Poor appointments by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and a lack of political engagement by President Barack Obama played a key role in Iraq's spiralling into chaos after the country's 2010 elections, claims a former British diplomat.
Emma Sky, who served as an adviser to a senior US commander in Iraq, claimed that Clinton appointed an ambassador to the country with insufficient Middle East experience, whose decisions resulted in a collapse into sectarian conflict following the 2010 elections.
The claims come as Shia forces and the Iraqi army are battling Sunni extremists Islamic State (Isis) across swaths of the country. On Sunday (11 April), Clinton announced her candidacy for the US presidency in 2016.
In her book The Unravelling: High Hopes and Missed Opportunities in Iraq, Oxford educated diplomat Sky paints a picture of the Obama administration blundering as it seeks a hasty US exit from Iraq, undoing the progress made after the 2007 troops 'surge' effected a fragile peace between Sunnis and Shia.
Of the 2003 invasion of Iraq by the US-led coalition, she says: "That war – and the manner in which the United States left it behind in 2011 – shifted the balance of power in the region in Iran's favour." The result, she writes, is "Regional competition... exacerbated existing fault-lines, with support for extreme sectarian actors, including the Islamic State, turning local grievances over poor governance into proxy wars."
'Miscast' in Baghdad role
In the book, Clinton is held responsible for the appointment of Chris Hill as US ambassador to the country, who she accuses of having little experience in the region and holding Iraqis in contempt.
Sky worked for the Coalition Provisional Authority, the American-led transnational authority that ruled Iraq after Saddam Hussein was ousted, and from 2007-2010 was the top political adviser to General Ray Odierno, the chief US officer in Iraq.
Sky writes: "It was clear that Hill, though a career diplomat, lacked regional experience and was miscast in the role in Baghdad. In fact, he had not wanted the job, but Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had persuaded him to take it; she admitted as much to General Odierno, he told me, when he met her in early 2010 in Washington to discuss the dysfunction at the embassy."
She adds that "in his staff meetings, Hill made clear how much he disliked Iraq and Iraqis. Instead, he was focused on making the embassy 'normal' like other US embassies, which included importing rolls of turf "on which the ambassador could play lacrosse".
'Only interested in ending the war'
She alleges that despite him having lost the popular vote to a pro-Western coalition of parties, Ayed Allawi's Iraqiya bloc, the Obama White House opted to support Iranian plans for sectarian and authoritarian Nouri al-Maliki to remain as prime minister.
She describes encountering Odierno after a meeting with Hill, and quotes him saying: "He told me that Iraq is not ready for democracy, that Iraq needs a Shia strongman [...] and Maliki is our man."
She says that when she attempted to explain the struggle between secularists and Islamists to US Vice President Joe Biden when he visited Baghdad, he shrugged of her with irritation, comparing the situation in Iraq to that between the Irish and the British.
"My grandfather was Irish and hated the British. It's like in the Balkans. They all grow up hating each other," he is alleged to have said.
She states that Obama failed to engage with the situation in Iraq and attempts to forge a workable democratic future for the country.
"His only interest in Iraq, it appeared, was in ending the war."
She recalls meeting former Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Rafi al-Issawi in 2014, after extremist Sunni organisation IS had seized control of huge areas of Iraq, who listed the grievances of the Sunni community after al-Maliki seized power.
"The Islamic State, Rafi explained to me, was able to take advantage of this situation, publicly claiming to be the defenders of the Sunnis against the Iranian-backed Maliki government."