Saturday, September 22, 2007

Imperial Life in the Emerald City

Imperial Life in the Emerald City, by Rajiv Chandrasekaran
$10.35 at
ISBN: 0307278832
A shocking work of investigative journalism, and finalist for the prestigious National Book Award, this book takes us inside the city of Baghdad after the US invasion.
It's been over four years since President George W. Bush led the invasion of Iraq, ending the regime of Saddam Hussein. Ostensibly this was done for two reasons: 1. To stop Hussein from using Weapons of Mass Destruction (he never had any), and 2. To "liberate" the Iraqis from tyranny and oppression.
Apparently, during that time, electricity, heat, and water have not been restored to the people of Baghdad after the public utilities were destroyed during the US bombing. The new US-sanctioned government also had most of its defense fund stolen, and its officials have to meet in crumbled ruins. Some liberation.
US military power in the city is consolidated in an area called "The Green Zone", which is the focus of Chandrasekaran' story. It's surrounded on all sides by guards: no Iraqis are allowed in. It has electric power from an independent generator, a fleet of SUVs, and several all-you-can-eat buffets. Here the decisions about the future of Iraq are made, and you won't believe how or by whom.
Believe it or not, this book is without political bias: he just describes the conditions in Iraq, along with conversations he had with high-ranking US officials and military personnel.
He was obviously tireless in his research, but also has a talent for writing it as a very personal story. There's a touching scene where a Baghdad merchant tries selling pizza to American soldiers. The business is a flop: the guys in the barracks aren't allowed off the base, even to get pizza.
Imperial Life painted a picture of the situation in Baghdad I'd never imagined. It takes us into the hospitals, the public schools, the stock exchange, and finally deep into the heart of the militarized Green Zone.
The American invasion of Iraq deserves more attention than a three-minute TV clip. Check this book out and learn a little about a very timely topic.

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