Books, Lit Fests, News, Movies, Art, Fashion and TV of course... "I must say that I find television very educational. The minute somebody turns it on, I go to the library and read a book." - GROUCHO MARX

My Photo

I'd write more, like you said I should. If only, there was more to me.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007


Today in Iraq:
- Four suicide truck bombings leave 175 dead, over 200 injured near Mosul
- A military helicopter crashes near Fallujah, killing 5 American soldiers
- Gunmen kidnap the deputy oil minister Abdel Jabar al-Wagaa along with 5 other people
- All these incidents come on day two of a new US operation targeting Shiite extremist networks and insurgents affiliated to Al-Qaeda
- Just hours before these attacks, the US Army's former commander in Iraq, General George Casey said the US troop surge in Iraq was having the "intended military effect"
- On the political front, steps to save Iraq's crumbling government continue as leaders of various factions hold a flurry of meetings ahead of crisis talks called by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki

Were things doomed from the start? Could it have been any different? Is it too late for a policy re-think? Or have you read so much of the continuing violence that it's become a statistic?

If you are looking for insights into these and a host of other unanswered questions, you could ask for no better starting point than Rajiv Chandrasekaran's Imperial Life in The Emerald City. A stunning book that takes you inside Baghdad's Green Zone.

Chandrasekaran's tryst with Iraq's destiny began with his first trip to the country in September 2002. Reporting for The Washington Post, he lived in Baghdad from November 2002 till the start of the American-led invasion in March 2003. He lived through all the important times. The invasion, April 10th, 2003, the day Saddam Hussein's statue fell in front of the Palestine Hotel, the arrival of the troops and saw hope turn into doom.

But this is not his story. He detaches the 'I' from the story, instead he interviews hundreds of people to bring you the real story of Iraq. A bitter tale of mismanagement that could possibly have been avoided. He doesn't sit in judgment, yet his spot on analysis provides answers to practically every lingering question on Iraq.

It could have been a bungling story of follies and tears, yet there is none of that. Armed with wit, passion, detail and a superb narration, he goes on to tell you stories like these:

The Green Zone also provided its own good time. The CPA had a "morale officer" who organized salsa dancing classes, yoga classes, and movie screenings in the palace theater. There was a gym with the same treadmills and exercise machines you'd find in any high-end health club in America.

What about the food? No problems on that front too:

When he needed to buy something, he went to the PX, the military-run convenience store next to the palace. There he could pick up Fritos, Cheetos, Dr Pepper, protein powder, Operation Iraqi Freedom T-shirts, and pop music discs.

Then there are is the heart-wrenching story of the Iraqi translator who puts his life on the line only to be treated like the insignificant outsider each time he enters what should have been his space. The ladies who are no longer beautiful, the minute they are out of Iraqi air space, the contractor who is paid millions of dollars to guard a closed airport when he has no prior experience, the number cruncher who prepares the fancy bar charts telling the story of Iraq without ever getting out to see what really happens.

And the story of why a television station never takes off. When requests are made for basics like camera batteries, a teleprompter arrives and its not even intended for the newscasters. It's for Paul Bremer to deliver his weekly address to the Iraqi people.

Some of the best answers to why it never worked are evident here:
Six months after the war, the State Department conducted a study of Iraqi television-viewing habits. Sixty-three percent of Iraqis with access to a satellite dish said they got their news from al-Jazeera and al-Arabiya. Twelve percent watched the Iraqi Media Network (IMN). The IMN, Don North (a veteran television producer who had taken on the task of setting it up) concluded by then, "had become an irrelevant mouthpiece for Coalition Provisional Authority propaganda, managed news and mediocre programs." In Washington, President Bush talked about "engaging in a battle of ideas in the Arab world." But in Baghdad, North said, "we have already lost the first round."

With that, you are left with no choice but to stay up all night wanting for this to be over. Chandrasekaran's brilliant book was out in March 2007, it has deservedly had its run of the awards. As he tells us, there's a lot left to be done. The news today is proof.

If there's only book on Iraq, you intend reading, let it be this one. If you have time for more, add on Lynn O'Donnell's High Tea in Mosul and Rageh Omaar's Revolution Day to your list - that's if mine works for you.

PS: He's given you The Bourne Ultimatum. Now, watch Paul Greengrass bring this book to life. Matt Damon is expected to star in it. Don't know about you, but I just can't wait to watch this one go from script to screen.

Labels: ,