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Award-winning authors on “Unraveling Iraq”

February 23, 2016

The Jackson School of International Studies hosted "Unraveling Iraq," a public talk held on Feb. 22 with authors Emma Sky (center) and Rajiv Chandrasekaran (left). Jackson School Director Reşat Kasaba (right) introduced the event.

“The U.S. needs to decide the longevity and consistency of its foreign policy … and worst would be disengagement [from the Middle East],” said British author and Middle East expert Emma Sky to a crowd of over 100 students, faculty and public gathered in Kane Hall for her talk “Unraveling Iraq.”

In introducing the event, Jackson School of International Studies Director Reşat Kasaba highlighted the relevance of “Unraveling Iraq” to the understanding of current instability across the Middle East and implications for the upcoming U.S. presidential elections.

Interviewed by former Washington Post journalist and author Rajiv Chandrasekaran in a conversation-style format, Sky relayed her experience in Iraq, starting from the first year of the U.S. invasion in 2003 through to U.S. troop surge and the American exit from the country.

Sky spoke of her initial arrival into Iraq as governor of Kirkuk, a city north of Baghdad, and her impressions of the U.S. military operation there. She noted the frustration and embarrassment of Iraqis who suddenly, as part of the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority of “De-Ba’athification” of Iraq, were dismissed from their civil servant jobs.

“I was in a city where the schools had no teachers, the hospitals no doctors,” she said. “This made people feel they had no future.”

Sky reflected on how U.S. policy toward Iraq contributed to the formation and rise of radicalized, terrorist groups that did not exist back in 2003, such as Al-Qaeda and ISIS.

“We did not build bridges; instead, we put up walls,” she noted, especially with regard to the decision by the U.S. to rely on Iraqi exiles to rule Iraq and create a new Iraqi political decision-making body based on ethnic group rather than creating “Iraqi-ism.”

In 2007, Sky returned to Iraq as a political advisor to the U.S. military during Iraq’s intense civil war. She told the audience that before the U.S. troop surge, “there were bodies everywhere — in the streets, rivers.”

The troop surge had a huge positive and psychological impact on many Iraqis, she said.

Sky and Chandrasekaran then discussed the missed opportunity of the 2010 national elections in Iraq, and the disappointment among Iraqis when the U.S. did not support national election results, even after a re-count.

“The [Iraqi] people lost faith that politics could bring about change,” Sky said. “And if you don’t get the politics right, you can’t do reconstruction, and things fall apart.”

She concluded by emphasizing the need for the U.S. to get consensus and consistency in its foreign policy, and stay engaged in the Middle East.

Chandrasekaran opened the evening talk by telling the audience that Sky’s book The Unraveling: High Hopes and Missed Opportunities in Iraq “deserves to be read cover to cover as it brings the unique perspective of a non-U.S. civilian in the inner U.S. [military] apparatus.”

Jackson School Director Kasaba also reminded the audience that the 13th anniversary of the start of the U.S. invasion of Iraq is nearly one month away, on March 20.

Speaker bios

About Emma Sky 

Emma Sky is Director of Yale World Fellows and a Senior Fellow at Yale University’s Jackson Institute, where she teaches Middle East politics. She is the author of The Unraveling: High Hopes and Missed Opportunities in Iraqemma_sky_web

Emma served as advisor to the Commanding General of U.S. Forces in Iraq from 2007-2010; as advisor to the Commander of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan in 2006; as advisor to the U.S. Security Co-ordinator for the Middle East Peace Process in 2005; and as Governorate Co-ordinator of Kirkuk for the Coalition Provisional Authority, 2003-2004.

Prior to that, Emma worked in the Palestinian territories for a decade, managing projects to develop Palestinian institutions; and to promote co-existence between Israelis and Palestinians. In addition, Emma has provided technical assistance on poverty elimination, human rights, justice public administration reform, security sector reform, and conflict resolution in the Middle East, South Asia and Africa.

Emma has published numerous articles including in The New York Times, Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, Politico, The Atlantic, Slate, Survival, Center for a New American Security, U.S. Institute of Peace, the Guardian, and the Journal of the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies. She is an Officer of the British Empire.

About Rajiv Chandrasekaran

Rajiv Chandrasekaran is a senior vice president for public affairs at the Starbucks Coffee Company and the executive producer of the company’s social-impact media initiatives. Prior to joining Starbucks, he was a senior correspondent and associate editor of The Washington Post, where he worked for two decades as a journalist and bureau chief in Baghdad, Cairo and Southeast Asia. He also served as the Post’s national editor and as an assistant managing editor. Rajiv-headshot_webv3

In 2014, he and Howard Schultz wrote the bestselling book For Love of Country: What Our Veterans Can Teach Us About Citizenship, Heroism and Sacrifice. Chandrasekaran is the author of two other bestselling books: Little America: The War Within the War for Afghanistan and Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq’s Green Zone, which was named one of the ten best books of 2007 by The New York Times and inspired the movie Green Zone.

Chandrasekaran has twice served as a public policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C., and as a journalist in residence at the International Reporting Project at the Johns Hopkins School for Advanced International Studies. He sits on the board of directors of the Committee to Protect Journalists.

This event is co-sponsored by the Henry M. Jackson Foundation and the University of Washington Jackson School of International Studies, Center for Global Studies and the Middle East Center. The Middle East Center’s sponsorship of this event does not imply that the Center endorses the content of the event.