The Unravelling: High Hopes and Missed Opportunities in Iraq


Emma Sky, Robert F. Worth and Hardeep Singh Puri in conversation with Jonathan Shainin


By Sitamsini Cherukumalli, Official ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival 2017 Blogger


‘Iraq is the unwanted child of a negligent occupation,’ said Ambassador Hardeep Singh Puri, who served as the President of the UN Security Council twice, and was on stage today to discuss his new book, Perilous Interventions. While he maintained that interventions are not always bad – such as the Indian intervention that led to the formation of Bangladesh – he stressed that the invasion of Iraq was ‘not only a folly, but criminal.’

Emma Sky, the author of The Unravelling, spoke of her time in Iraq working as an administrator at Kirkuk, Iraq under the Coalition Forces – an allied military command of several nations under the primary leadership of the United States of America. ‘I’d never been a part of something I had found so morally dubious,’ she said, adding that her only objective in returning to Iraq time and again was to ‘just try and make things a little less worse.’ She commented on the chaos that awaited her upon her first visit to the country, which led her to become the head administrator of Kirkuk within three months of her arrival, despite her lack of experience. ‘Insurgents tried to kill me during my first week in Iraq – they fired five rockets at my residence.’

Singh-Puri pointed out that the invasion itself was a result of ‘embroidered facts,’ and added that it has only led to further invasions and wars – as well as the creation of ISIS, the terrorist organisation.  ‘I have it on paper from Michael Flynn, the National Security Advisor to President-Elect Trump, that ISIS was a wilful creation.’ He mentioned how the armed forces expected the public to be grateful for their ‘liberation,’ while in reality ‘the public saw them only as collaborators of their occupiers.’ Robert F. Worth, the author of Rage for Order, agreed with Singh-Puri, and said, ‘The invasion brought so much in train, the war in Lebanon, the current civil war in Syria, the election of Trump.’

Worth called the Coalition Forces ‘spectacularly ignorant’ about what they were getting into, from a superficial understanding of the ‘sectarian disease’ that was entrenched in the region and the fact that the nations in these regions considered Iraq to be a ‘bulwark that protected them from Iran.’ Sky added out that the Forces failed to understand the needs of the different insurgent forces, which defeated their purpose of increasing Iraqi involvement in the political sphere after the ousting of Saddam Hussein.

One of the things that led to the failure of an establishment of democracy according to Worth was that there was no deep social movement: people failed to realise that the people with the power on the ground were Islamists. ‘They couldn’t see through the residual dictatorships that exist in a symbiosis with jihadists.’

Sky disagreed with the general consensus that the US intervention was largely because of the abundance of oil in the region, crediting the attacks of 9/11 instead. She added that Saddam Hussein tried to trick the Iranians into thinking his government had chemical weapons – which instead convinced the Americans that he had to be overthrown for its own protection. Singh Puri disagreed. ‘Why didn’t they take action in Rwanda during the genocide (in 1994) then?’ he said.

It is unclear whether commentators will ever reach a consensus on what is now considered one of the most disastrous military decisions in modern history, and today’s sobering panel reminded the audience of how difficult it can be to untangle the threads of even our most recent histories.


Photo Credit: Chetan Singh Gill


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