Q&A with Emma Sky – author of The Unravelling: High Hopes and Missed Opportunities in Iraq

Emma Sky

Emma Sky

Q: Many people expected the Iraq inquiry to be a whitewash, which at the end it wasn’t. Are you satisfied with its findings?

A: I think the Iraq Inquiry was a thorough investigation into what happened in Iraq, and the mismatch between UK means and ends. But it does not say what could have been done differently.

Q: What is your assessment of today’s Iraq?

A: Iraq today is a broken society with corrupt leaders. ISIS is being pushed back and is losing territory. But if the very conditions and grievances that enabled ISIS to gain traction are not dealt with, then ISIS 3.0 may well rise up in a few years.

Q: Conventional wisdom has it that because of deep sectarian divides, Iraq needs a strong man like Saddam to keep the country together. Is that a view you share?

A: No. I believe that Iraq requires decentralised governance and a diversified economy. It needs inclusive institutions which can manage the competition between different groups for power and resources.

Q: Is it possible to remain neutral while working in a place like Iraq, knowing what you knew about each of the different groups vying for power?

A: The challenge is to understand issues of identity both at the individual level and at the group level. Iraq is a traumatised society. The key for an outsider is to have empathy.

Q: Do you believe that ultimately, Iraq would be better off split along sectarian lines as suggested by Kemal Kirkuki, former speaker of the Kurdistan Parliament?

A: No. The conflict in Iraq is primarily motivated by a struggle for power and resources – by greed not God. Dividing Iraq into three would require the divorce of inter-married people, ethnic cleansing, and fighting to determine new borders.

Q: Is Iran’s influence in Iraq as deep as many Iraqis believe it to be?

A: Yes. Iran is the big winner out of the Iraq war. The Iraq war – and the way in which the US departed Iraq – left Iraq a weak state and enabled the resurgence of Iran. This exacerbated the geopolitical struggle between Iran on the one hand, and Saudi plus the Gulfies and Turkey on the other, leading them to support extremists.

Q: Was the decision by the US government to allow Maliki to remain Prime Minister of Iraq even after he lost the 2010 election the West’s second gravest mistake after the decision to invade?

A: I think it was one of the gravest mistakes, along with the decision in 2003 to dismiss the military and debaathification which led to the collapse of the state and civil war.

Q: You had a good working relationship with the US army and you have kept in contact with some its leading figures. Did that positive experience influence your choice to move to the US?

A: My view of the US was shaped largely by the US military. It was not easy for me to go back to the UK after the war. But the US has proven very welcoming and provided me with great opportunities.

Q: What significance has being a non-parent played in the choices you have made both professionally and personally to date?

A: I am more willing to take risks

Q: What are your plans for the future?

A: When I was on book tour, people kept coming up to me and telling me I needed to get back out there and do more in the field. I have a few balls up in the air at present. I would like to do more to try to end conflicts. And perhaps to write more. We shall see!

Emma’s book is on sale on Amazon

Emma Sky

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