Monday, 26 May 2014
Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone - Rajiv Chandrasekararan
Title: Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone
Author: Rajiv Chandrasekararan
Publisher: Vintage Publishing
Hubris and naivety, two words that best describe the feeling that one is left with after reading Mr Chandrasekaran' s book. The US invasion of Iraq and the subsequent overthrow of Saddam Hussein were seen by many Americans as the finishing of a job stated in 1990. Flush with a relatively painless victory, the Government of President Bush was ready to welcome the Iraqi people into the 'democratic' club (as perceived by the the leadership of the United States). The author's book relates his experiences and views as he watched the unfolding of this effort to build a new, democratic Iraq from the ashes of the old over a period of one year from 2003 to 2004.
The author approaches his subject as a reporter would, relating his narrative through discussions with a variety of individuals (both Iraqi and American) charged with developing or affected by the decisions and policies of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) led by the controversial Paul Bremer. He is not interested in passing judgement on the success or failure of the CPA, more to the point he wishes to convey a sense of the environment within which the organization functioned, the challenges it encountered, what it aspired to attain and what it actually achieved culminating in the overall impact that this had on the individuals involved.
As I progressed through the book, I was struck by the sense of initial optimism brought about by a fundamental lack of understanding and appreciation of the nature of environment or the task at hand by the very people charged with transitioning Iraq. The inappropriate criteria used to select individuals and the paternalistic approach to the Iraqis that typified many of the American's attitude towards rebuilding. Compounding this was the seemingly misplaced criteria of political expediency versus acknowledged requirements as the driving force behind the decision making process within the CPA. It is evident from the author's notes that there were those that attempted to fulfil their mandates to the best of their abilities; however, it did not take long for initial idealism and dedication to be suffocated by intransigence, self interest and incompetence.
As a former Baghdad bureau chief for the Washington Post, the author is uniquely qualified to shed light on the World of Oz that was the US Green Zone in 2003/04. HIs regional knowledge and ability to travel outside the walls of the Zone; thereby being able to ascertain an impression of the impact of the CPA's efforts 'beyond the powerpoint' (which typified their methods of presenting successful statistics), add a level of credibility to his work. He avoids cynicism and sarcasm in his writing although, it is suggested through ironic narrative.
This book is a fast, easy read but also extremely eye-opening and educational. The author has done a commendable job in conveying the atmosphere and attitude of the Green Zone and I recommend this book. The experience of the CPA during their first years in Iraq is not a story of success, rather one of good intentions matched neither by capability, understanding nor effective planning. I was reminded of the commercial where a patient is in cardiac arrest and the medical staff are struggling to save him, when a complete stranger rushes into the room and saves the day. When the staff, in obvious relief ask him if he is a doctor he replies "No, but I stayed at a Holiday Inn Express last night". Unfortunately, in the case of the CPA and Iraq, the patient died.