March 25, 2007

emaraldcity.jpg Imperial Life In The Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone

By Rajiv Chandrasekaran

Do not try to do too much with your own hands. Better the Arabs do it tolerably than that you do it perfectly. It is their war, and you are to help them, not win it for them. Actually, also, under the very odd conditions of Arabia, your practical work will not be as good as, perhaps, you think it is."

T.E. Lawrence, August 20, 1917

This week marks the four-year anniversary of the start of the war in Iraq. Here's what we're celebrating: Four years of bloody occupation. Four years of military incompetence. Four years of barbaric savagery. Four years of torture. Four years of U.S. crimes against humanity. Four years of Orwellian insanity.

Twenty years after the end of the Vietnam War (which the Vietnamese call the American War) Vietnamese officials informed former Defense Secretary Robert MacNamara that they would have fought us until the end of time if necessary, as we were invaders to their beloved homeland.
Ask yourself this:
If you were a young patriotic Iraqi, wouldn't you be part of the so-called insurgency? Wouldn't you fight an occupying army in your own country? If so, for how long? Until you saw the light at the end of the tunnel, perhaps?

Today there is very little light at the end of the Iraq tunnel. Maybe that limited light should be used to read this riveting work of non-fiction.

Imperial Life in the Emerald City is a no holds barred telling of day-to-day life in Baghdad's Green Zone, the Fortress of Solitude decorated with landscaped shrubbery, private villas and bright blue swimming pools that serves as the command HQ for the brutal American occupation of Iraq.

The book paints a repulsive, yet darkly comical portrait of a fantasy world where the daily revisions on the war in Iraq are put into production by Republican true believers, right wing lackeys, corrupt cronies and self-serving opportunists.

Filled with a half dozen bars, a disco, a movie theatre, a shopping mall (where porno flicks sell like, well, like porno flicks), shiny SUVs, and a dry-cleaner, the Green Zone - a small slice of Halliburton heaven - serves as the back drop for the shenanigans of such characters as defamed NYC Police Chief Bernard Kerik. We follow his brief ludicrous attempt to train the Iraqi police until he himself loses interest and simply heads back to the Big Apple. The first of this cut and run crowd.

Imperial viceroy Paul Bremer (any relation to Arthur Bremer, the man who shot Alabama Governor George Wallace?) fidgets while Baghdad burns and ignores everything the Iraqis tell him in order to pursue meaningless and inane neocon policies.

Strap yourself in. We're taken on a wild hallucinatory ride through the looking glass and into a world where Bremer's eager underlings feverishly draw up laws protecting microchip design while working day and night to write new traffic codes for the gridlocked nation. We enter a world where Americans, willing to help in Iraq's rebuilding, are screened by White House officials for their views on abortion and who they voted for in the Presidential election.

We encounter a gaggle of young Republicans, who, instead of restoring needed electricity and rebuilding gutted schools, concern themselves with instituting an Iraqi flat tax, selling off local government assets and ending food rationing for hungry Iraqi citizens whose lives have been shattered by war.

There is the eager 24 year old with no finance experience who is put in charge of restoring and modernizing Iraq's aged but functional stock market.

We meet John Agresto, a 58 year old pipe-smoking bureaucrat who takes on the daunting task of restoring the higher education system of Iraq which encompassed 22 campuses and nearly a half million students.

Agresto has no background in post-conflict resolution and no experience in the Middle East. The school he ran, St John's College in Santa Fe, New Mexico had fewer than 500 students.

How could he be so qualified for such a daunting task? Surely there are others.

Ah, it seems a certain wife of Donald Rumsfeld was on that school board and a Mrs. Dick Cheney had worked with him at NEH.

So he came socially pre-vetted.

Agresto runs into blockade after blockade. Losing complete faith in the White House he decides to head for home. "I'm a neoconservative who's been mugged by reality," he mumbles as he cuts and runs.

The Washington Post's former Baghdad bureau chief Rajiv Chandrasekaran, drawing on hundreds of interviews and internal documents plus his own observations on the ground in Iraq, paints a picture of pathetic, comical lunacy from April 2003, the first days of the occupation until the ignominious secret departure of Bremer in July 2004. (Another cut and runner).

Chandrasekaran spent 18 months as the Post's Baghdad bureau chief garnering 138 front-page bylines in 2003 alone.

Upon reflection on his time in Iraq, Chandrasekaran says he felt fortunate "to see the arc of the occupation, to experience it, to live it."

Raised in Palo Alto, California by immigrant Indian parents with advanced science degrees, Chandrasekaran fell in love with the show Lou Grant starring Ed Asner as the city editor of the Los Angeles Tribune. This lead to Chandrasekaran's early fascination with newspapers and later, to the launching of his own ink-stained career. Hey, who says television isn't a positive motivator for kids?

Released in late 2006, Imperial Life in the Emerald City, became a National Book Award finalist. It is a must read for fans who want to know the exact who, what, where, when and whys that led to Iraq physically disintegrating into madness.

This amazing work reminds one of a modern day version of M*A*S*H, the 1970 Robert Altman film. Based on the Richard Hooker novel and the screenplay by Ring Lardner, Jr. it detailed, in cynical comedic terms, what the Korean War had become to a group of veteran army medics.

It is not surprising then that Hollywood has again taken an interest. Fresh off his critical success with United 93, writer-director Paul Greengrass has signed on to write and direct the movie version of Imperial Life in the Emerald City with Universal Pictures distributing.

A fierce anti-war critic, Greengrass will start work on the project after he finishes The Bourne Ultimatum, currently in post-production.

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