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A former top adviser destroyed Obama's Iraq policy in one sentence

Michael B Kelley
emma sky iraq

(Wikipedia)Emma Sky, second from left, accompanying Gen. Ray Odierno, center, on a visit to a local market in Khalis, Iraq, in January 2009."If only Obama had paid attention to Iraq ... But his only interest in Iraq was in ending the war." Emma Sky, former aide to the top US commander in Iraq

Emma Sky is no warmonger. She is a British, Oxford-educated political analyst who served as a humanitarian worker in the Middle East for a decade before helping the US rebuild Iraq.

And her new book, "The Unraveling: High Hopes and Missed Opportunities in Iraq," is not kind to the Obama administration's handling of Iraq.

From 2007 to 2010, Sky was the political adviser to US Gen. Ray Odierno when he served as deputy American commander in Iraq and then the US-led mission's top commander. During Sky's time with Odierno, violence in the country plummeted after a US troop surge and crucial Sunni tribal cooperation stabilized the country.

Odierno "wanted US engagement with Iraq to continue for years to come, but led by US civilians, not the military," Sky wrote, according to a book excerpt published in Politico. "He believed that, in order to train Iraqi security forces and provide the psychological support needed to maintain a level of stability, 20,000 or so US troops needed to stay in Iraq beyond 2011."

The Obama administration, however, eventually went along with the plan backed by Qassem Suleimani, the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard's Quds Force. That plan called for no US troops beyond 2011 and relied on the continued support of the authoritarian Iran-backed regime of Nouri al-Maliki, then Iraq's prime minister.

"Iran's goal was to ensure that Iraq was not integrated into the Arab world, instead becoming a close ally of Iran," Sky wrote. "Maliki would be able to achieve this because all the neighboring Sunni countries hated him."

Obama called the removal of the last US troops from Iraq in December 2011 a "historic" moment, adding that the country they were leaving behind was "an extraordinary achievement."

Given the state of war-torn Iraq today, history has been unkind to that assessment.

Screenshot 2015 04 14 08.41.42

(US Military)ISIS areas of operating control as of April 2015.Ali Khedery, the longest continuously serving US official during the Iraq war (2003 to 2009), has said America's continued support of Maliki in December 2010 made it so that "Iraq's path toward civil war was really inevitable."

That's because Maliki's new lease on life led him to steer Baghdad "toward a very pro-Iranian and sectarian agenda, which inevitably disillusioned and disenfranchised Sunni Arabs for a second time."

The rise and resilience of the Islamic State, also called ISIS or ISIL, which rampaged across northern Iraq from neighboring Syria last summer, is partly a manifestation of this Sunni discontent.

At this point, the militant group is "fundamentally a form of Sunni-power political projection," as explained by Michael Weiss, coauthor of "ISIS: Inside the Terror Army."

In 2010, however, those in charge of the administration's policy — namely, ambassador Christopher Hill and Vice President Joe Biden — saw the trajectory of US policy differently.

Sky described a visit to Iraq from Biden at the end of August 2010:

"Biden had been persuaded by the arguments that there was no one but Maliki who could be prime minister and that he would sign a new security agreement with the United States," Sky wrote in the Politico excerpt, noting later that the security agreement was never signed.

"The Obama administration wanted to see an Iraqi government in place before the US midterm elections in November," Sky said. "Biden believed the quickest way to form a government was to keep Maliki as prime minister and to cajole other Iraqis into accepting this."

Obama and Biden

(REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst )

Despite the best efforts of Sky and her colleagues, she could not convince the administration otherwise.

"Biden was a nice man, but he simply had the wrong instincts on Iraq," Sky writes, according to a snippet published in The Wall Street Journal. "If only Obama had paid attention to Iraq ... But his only interest in Iraq was in ending the war."

Tim Arango, the Baghdad bureau chief for The New York Times, told Reddit in September that "after 2011 the administration basically ignored the country. And when officials spoke about what was happening there they were often ignorant of the reality."

For the region, the administration's choices seem to signal an accusation that would become part of Obama's foreign-policy legacy.

"In the Arabic media, there was confusion as to why the United States and Iran should both choose Maliki as prime minister, and this fueled conspiracy theories about a secret deal between those two countries," Sky noted.

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