THE BOOK BEHIND THE MOVIE “GREEN ZONE” : IMPERIAL LIFE IN THE EMERALD CITY


green-zone

The Book Imperial Life in the Emerald City is an unprecedented account of life in Baghdad’s Green Zone, a walled-off enclave of towering plants, posh villas, and sparkling swimming pools that was the headquarters for the American occupation of Iraq.

 

The Washington Post’s former Baghdad bureau chief Rajiv Chandrasekaran takes us with him into the Zone: into a bubble, cut off from wartime realities, where the task of reconstructing a devastated nation competed with the distractions of a Little America-a half-dozen bars stocked with cold beer, a disco where women showed up in hot pants, a movie theater that screened shoot-’em-up films, an all-you-could-eat buffet piled high with pork, a shopping mall that sold pornographic movies, a parking lot filled with shiny new SUVs, and a snappy dry-cleaning service-much of it run by Halliburton. Most Iraqis were barred from entering the Emerald City for fear they would blow it up.

 

Drawing on hundreds of interviews and internal documents, Chandrasekaran tells the story of the people and ideas that inhabited the Green Zone during the occupation, from the imperial viceroy L. Paul Bremer III to the fleet of twentysomethings hired to implement the idea that Americans could build a Jeffersonian democracy in an embattled Middle Eastern country.

 

In the vacuum of postwar planning, Bremer ignores what Iraqis tell him they want or need and instead pursues irrelevant neoconservative solutions-a flat tax, a sell-off of Iraqi government assets, and an end to food rationing. His underlings spend their days drawing up pie-in-the-sky policies, among them a new traffic code and a law protecting microchip designs, instead of rebuilding looted buildings and restoring electricity production. His almost comic initiatives anger the locals and help fuel the insurgency.

 

Chandrasekaran details Bernard Kerik’s ludicrous attempt to train the Iraqi police and brings to light lesser known but typical travesties: the case of the twenty-four-year-old who had never worked in finance put in charge of reestablishing Baghdad’s stock exchange; a contractor with no previous experience paid millions to guard a closed airport; a State Department employee forced to bribe Americans to enlist their help in preventing Iraqi weapons scientists from defecting to Iran; Americans willing to serve in Iraq screened by White House officials for their views on Roe v. Wade; peoplewith prior expertise in the Middle East excluded in favor of lesser-qualified Republican Party loyalists. Finally, he describes Bremer’s ignominious departure in 2004, fleeing secretly in a helicopter two days ahead of schedule.

 

This is a startling portrait of an Oz-like place where a vital aspect of our government’s folly in Iraq played out. It is a book certain to be talked about for years to come.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR :

 

Rajiv Chandrasekaran is the National Editor of The Washington Post and the author of Imperial Life in the Emerald City, a best-selling account of the bungled American effort to reconstruct Iraq. The book, which provides a firsthand view of life inside Baghdad’s Green Zone, won the Overseas Press Club book award, the Ron Ridenhour Prize and Britain’s Samuel Johnson Prize. It also was a finalist for the National Book Award.

 

As National Editor, he oversees the newspaper’s national news content, including coverage of the federal government and domestic politics, foreign policy, national security, social issues, science and medicine.

 

Prior to his appointment as National Editor, Chandrasekaran headed The Post’s Continuous News department, which reports and edits breaking news stories for washingtonpost.com. From April 2003 to October 2004, he was The Post’s bureau chief in Baghdad, where he was responsible for covering the American occupation of Iraq and supervising a team of Post correspondents. He lived in Baghdad for much of the six months before the war, reporting on the United Nations weapons-inspections process and the build-up to the conflict.

 

He took a sabbatical from The Post in 2005 to serve as the journalist in residence at the International Reporting Project at the Johns Hopkins School for Advanced International Studies in Washington and as a public policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center in Washington.

 

Chandrasekaran appears regularly on CNN, MSNBC and National Public Radio.

 

Before the U.S.-led war in Iraq, he was The Post’s bureau chief in Cairo. Prior to that assignment, he was The Post’s Southeast Asia correspondent, based in Jakarta, Indonesia. In the months following September 11, 2001, he was part of a team of Post reporters who covered the war in Afghanistan.

 

He joined The Post in 1994 as a reporter on the Metropolitan staff. He subsequently served as the paper’s Washington-based national technology correspondent. A native of the San Francisco Bay Area, he holds a degree in political science from Stanford University, where he was editor in chief of The Stanford Daily. He lives with his wife in Washington, D.C.

 

 

PRESS REVIEW :

Arizona Daily Wildcat > WildLife

Book chronicles US’s first year in Iraq, By Marisa D. Fisher

April 2, 2010

 

“In the spring of 2003, I was a freshman in high school. Old Xbox buddies of mine had joined the army to go shoot non-virtual bad guys, but I was completely unconcerned with the fact that Saddam Hussein’s reign in Iraq had collapsed. The whole idea was so foreign and surreal to me that I didn’t give it a second thought. It wasn’t until college that I realized I had absolutely no idea what role the U.S. had really played in Iraq.

 

“Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq’s Green Zone” by Rajiv Chandrasekaran provides startling insight into that world. Chandrasekaran was formerly the Washington Post Baghdad bureau chief. His novel chronicles the U.S.’s first year in Iraq, beginning just after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. The U.S. was newly in charge of Iraq’s administration and the country’s legal power.

 

The author recounts firsthand the events that took place within the Green Zone, where soldiers and officials were untouched by the unrest and the poverty that ruled the everyday life of the average Iraqi citizen. Chandrasekaran describes a world very much marked by pre- and post- Green Zone divisions. He details the actions of the Coalition Provisional Authority which held its headquarters in the reassigned Baghdad palace formerly occupied by Hussein.

 

While the conditions in Iraq were not rapidly improving for the general public, the Green Zone that Chandrasekaran describes functioned like a college campus. Ballrooms-turned-dining-halls, the PX for shopping and American-run bars created an oasis on the west bank of the Tigris. It was an island.

 

Chandrasekaran’s restraint in editorializing is laudable considering the controversial subject matter. He writes like any conscientious journalist would, attempting neutrality and leaving his own opinions out of nearly the entire book. Only toward the closing pages does the reader get any sense of his personal perspective on the United States’ involvement in Iraq, or on the Green Zone. Even then, he remains professional and less judgmental than most would muster. This leaves the reader to their own interpretation of his account.

 

The description is vivid and the intricacies of bureaucratic blundering in Iraq are laid open in this novel. The Green Zone compound walls are lifted for the average reader. It’s no surprise that director Paul Greengrass credits this novel as the final inspiration for his recent film “Green Zone.”

 

While a more personal report might have been more sensational, the time period relayed in this work of nonfiction holds enough shock value to keep even the most drama-addicted audience enthralled.

 

That said, “Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq’s Green Zone” also provides an incredible resource for those of us who weren’t inside the walls when it all went wrong in Iraq, without the distraction of Hollywood flair or virtual bad guys.

 

 

MORE ABOUT THE AUTHOR :

 

Back from the Rajiv Palace

The Washington Post’s former Baghdad bureau chief reflects on an action-packed

18 months in Iraq

http://www.ajr.org/article_printable.asp?id=3785

 

Also by the Author

Mistakes Loom Large as Handover Nears

Missed Opportunities Turned High Ideals to Harsh Realities

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A54294-2004Jun19.html

 

An Educator Learns the Hard Way

Task of Rebuilding Universities Brings Frustration, Doubts and Danger

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A56414-2004Jun20.html

 

Death Stalks An Experiment In Democracy

Fearful Baghdad Council Keeps Public Locked Out

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A58888-2004Jun21.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reviews

“Absolutely brilliant. It is eyewitness history of the first order. . . . It should be read by anyone who wants to understand how things went so badly wrong in Iraq.”

-The New York Times Book Review

 

“A visceral-sometimes sickening-picture of how the administration and its handpicked crew bungled the first year in postwar Iraq. . . . Often reads like something out of Catch-22 or from M*A*S*H.”

-The New York Times

 

“Revealing. . . . Chandrasekaran’s portrait of blinkered idealism is evenhanded, chronicling the disillusionment of conservatives who were sent to a war zone without the resources to achieve lasting change.”

-The New Yorker

 

“Eloquent and finely textured. . . . Includes dozens of stories of tragicomic ineptitude and awesome corruption by U.S. officials and contractors in Iraq.”

-Los Angeles Times

 

“Mr. Chandrasekaran’s book, while nonfiction, is as chilling an indictment of America’s tragic cultural myopia as Graham Greene’s prescient 1955 novel of the American debacle in Indochina, The Quiet American.”

-Frank Rich, The New York Times

 

“Surreal vignettes abound in Imperial Life in the Emerald City. The book . . . would be hilarious were it not horrifying that so much valor and suffering have been expended in this context.”

-George Will, The Washington Post

 

“A stunning and damning book that amounts to the journalistic equivalent of a criminal indictment of those charged with conceiving and running the occupation. . . . Thanks to Chandrasekaran’s potent book, we finally know how the fiasco of occupation happened on the ground.”

-The Oregonian

 

“Extraordinary. . . . Indispensable. . . . Chandrasekaran does not set out to score partisan points or unveil large geopolitical lessons; he is, essentially, a reporter telling readers what he saw. Yet it is impossible to read his book without thinking about the larger implications of the story he tells.”

-The Washington Post Book World

 

“Chandrasekaran has written a fascinating book, required reading for anyone who wants to know about that crucial first year of America’s rule in post-Saddam Iraq.”

-Houston Chronicle

 

“An eye-opening tour of ineptitude, misdirection and the perils of democracy-building. . . . Chandrasekaran’s detail-rich reporting and firsthand, candid narrative is what sets his contribution apart and bolsters his withering assessment.”

-Newsday

 

“A meticulous, uncompromising, brilliant exposé of the first year of the American occupation of Iraq. . . . A detailed and surprisingly evenhanded account.”

-Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

 

“With acuity and a fine sense of the absurd, the author peels back the roof to reveal an ant heap of arrogance, ineptitude and hayseed provincialism.”

-The Boston Globe

 

“Riveting and infuriating. . . . Offers a baroque kaleidoscope of ignorance and arrogance.”

-The New York Observer

 

“Incredible. . . . Fantastically written. . . . Chandrasekaran’s sharp-eyed account of life inside Baghdad’s Green Zone offers some of the blackest comedy of the bookstore.”

-Entertainment Weekly

 

“Anyone who wants to talk knowledgeably about our Iraq misadventure should pick up Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s Imperial Life in the Emerald City. It’s like reading a horror novel. You just want to put your face down and moan: How could we have let this happen? How could we have been so stupid?”

-Molly Ivins

 

“A daring reporter with an eye for detail, Mr. Chandrasekaran has written a lively account of American ordeals in Baghdad after Saddam’s fall. It would be an entertaining read if it weren’t so depressing.”

-The Wall Street Journal

 

“Extraordinary. . . . Imperial Life in the Emerald City is full of jaw-dropping tales of the myriad large and small ways in which Bremer and his team poured fuel into the lethal cauldron that is today’s Iraq. . . . Chandrasekaran shows how incomplete our conventional wisdom is about what went wrong in Iraq.”

-Moises Naim in Washington Post Book World, September 17, 2006 (full review here)

 

“This is a dazzling, important, and entertaining work of reportage about the American civilians who tried to remake Iraq, and about the strange, isolated city-state in Baghdad where they failed. Every American who wants to understand how and why things went so badly wrong in Iraq should read this book.”

-Steve Coll, author of Ghost Wars

 

“An extraordinarily vivid and compelling anatomy of a fiasco. Imperial Life in the Emerald City is an indispensable saga of how the American liberation of Iraq turned to chaos, calamity, and civil war. Chandrasekaran takes us inside Baghdad’s Green Zone as no one else has.”

-Rick Atkinson, author of An Army at Dawn

 

“This amazing book pulls back the curtains of deception and reveals in stunning fashion what really went on inside the Emerald City in the crucial year after the military overthrow of Saddam Hussein. Chandrasekaran’s reporting is vivid and relentless as he documents the mix of idealism, confidence, energy, hubris, political miscalculation, cultural blindness, and fantastical thinking of those who came to save Iraq yet made a difficult situation worse.”

-David Maraniss, author of They Marched Into Sunlight

 

“This is a devastating account of the American occupation of Iraq. It shows how Americans arrived in Iraq full of big plans (and/or lucrative contracts) to help the country become more like the United States, but wound up living an isolated existence while the lives of Iraqis deteriorated around them. No other book has described so well what Iraq looked like and felt like in the aftermath of the invasion.”

-James Mann, author of Rise of the Vulcans

 

“Rajiv Chandrasekaran has not given us “another Iraq book.” He has given us a riveting tale of American misadventure. . . . He shows us American idealism and voyeurism, as well as the deadly results of American hubris. And by giving us the first full picture from inside the Green Zone, he depicts a mission doomed to failure before it had even been launched.”

-Samantha Power, author of A Problem from Hell

 

 

 

 

Excerpt

Chapter 1

Versailles on the Tigris

 

UNLIKE ALMOST ANYWHERE else in Baghdad, you could dine at the cafeteria in the Republican Palace for six months and never eat hummus, flatbread, or a lamb kebab. The fare was always American, often with a Southern flavor. A buffet featured grits, cornbread, and a bottomless barrel of pork: sausage for breakfast, hot dogs for lunch, pork chops for dinner. There were bacon cheeseburgers, grilled-cheese-and-bacon sandwiches, and bacon omelets. Hundreds of Iraqi secretaries and translators who worked for the occupation authority had to eat in the dining hall. Most of them were Muslims, and many were offended by the presence of pork. But the American contractors running the kitchen kept serving it. The cafeteria was all about meeting American needs for high-calorie, high-fat comfort food.

 

None of the succulent tomatoes or the crisp cucumbers grown in Iraq made it into the salad bar. U.S. government regulations dictated that everything, even the water in which hot dogs were boiled, be shipped in from approved suppliers in other nations. Milk and bread were trucked in from Kuwait, as were tinned peas and carrots. The breakfast cereal was flown in from the United States-made-in-the-USA. Froot Loops and Frosted Flakes at the breakfast table helped boost morale.

 

When the Americans had arrived, there was no cafeteria in the palace. Saddam Hussein had feasted in an ornate private dining room and his servants had eaten in small kitchenettes. The engineers assigned to transform the palace into the seat of the American occupation chose a marble-floored conference room the size of a gymnasium to serve as the mess hall. Through its gilded doors, Halliburton, the defense contractor hired to run the palace, brought in dozens of tables, hundreds of stacking chairs, and a score of glass-covered buffets. Seven days a week, the Americans ate under Saddam’s crystal chandeliers.

 

Red and white linens covered the tables. Diners sat on chairs with maroon cushions. A pleated skirt decorated the salad bar and the dessert table, which was piled high with cakes and cookies. The floor was polished after every meal.

 

A mural of the World Trade Center adorned one of the entrances. The Twin Towers were framed within the outstretched wings of a bald eagle. Each branch of the U.S. military-the army, air force, marines, and navy-had its seal on a different corner of the mural. In the middle were the logos of the New York City Police and Fire departments, and atop the towers were the words thank god for the coalition forces & freedom fighters at home and abroad.

 

At another of the three entrances was a bulletin board with posted notices, including those that read

 

BIBLE STUDY-WEDNESDAYS AT 7 P.M.

 

GO RUNNING WITH THE HASH HOUSE HARRIERS!

 

FEELING STRESSED? COME VISIT US AT THE COMBAT STRESS CLINIC.

 

FOR SALE: LIKE-NEW HUNTING KNIFE.

 

LOST CAMERA. REWARD OFFERED.

 

The kitchen, which had once prepared gourmet meals for Saddam, had been converted into an institutional food-processing center, with a giant deep fryer and bathtub-size mixing bowls. Halliburton had hired dozens of Pakistanis and Indians to cook and serve and clean, but no Iraqis. Nobody ever explained why, but everyone knew. They could poison the food.

 

The Pakistanis and the Indians wore white button-down shirts with black vests, black bow ties, and white paper hats. The Kuwaiti subcontractor who kept their passports and exacted a meaty profit margin off each worker also dinned into them American lingo. When I asked one of the Indians for French fries, he snapped: “We have no French fries here, sir. Only freedom fries.”

 

The seating was as tribal as that at a high school cafeteria. The Iraqi support staffers kept to themselves. They loaded their lunch trays with enough calories for three meals. Between mouthfuls, they mocked their American bosses with impunity. So few Americans in the palace spoke Arabic fluently that those who did could have fit around one table, with room to spare.

 

Soldiers, private contractors, and mercenaries also segregated themselves. So did the representatives of the “coalition of the willing”- the Brits, the Aussies, the Poles, the Spaniards, and the Italians. The American civilians who worked for the occupation government had their own cliques: the big-shot political appointees, the twentysomethings fresh out of college, the old hands who had arrived in Baghdad in the first weeks of occupation. In conversation at their tables, they observed an unspoken protocol. It was always appropriate to praise “the mission”-the Bush administration’s campaign to transform Iraq into a peaceful, modern, secular democracy where everyone, regardless of sect or ethnicity, would get along. Tirades about how Saddam had ruined the country and descriptions of how you were going to resuscitate it were also fine. But unless you knew someone really, really well, you didn’t question American policy over a meal.

 

If you had a complaint about the cafeteria, Michael Cole was the man to see. He was Halliburton’s “customer-service liaison,” and he could explain why the salad bar didn’t have Iraqi produce or why pork kept appearing on the menu. If you wanted to request a different type of breakfast cereal, he’d listen. Cole didn’t have the weathered look of a war-zone concierge. He was a rail-thin twenty-two-year-old whose forehead was dotted with pimples.

 

He had been out of college for less than a year and was working as a junior aide to a Republican congressman from Virginia when a Halliburton vice president overheard him talking to friends in an Arlington bar about his dealings with irate constituents. She was so impressed that she introduced herself. If she needed someone to work as a valet in Baghdad, he joked, he’d be happy to volunteer. Three weeks later, Halliburton offered him a job. Then they asked for his résumé.

 

Cole never ate pork products in the mess hall. He knew many of the servers were Pakistani Muslims and he felt terrible that they had to handle food they deemed offensive. He was rewarded for his expression of respect with invitations to the Dickensian trailer park where the kitchen staff lived. They didn’t have to abide by American rules governing food procurement. Their kitchens were filled with local produce, and they cooked spicy curries that were better than anything Cole found in the cafeteria. He thought of proposing an Indian- Pakistani food night at the mess hall, but then remembered that the palace didn’t do ethnic fare. “The cooking had to make people feel like they were back at home,” he said. And home, in this case, was presumed to be somewhere south of the Mason-Dixon Line.

 

Cole’s mission was to keep the air in the bubble, to ensure that the Americans who had left home to work for the occupation administration felt comfortable. Food was part of it. But so were movies, mattresses, and laundry service. If he was asked for something, Cole tried to get it, whether he thought it important or not. “Yes, sir. We’ll look into that,” he’d say. Or, “I’m sorry you’re so upset. We’ll try to fix it as soon as possible.”

 

The palace was the headquarters of the Coalition Provisional Authority, the American occupation administration in Iraq. From April 2003 to June 2004, the CPA ran Iraq’s government-it enacted laws, printed currency, collected taxes, deployed police, and spent oil revenue. At its height, the CPA had more than 1,500 employees in Baghdad, most of them American. They were a motley bunch: businessmen who were active in the Republican Party, retirees who wanted one last taste of adventure, diplomats who had studied Iraq for years, recent college graduates who had never had a full-time job, government employees who wanted the 25 percent salary bonus paid for working in a war zone. The CPA was headed by America’s viceroy in Iraq, Lewis Paul Bremer III, who always wore a blue suit and tan combat boots, even on those summer days when Iraqis drooped in the heat. He was surrounded by burly, machine gun-toting bodyguards everywhere he went, even to the bathroom in the palace.

 

The palace was Versailles on the Tigris. Constructed of sandstone and marble, it had wide hallways, soaring columns, and spiral staircases. Massive bronze busts of Saddam in an Arab warrior’s headdress looked down from the four corners of the roof. The cafeteria was on the south side, next to a chapel with a billboard-size mural of a Scud missile arcing into the sky. In the northern wing was an enormous ballroom with a balcony overlooking the dance floor. The heart of the palace was a giant marble rotunda with a turquoise dome. After the Americans arrived, the entire place took on the slapdash appearance of a start-up company. Dell computers sat atop ornate wooden desks partitioned by fabric-covered cubicle dividers. Data cables snaked along the gilded moldings. Erasable whiteboards hung from the mirrored walls.

 

A row of portable toilets lined the rear driveway. The palace, designed as a showplace for Saddam to meet visiting dignitaries, lacked enough commodes for hundreds of occupants. Dormitory space was also in short supply. Most new arrivals had to sleep on bunk beds in the chapel, a room that came to resemble a World War II field hospital.

 

Appearances aside, the same rules applied in the palace as in any government building in Washington. Everyone wore an identification badge. Decorum was enforced in the high-ceilinged halls. I remember hearing a soldier admonish a staffer hustling to a meeting: “Ma’am, you must not run in the corridor.”

 

Whatever could be outsourced was. The job of setting up town and city councils was performed by a North Carolina firm for $236 million. The job of guarding the viceroy was assigned to private guards, each of whom made more than $1,000 a day. For running the palace-cooking the food, changing the lightbulbs, doing the laundry, watering the plants- Halliburton had been handed hundreds of millions of dollars.

 

Halliburton had been hired to provide “living support” services to the CPA. What that meant kept evolving. When the first Americans arrived in Baghdad in the weeks after Saddam’s government was toppled, all anyone wanted was food and water, laundry service, and air-conditioning. By the time Cole arrived, in August 2003, four months into the occupation, the demands had grown. The viceroy’s house had to be outfitted with furniture and art suitable for a head of state. The Halliburton-run sports bar at the al-Rasheed Hotel needed a Foosball table. The press conference room required large-screen televisions.

 

The Green Zone quickly became Baghdad’s Little America. Everyone who worked in the palace lived there, either in white metal trailers or in the towering al-Rasheed. Hundreds of private contractors working for firms including Bechtel, General Electric, and Halliburton set up trailer parks there, as did legions of private security guards hired to protect the contractors. The only Iraqis allowed inside the Green Zone were those who worked for the Americans or those who could prove that they had lived there before the war.

 

It was Saddam who first decided to turn Baghdad’s prime riverfront real estate into a gated city within a city, with posh villas, bungalows, government buildings, shops, and even a hospital. He didn’t want his aides and bodyguards, who were given homes near his palace, to mingle with the masses. And he didn’t want outsiders peering in. The homes were bigger, the trees greener, the streets wider than in the rest of Baghdad. There were more palms and fewer people. There were no street vendors and no beggars. No one other than members of Saddam’s inner circle or his trusted cadre of guards and housekeepers had any idea what was inside. Those who loitered near the entrances sometimes landed in jail. Iraqis drove as fast as they could on roads near the compound lest they be accused of gawking.

 

It was the ideal place for the Americans to pitch their tents. Saddam had surrounded the area with a tall brick wall. There were only three points of entry. All the military had to do was park tanks at the gates.

 

The Americans expanded Saddam’s neighborhood by a few blocks to encompass the gargantuan Convention Center and the al-Rasheed, a once- luxurious establishment made famous by CNN’s live broadcasts during the 1991 Persian Gulf War. They fortified the walls with seventeen- foot-high blast barriers made of foot-thick concrete topped with coils of razor wire.

 

Open spaces became trailer parks with grandiose names. CPA staffers unable to snag a room at the al-Rasheed lived in Poolside Estates. Cole and his fellow Halliburton employees were in Camp Hope. The Brits dubbed their accommodations Ocean Cliffs. At first, the Americans felt sorry for the Brits, whose trailers were in a covered parking garage, which seemed dark and miserable. But when the insurgents began firing mortars into the Green Zone, everyone wished they were in Ocean Cliffs. The envy increased when Americans discovered that the Brits didn’t have the same leaky trailers with plastic furniture supplied by Halliburton; theirs had been outfitted by Ikea.

 

Americans drove around in new GMC Suburbans, dutifully obeying the thirty-five-mile-an-hour speed limit signs posted by the CPA on the flat, wide streets. There were so many identical Suburbans parked in front of the palace that drivers had to use their electronic door openers as homing devices. (One contractor affixed Texas license plates to his vehicle to set it apart.) When they cruised around, they kept the air-conditioning on high and the radio tuned to 107.7 FM, Freedom Radio, an American-run station that played classic rock and rah-rah messages. Every two weeks, the vehicles were cleaned at a Halliburton car wash.

 

Shuttle buses looped around the Green Zone at twenty-minute intervals, stopping at wooden shelters to transport those who didn’t have cars and didn’t want to walk. There was daily mail delivery. Generators ensured that the lights were always on. If you didn’t like what was being served in the cafeteria-or you were feeling peckish between meals-you could get takeout from one of the Green Zone’s Chinese restaurants. Halliburton’s dry cleaning service would get the dust and sweat stains out of your khakis in three days. A sign warned patrons to remove ammunition from pockets before submitting clothes.

 

Iraqi laws and customs didn’t apply inside the Green Zone. Women jogged on the sidewalk in shorts and T-shirts. A liquor store sold imported beer, wine, and spirits. One of the Chinese restaurants offered massages as well as noodles. The young boys selling DVDs near the palace parking lot had a secret stash. “Mister, you want porno?” they often whispered to me.

 

Most Americans sported suede combat boots, expensive sunglasses, and nine-millimeter Berettas attached to the thigh with a Velcro holster. They groused about the heat and the mosquitoes and the slothful habits of the natives. A contingent of Gurkhas stood as sentries in front of the palace.

 

 

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