Mar 30, Meg rated it it was ok Recommends it for: americans Shelves: non-fiction , politics , colonization-and-globalization The short take: bad organizational structure and writing that is really just mediocre journalistic prose. Although Chandrasekaran begins with a narrative "I," he never really identifies himself, and then launches into details about things like relationships between State department members and Pentagon members back in Washington, making one wonder where the information is coming from. The author hence fails to be convincing in his arguments for the exact reasons and mechanisms by which the U. Sadly, what appears to be his other goal - to provide an engaging story about the war in Iraq and paint a portrait of life inside the Green Zone - only half succeeds for some of the same reasons. There is no clear voice: sometimes you hear directly from the author, but this often slips into third-person narration, sometimes focused on a CPA employee, sometimes on the state of events in Iraq overall, but he never stays long on one given theme.
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Ali Allawi, an Iraqi minister from to , has made a high-profile appeal for a U-turn in US policy and the creation of an international body to supervise American withdrawal. Non-Americans get just an occasional mention, for example the Brits who are envied because they have Ikea furniture rather than plastic stuff from Halliburton. As a journalist with experience in Baghdad and Cairo, Chandrasekaran knows well that the Green Zone is a bubble. His quotation from TE Lawrence is apposite: "Do not try to do too much with your own hands It is their war, and you are to help them, not to 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. Chandrasekaran knows his stuff, but this is Iraq lite. Important insights such as the loyalty problem - the Americans misunderstood us; we will fight for Iraq; we will not fight for them - are used merely to introduce American stories, such as a thrilling tale about a patrol getting into a firefight.
Portraits of leading American players are full and mainly sympathetic. But he ruthlessly demolishes Americans - he names names and exposes corruption and fraud - whose only qualification was party loyalty. The wretched failure to plan for the after-war period is exposed. Comprehensive State Department plans were binned on instructions from Rumsfeld and Cheney no doubt any contribution from Whitehall went the same way.
There was a cult of ignorance. Being a Democrat in the Green Zone was like "being gay in a small town".
Allawi is an Iraqi Shia, closely related to two major players in the story: he is the cousin of interim PM Ayad Allawi and nephew of sometime Pengagon favourite Ahmad Chalabi.
For more than half his life he has been an exile. He arrived in Iraq six months after the invasion in , and takes the story almost to the end of Allawi blames the Wahhabis for inflaming relations between the two showing, perhaps, some rare personal bias.
Individuals such as Chalabi and institutions such as the Sciri political party are briefly but fairly introduced, and there are useful lists of the main players, with a glossary of Arabic terms. There is a fascinating analysis of the enigmatic Ayatollah Sistani, whose views were crudely transposed by the Americans into inappropriate language about "separation of mosque and state".
The Foreign Office saw through the rosy prognoses about Iraq after Saddam, but it was a long time before they felt able to challenge US thinking. A possible example, not previously claimed to my knowledge, is that Blair was urging Bush in early April to abort the offensive in Fallujah. I should declare my interest as one of the 52 retired ambassadors who wrote to Blair later that month pressing him to exert his influence in Washington as a loyal ally and not to support policies that were doomed to failure.
He did not reply to our letter. The narrative brings to life the dramatic events that followed the invasion. The brief period under Jay Garner is dismissed by the senior British official in Baghdad as "an unbelievable mess". He comments tartly that Bremer, not in the first division of American career diplomats, seems to have been chosen precisely because of his lack of prior involvement in Iraq.
Allawi has a gift for quotation. We are dealing with a country that can really finance its own reconstruction and relatively soon". The equipment the army got included year-old helicopters that would scarcely fly, bullet-proof vests that fell apart and toy-store-quality helmets.
The Occupation of Iraq is a personal testimony. His book is not without blemishes, but it should be read by everyone who wants to understand this sad affair.
By Michael Goldfarb Dec. This is true not just militarily and politically but also in the reporting about the two conflicts. For many journalists who covered Vietnam and subsequently wrote books about the war, the experience could be understood only as a hallucinogenic nightmare, and they described it in gonzo prose to match. The reality of Iraq is much more frightening than a bad acid trip, but the writing about this continuing fiasco has been cleareyed and sober, and all the more powerful for it.
Imperial Life in the Emerald City