they paved the way for Iraq’s “democracy” in spite of fail ...more
Feb 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
We set out to build Iraq with minimal, if any, preparation. We contracted many people who had little to no experience in post-conflict rebuilding and some with no qualifications for the project they were hired to run. We largely ignored the Iraqi population. We didn't listen to contrary opinion. What could possibly go wrong?

The result is a Catch-22 like atmosphere without the laughs. It would be hilarious if it was a novel but unfortunately it's non-fiction. Some may read it as a political jab
Feb 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Imperial Life In The Emerald City (Inside Iraq’s Green Zone) by Rajiv Chandrasekaran is a fantastic look into the failures of nation building by bereaucrats and politicians who tried to bring only American ideas and policies to Iraq, without taking into account what the citizens of Iraq might want.
The book shows in clear detail what not to do, not to try, and not to enforce upon a people with their own culture and customs. However not everything done was a bad idea, some things were widely bene
Apr 28, 2019 rated it really liked it
Imperial life in the Emerald City is a journey into the world of post war Iraq reconstruction, written in 2006, depicting mostly the work of Coalition Provisional Authority.
And it is a wild ride. Corruption, incompetence, good intentions gone bad and some meagre achievements (like Bremer´s move to keep KRG as part of Iraq) are depicted in a journalistic, sometimes a bit emotional way. But the author is mostly fair in his judgements: and quite often you are going to be surprised by someone obvio
Jonathon McKenney
May 05, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2021-books
Well written, with vivid examples. I loved the structure of the Green Zone scenes interspaced with longer form chapters detailing the occupation. Very much enjoyed this book. I enjoyed the theme of Imperial decay, a Versailles style bubble in the desert. Could be a little heavy with detail and names.
Laura Robinson
Jan 02, 2021 rated it it was amazing
On the list of most essential books for American reading.
Jun 16, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Ellah Fornillos
Apr 26, 2022 rated it it was amazing
Everyone who's looking to read some easy and digestible books on the Iraq War (!!!) read this slayer. So so so interesting and amazing storytelling from the Americans in Baghdad during occupation. ...more
Dec 01, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It really is spectacular how bad we did in Iraq.
Jamie Bowman
Amazingly well-written and insightful.
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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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31 likes · 6 comments
“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
“About a month before the handover of sovereignty, Joshua Paul, a young CPA staffer, typed up a joke on his computer and sent it to a few friends in the palace. The recipients forwarded it to their friends, who did the same thing. In less than a week, almost everyone in the Green Zone had seen it. QUESTION: Why did the Iraqi chicken cross the road? CPA: The fact that the chicken crossed the road shows that decision-making authority has switched to the chicken in advance of the scheduled June 30th transition of power. From now on, the chicken is responsible for its own decisions. HALLIBURTON: We were asked to help the chicken cross the road. Given the inherent risk of road crossing and the rarity of chickens, this operation will only cost $326,004. SHIITE CLERIC MOQTADA AL-SADR: The chicken was a tool of the evil Coalition and will be killed. U.S. ARMY MILITARY POLICE: We were directed to prepare the chicken to cross the road. As part of these preparations, individual soldiers ran over the chicken repeatedly and then plucked the chicken. We deeply regret the occurrence of any chicken-rights violations. PESHMERGA: The chicken crossed the road, and will continue to cross the road, to show its independence and to transport the weapons it needs to defend itself. However, in the future, to avoid problems, the chicken will be called a duck, and will wear a plastic bill. AL-JAZEERA: The chicken was forced to cross the road multiple times at gunpoint by a large group of occupation soldiers, according to witnesses. The chicken was then fired upon intentionally, in yet another example of the abuse of innocent Iraqi chickens. CIA: We cannot confirm or deny any involvement in the chicken-road-crossing incident. TRANSLATORS: Chicken he cross street because bad she tangle regulation. Future chicken table against my request.” 1 likes
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