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Imperial Life in the Emerald City

Cover of Imperial Life in the Emerald City

Imperial Life in the Emerald City

Inside Iraq's Green Zone

A National Book Award Finalist and New York Times Bestseller
The Green Zone, Baghdad, Iraq, 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 that had little to do with the immediate needs of a postwar nation: flat taxes instead of electricity and deregulated health care instead of emergency medical supplies.

In this acclaimed firsthand account, the former Baghdad bureau chief of The Washington Post gives us an intimate portrait of life inside this Oz-like bubble, which continued unaffected by the growing mayhem outside. This is a quietly devastating tale of imperial folly, and the definitive history of those early days when things went irrevocably wrong in Iraq.

A National Book Award Finalist and New York Times Bestseller
The Green Zone, Baghdad, Iraq, 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 that had little to do with the immediate needs of a postwar nation: flat taxes instead of electricity and deregulated health care instead of emergency medical supplies.

In this acclaimed firsthand account, the former Baghdad bureau chief of The Washington Post gives us an intimate portrait of life inside this Oz-like bubble, which continued unaffected by the growing mayhem outside. This is a quietly devastating tale of imperial folly, and the definitive history of those early days when things went irrevocably wrong in Iraq.

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  • Chapter One 1

    Versailles on the Tigris



    UNLIKE ALMOST ANYWHERE else in Baghdad, you could dine at the cafeteria in the Republican Palace for six months and never eat hummus, flatbread, or a lamb kebab. The fare was always American, often with a Southern flavor. A buffet featured grits, cornbread, and a bottomless barrel of pork: sausage for breakfast, hot dogs for lunch, pork chops for dinner. There were bacon cheeseburgers, grilled- cheese-and-bacon sandwiches, and bacon omelets. Hundreds of Iraqi secretaries and translators who worked for the occupation authority had to eat in the dining hall. Most of them were Muslims, and many were offended by the presence of pork. But the American contractors running the kitchen kept serving it. The cafeteria was all about meeting American needs for high-calorie, high-fat comfort food.

    None of the succulent tomatoes or the crisp cucumbers grown in Iraq made it into the salad bar. U.S. government regulations dictated that everything, even the water in which hot dogs were boiled, be shipped in from approved suppliers in other nations. Milk and bread were trucked in from Kuwait, as were tinned peas and carrots. The breakfast cereal was flown in from the United States—made-in-the-USA Froot Loops and Frosted Flakes at the breakfast table helped boost morale.

    When the Americans had arrived, there was no cafeteria in the palace. Saddam Hussein had feasted in an ornate private dining room and his servants had eaten in small kitchenettes. The engineers assigned to transform the palace into the seat of the American occupation chose a marble-floored conference room the size of a gymnasium to serve as the mess hall. Halliburton, the defense contractor hired to run the palace, brought in dozens of tables, hundreds of stacking chairs, and a score of glass-covered buffets. Seven days a week, the Americans ate under Saddam's crystal chandeliers.

    Red and white linens covered the tables. Diners sat on chairs with maroon cushions. A pleated skirt decorated the salad bar and the dessert table, which was piled high with cakes and cookies. The floor was polished after every meal.

    A mural of the World Trade Center adorned one of the entrances. The Twin Towers were framed within the outstretched wings of a bald eagle. Each branch of the U.S. military—the army, air force, marines, and navy—had its seal on a different corner of the mural. In the middle were the logos of the New York City Police and Fire departments, and atop the towers were the words thank god for the coalition forces & freedom fighters at home and abroad.

    At another of the three entrances was a bulletin board with posted notices, including

    those that read, bible study—wednesdays at 7 p.m.

    go running with the hash house harriers!

    feeling stressed? come visit us at the combat stress clinic.

    for sale: like-new hunting knife.

    lost camera. reward offered.

    The kitchen, which had once prepared gourmet meals for Saddam, had been converted into an institutional food processing center, with a giant deep fryer and bathtub-size mixing bowls. Halliburton had hired dozens of Pakistanis and Indians to cook and serve and clean, but no Iraqis. Nobody ever explained why, but everyone knew. They could poison the food.

    The Pakistanis and the Indians wore white button-down shirts with black vests, black bow ties, and white paper hats. The Kuwaiti subcontractor who kept their passports and exacted a meaty profit margin off each worker also dinned into them American lingo. When I asked one of the Indians for French fries, he snapped: "We have no French fries here, sir. Only freedom...
About the Author-
  • Rajiv Chandrasekaran is an assistant managing editor of The Washington Post and currently heads the Post's continuous news department, which provides breaking news stories to the paper's Web site, washingtonpost.com. Prior to that he was bureau chief in Baghdad, before, during, and after the war. Previously he served as Cairo bureau chief and Southeast Asia correspondent, and covered the war in Afghanistan. He joined the Post in 1994. He has served as the journalist in residence at the International Reporting Project at the Johns Hopkins School for Advanced International Studies in Washington, and as a public policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center, also in Washington.

Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    August 7, 2006
    As the Baghdad bureau chief for the Washington Post
    , Chandrasekaran has probably spent more time in U.S.-occupied Iraq than any other American journalist, and his intimate perspective permeates this history of the Coalition Provisional Authority headquartered in the Green Zone around Saddam Hussein's former palace. He presents the tenure of presidential viceroy L. Paul Bremer between May 2003 and June 2004 as an all-too-avoidable disaster, in which an occupational administration selected primarily for its loyalty to the Bush administration routinely ignored the reality of local conditions until, as one ex-staffer puts it, "everything blew up in our faces." Chandrasekaran unstintingly depicts the stubborn cluelessness of many Americans in the Green Zone—like the army general who says children terrified by nighttime helicopters should appreciate "the sound of freedom." But he sympathetically portrays others trying their best to cut through the red tape and institute genuine reforms. He also has a sharp eye for details, from casual sex in abandoned offices to stray cats adopted by staffers, which enable both advocates and critics of the occupation to understand the emotional toll of its circuslike atmosphere. Thanks to these personal touches, the account of the CPA's failures never feels heavy-handed.

  • John le Carré

    "Absolutely brilliant. It is eyewitness history of the first order. . . . It should be read by anyone who wants to understand how things went so badly wrong in Iraq."--The New York Times Book Review "A visceral -- sometimes sickening -- picture of how the administration and its handpicked crew bungled the first year in postwar Iraq. . . . Often reads like something out of Catch-22 or from M

  • A
  • S
  • H."--The New York Times"Revealing. . . . Chandrasekaran's portrait of blinkered idealism is evenhanded, chronicling the disillusionment of conservatives who were sent to a war zone without the resources to achieve lasting change."--The New Yorker"Incredible . . . fantastically written. . . . Chandrasekaran's sharp-eyed account of life inside Baghdad's Green Zone offers some of the blackest comedy at the bookstore."--Entertainment Weekly"Black comedy, set in the graveyard of the neo-conservative dream. Superb."
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Imperial Life in the Emerald City
Imperial Life in the Emerald City
Inside Iraq's Green Zone
Rajiv Chandrasekaran
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