• Do We Have to Wait for “History” to Judge US Era in Iraq?

    January 24, 2012

    Tags: , , ,
    Posted in: Embassy/State, Iraq, Military

    Emma Sky is a British academic who had the somewhat odd role of advising General Odierno when he commanded US forces in Iraq. I met the two of them several times in Iraq, and of course the standing joke was that they could not have been more different people. Odierno is a huge man, well over six feet tall, with a shaved head, a gruff manner and as military a bearing and outlook as is possible to have without creating a singularity in space-time. Ms. Sky is perhaps four foot something in height, polite, soft-spoken and very much the academic. It is inconceivable that she ever served in any military. Yet the two worked well together, as chronicled in Tom Ricks’ second great book about the Iraq War, The Gamble.

    Ms. Sky, who speaks Arabic and counts many friends, colleagues and contacts in Iraq, recently returned from a pleasure trip to that country, writing an evocative portrait of her travels over on Foreign Policy.com.

    The article is good, but one point bothered me: Sky wonders how history will judge the American era in Iraq. I disagree that we need to wait for history. While of course the perspective of 50 or 100 years is always useful, America’s era is over in Iraq, and we can say this about it, unlikely to be changed by the passage of time:

    –The US invasion and occupation killed over 100,000 Iraqis, either directly or via the chaos unleashed.

    –The oft-stated US major accomplishment of getting rid of Saddam was all over in 2003. We called it regime “change” but in reality it was just regime “destruction,” only the first half of the change thing.

    –The government we left behind is falling apart like a cardboard box in the rain. The US vision for Iraq– a kind of Middle East Disney World under martial law– fades just as quickly.

    –The US invasion and failure of the reconstruction left Iraq in horrific condition, setting the stage for additional years of suffering. Such suffering can likely fuel additional insurgency and lack of support for any central government. It is a poor legacy.

    –The utter lack of US planning for postwar occupation unleashed sectarian violence and enabled sectarian conflict that is playing out long after the US went home. Whatever comes of that in Iraq’s future is up to the Iraqis, but the US is responsible for letting the genie out of the bottle.

    We left Iraq with blood on our hands. We created or enabled problems we did not solve, and then we left. None of that will change when history judges the American era.

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  • Recent Comments

    • Neil Robertson said...


      Emma Sky’s role in Iraq is indeed very ‘odd’ as you rightly say – and her evidence about this (taken in camera in January 2011 and declassified last July) is disturbing in many respects. How can someone with no prior administrative experience at all be allowed to simply step on a plane at Brize Norton in UK after being rung up when working for British Council in Manchester and on arrival in Iraq seek out the current Head of MI6 John Sawyers who sent her north to Kirkuk as the CPA’s Governor?
      She then befriends Odierno and starts dishing out money to ‘manage a political process’ rather than do ‘reconstruction’? I also think it is quite astonishing that nobody in UK it seems bothered to check out Sky’s previous British Council role in Palestine – where she threatened and secured removal of an international taskforce sent in within days of deployment. As a member of that team I reported serious irregularities to the UK authorities but no action was ever taken against Sky over that despite evidence that her £1.9m project was ‘non-existent’ – her words on an indiscreet internal memo that surfaced later and was released under the UK’s Freedom of Information Act.


      08/23/12 9:56 PM | Comment Link

    • Neil Robertson said...


      Dr Keith Johnson of New Zealand who like me was displaced in Palestine after relentless bullying by British Council’s Emma Sky expresses dismay at her subsequent very odd Iraq ascendancy:


      08/23/12 10:00 PM | Comment Link

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