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Book Launch -- "Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone"

Date & Time

Sep. 19, 2006
12:00pm – 1:30pm ET


Co-sponsored by the Woodrow Wilson Center's West European Studies Program and Middle East Program

Rajiv Chandrasekaran, Assistant Managing Editor and former Baghdad Bureau Chief of The Washington Post, and former Woodrow Wilson Center Public Policy Scholar, discussed his extensive experience living and working in Baghdad in his newly published book, Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone. The author was initially optimistic about the chances for success of the regime change in Iraq as well as Ambassador Bremer's policies for rebuilding the country, but as time passed he identified three major areas which led to the failure of the CPA to implement these plans. First, the people selected to undertake the rebuilding of Iraq where not "the best and the brightest" that the United States had to offer, but rather those who had the "right political credentials." The author documented numerous incidents in which officials with experience working in the Middle East or in reconstruction situations were passed over or removed to make way for ideologues loyal to the Bush administration who, while eager to serve both the people of Iraq and the United States government, did not have the knowledge or experience to implement Bremer's policies.

Second, the Green Zone itself was a bubble within the city of Baghdad, completely cut off from the reality of the situation on the ground. Over 50% of the officials and employees sent to Iraq had never traveled outside of the United States before, and lacked the experience necessary to operate in a foreign country, much less one recovering from regime change. The Green Zone resembled an American suburb into which few Iraqi citizens were allowed, and in which a "little America" was created. Due to this, it was almost impossible for officials living inside the Green Zone to understand the actual situation in Baghdad, much less the direction that Iraqi citizens wanted their country to take. Finally, achievement of the policies of the CPA proved impossible. The 28 page timeline for withdrawal constituted a complete reworking of the country as a prerequisite to a handover of the government to Iraqi forces. These policies, while well intentioned and logical on paper, were not able to be implemented in Iraq due to the lack of understanding on the part of policy makers of Iraqi desires for the future of their country.

Chandrasekaran saw "the occupation itself" as a big mistake made by the United States. CPA officials viewed the local population as a vanquished people to be dictated to, not a liberated population who desired input into the rebuilding of their country. If the Iraqi people had been given positions as advisors and involved in the creation of a constitution from the start, the author believes that the insurgency in Iraq would be less intense today, and the country would be further along the path towards becoming a stable nation.

Amb. Robin Raphel, former member of the Iraq Reconstruction Team, and former Vice President of the National Defense University, discussed her experiences as a member of the CPA, stating that it was staffed by determined, sincere well-meaning and patriotic personnel who desired to serve the Iraqi people as well as the U.S. Government, but who lacked the experience and the freedom from Washington to do so. She stated that the colonial premises of the CPA were false, not the intentions of its staff members. The necessary resources and personnel were never available to do a thorough job of reconstruction. She agreed with Chandrasekaran that the "critical mass of Iraqi sentiment" was not recognized, and should have been used as a basis for policy making. Many early decisions, such as the political division of the population along sectarian lines and the imposition of an American drafted constitution and government where not acceptable to Iraqi citizens, a fact which was not known to officials at the time due to their lack of communication and interaction with the Iraqi public. The reconstruction focused too early on long-term projects and did not immediately address the basic needs of Iraqi citizens for food, electricity and security, and caused the CPA to be seen as ineffectual.

Amb. Barbara Bodine, former coordinator for postconflict reconstruction for Baghdad and the central governates of Iraq; and a visiting scholar at the MIT Center for International Studies, addressed the difficulties placed on the early staff members in Iraq due to the need to micromanagement of the reconstruction project by Washington. She described the "10,000 mile screwdriver" which prevented officials on all levels from making any decisions without the consent of the DOD, in which case decision making become unilateral. Challenges to the operation and questions regarding its implementation where not just ignored, they were not allowed to be asked. The decision not to plan for phase four reconstruction was decreed, it was not a mistake made by policy officials. Many lessons must be learned from the experience in Iraq to help avoid similar situations in post-conflict reconstruction projects the U.S. will become involved with. In this case, the planning, experts, respect for local authority and chains of command and lack of resources all contributed to the failure of the CPA to rebuild Iraq effectively.

Middle East Program
Drafted by Carmen Rukiya Leon


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Middle East Program

The Wilson Center’s Middle East Program serves as a crucial resource for the policymaking community and beyond, providing analyses and research that helps inform US foreign policymaking, stimulates public debate, and expands knowledge about issues in the wider Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.  Read more

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