Since I lived for a year in Baghdad’s Green Zone, I felt it was necessary for me to read what happened before I got there, under L. Paul Bremer, bureaucrat extraordinaire. That is why I recently found myself reading Imperial Life in the Emerald City, by Rajiv Chandrasekaran.
To say that the Bush Administration and its chosen Iraq occupation overlords made poor choices during and immediately after the invasion of that country would be an understatement so vast that I have no words to describe how big an understatement I would be making. Reading Imperial Life in the Emerald City reinforced for me many of the reasons why I heard the impact of so many mortars during my 2005-2006 sojourn to Iraq’s largest city and at the time one of the most violent if not the most violent city in the world.
I met Rajiv Chandrasekaran in Baghdad in 2006, when I credentialed him for access to military bases. The man was humble, unassuming and patient with the bureaucratic process he endured, which is much more than I can say for Geraldo Rivera, who had sycophants hanging all over him and required that we open for a special session to credential him. In any case, the book itself is superly written in a professional tone.
The damning indictments of cronyism and poor decision making due to a complete lack of understanding of the culture and history of Iraq are presented artfully, without the forced overtones of sarcasm that would have appeared had I written Imperial Life in the Emerald City.
From the story of the Iraqi expatriatate who returns post invasion to open a five-star pizza shop only to find his American customers cannot leave their fortified enclave to the tale of the minor minister who is assasinated for trying to help his country without being politically involved, to the detailed descriptions of the “little America” inside a several square mile compound in downtown Baghdad, this book is well worth reading.
I do not know if L. Paul Bremer has yet publicly admitted how arrogant and stupid many of the decisions made in that first year of occupation were, but he knows it in his heart. If he doesn’t that would mean the man has no heart.
Having served in Iraq, and having been to a few locales outside the “Emerald Palace” I called the Green Zone, I still hold pain in my heart for the people I met and for their suffering. Things may be turning around now in that country. But in reading Imperial Life in the Emerald City, it becomes clear that much of the violence that wracked the country and the city of Baghdad could have been avoided if things had been done differently in the beginning. We’ll never know how many died because of bad decision making, but it is clear that the numbers are in the tens of thousands and possibly much higher.
If you’ve ever wondered what was really going on in those first days of the occupation, you owe it to yourself to read this book. Highly recommended.