From a walled-off enclave of towering plants, smart villas and sparkling swimming pools - a surreal bubble of pure Americana known as the Green Zone - the US-led Coalition Provisional Authority, under imperial viceroy L. Paul Bremer III, attempted to rule Iraq in the first twelve months after the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime.
Drawing on hundreds of interviews and internal documents, Rajiv Chandrasekaran tells the memorable story of this ill-prepared attempt to build American democracy in a war-torn Middle Eastern country, detailing not only the risky disbanding of the Iraqi army and the ludicrous attempt to train the new police force, but also bringing to light a host of lesser-known yet typical travesties, among them: the aide who based Baghdad's new traffic laws on those of the state of Maryland, downloaded; the contractor with no previous experience paid millions to guard a closed airport; the people with prior experience in the Middle East who were excluded in favour of lesser-qualified Republican Party loyalists; the case of the 24-year-old who had never worked in finance put in charge of revitalising Baghdad's stock exchange.
Written with wit and urgency by a sharp-eyed observer, "Imperial Life in the Emerald City" provides a hair-raising portrait of the gap between the Oz-like Green Zone and the brutal reality of post-war Iraq. It is American reportage at its best.
Winner of BBC Four Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-fiction 2007.
Shortlisted for Guardian First Book Award 2007.
Shortlisted for British Book Awards: Waterstones Newcomer of the Year Award 2008.
Rajiv Chandrasekaran is an assisting managing editor of the Washington Post, where he has worked since 1994. He previously served the Post as a bureau chief in Baghdad, Cairo and Southeast Asia, and as a correspondent covering the war in Afghanistan. He recently completed a term as journalist-in-residence at the International Reporting Project at the Johns Hopkins School for Advanced International Studies, and was a public policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center. He lives in Washington, D.C.