He produced the book in September with a focus on three key elements: the people,the place and the policy. The book recounts what happened during the first 15 post-Saddam months inside the Green Zone.
What he calls the Emerald City is a four-mile long strip in Baghdad surrounded by cement walls containing Saddam's former palaces. It is also known as the “International Zone,” the home to the U.S. command in Iraq.
“I thought we could pull it off in Iraq,” said Chandrasekaran,the author of “Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone” and the assistant managing editor of The Washington Post's continuous news department.
That sentiment means he wants to see a self-governing Iraq that has capitalism and is fully reconstructed,he said.
Chandrasekaran wrote the book after he had written a 10,000 word,three-part series in the Post after the handover of sovereignty in 2004.
When he realized the series only scratched the surface,he said he knew it was time to write a book.
Chandrasekaran was the Post's Baghdad bureau chief from April 2003 to October 2004,and had covered the country earlier. He covered the U.S. Coalition Provisional Authority's occupation.
In the book,Chandrasekaran said one of the reasons the coalition had a hard time with the occupation was because its people feared connecting with Iraqis outside the Green Zone.
Coralie Farlee,a Washington social policy researcher who attended Chandrasekaran'srecent talk at the Middle East Institute,said his research about people involved in the U.S. occupation compelled her to read the book.
“What the administration needed was an understanding of culture,” Farlee said. “I think they didn't expect to be there.”
Without knowing where troops were going to end up,and with the constant demands for troop withdrawal,people felt there was no need to learn about the Iraqi people,she said.
Chandrasekaran said Americans could have done better if they had gotten out of the Green Zone and interacted with more Iraqis in the early stages after the liberation.
One of the key people inside the Emerald City was Lewis Paul Bremer III,U.S. director of reconstruction and humanitarian assistance in Iraq,the civilian head of the occupation.
In his book,Chandrasekaran said Bremer was partly responsible for the hiring of large numbers of men and women in their mid-20s to help restore Iraq. He said the Pentagon's major concern about hiring people was their political stance.
Qualified liberals need not apply,he added.
But with all those conservatives,Chandrasekaran said there were humorous aspects to living in the Green Zone.
One story that didn't make the book involved a grudge many coalition workers held about a mandate that cars be washed every two weeks.
He said workers felt the mandate was akin to writing “please shoot me” on the sides of the government-issued Suburbans.
The Green Zone was like a fish-bowl for the coalition,Chandrasekaran said,and residents were cut off from the outside world because of safety concerns.
In his book he describes the compound as being a mini-America with imported beer,dry cleaning services and pornographic movies for sale – all surrounded by cement walls.
Inside the Green Zone's palaces,the defense contract company Halliburton fed coalition workers “freedom fries” and pork products in rooms lit by crystal chandeliers.
Parts of his book also describe what life was like outside the Green Zone,but Chandrasekaran said that they do not predict Iraq's future.
“Body counts tell you what is happening here and now,” he said,adding the coalition's policies were supposed to foretell tomorrow.
Bremer's main policy document was only 28 pages long.
Page 1 said the coalition was supposed to come up with a game plan to defeat the insurgency,Chandrasekaran said.
The document included agendas for restoring electrical power,fuel policy,traffic codes and privatization of state business.
“Privatization really does need to happen,” he said,because state- or government-run businesses don't last. He compared the future of Iraq's business privatization to similar reforms after the Soviet Union broke up.
Chandrasekaran said he hopes his book will create a more accurate picture of Iraq – saving it from a failed coalition run by people with little experience and without the ability to talk to the country it's reconstructing from a 28-page reform policy.
Chandrasekaran will be speaking about the book through early November: Oct. 14 in Washington,Oct. 16 in Cambridge,Mass.; Oct. 18 in Palo Alto and Mountain View,Calif.; Oct. 19 in Berkeley,Calif.; Oct. 23 in San Francisco; Nov. 8 in Los Angeles; and Nov. 9 in San Francisco.