Monday 18 November 2019

Hillary aided Iraq's descent into anarchy - ex-diplomat

By Colin Freeman London

A former British diplomat has accused Hillary Clinton of contributing to Iraq's disastrous meltdown during her four years as Barack Obama's foreign policy chief.

Emma Sky, who served as an adviser to a US general in Iraq, claims in a book that Mrs Clinton operated a "dysfunctional" diplomatic mission to Baghdad that allowed a lapse back into sectarian warfare after elections in 2010.

At that time, Mrs Clinton was mid-way through her four-year stint as Mr Obama's secretary of state.

The criticisms are contained in a book that Ms Sky, an Oxford-educated Middle East expert, is to publish next month about the seven years she spent in Iraq. Entitled 'The Unraveling: High Hopes and Missed Opportunities in Iraq', it paints an unflattering picture of the Obama administration as it tried to extricate itself from the country as hastily as possible.

While the demand for a speedy drawdown was driven primarily by Mr Obama, Mrs Clinton is accused of appointing an incompetent ambassador to Baghdad - Chris Hill, who had little experience of the region and held its people in contempt. That paved the way for Washington to be outmanoeuvred by Iraq's prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, who was able to grab a second term in office despite fears that he was a sectarian dictator in the making.

The book also claims that Joe Biden, the US vice-president, showed little interest in Iraq's political complexities, making comparisons between its civil war and Britain's tensions with Ireland.

Thanks to Mr Obama's hasty pull-out at the end of 2011, Ms Sky says, hard-won opportunities for a lasting peace in Iraq after the war to remove Saddam Hussein in 2003 were squandered.

"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," she writes. "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."

Ms Sky, who is now an academic at Yale University, went to Iraq in 2003 after working as a development expert for the British Council in the Palestinian territories.

A self-described "tree hugger", her expertise in Arab affairs saw her appointed as governor of the northern city of Kirkuk, where she impressed General Ray Odierno, whom she advised during the US troop "surge" that curbed Iraq's 2006-2007 Sunni-Shia civil war.

However, by 2010, Gen Odierno was growing concerned that Washington would destabilise Iraq in the "rush to the exit". He had "begun to despair", Ms Sky says, of Mr Hill, who was appointed the year before despite concerns about his lack of Middle East experience.

Lifting the lid on the intrigues in Baghdad's heavily guarded "Green Zone", Ms 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".

His main priority, she said, was getting the embassy to look like a "normal" US mission, which included importing rolls of turf "on which the ambassador could play lacrosse".

Worse was to come when Mr Biden visited Baghdad. He made clear his impatience when Ms Sky tried to explain Iraq's political landscape. Mr Biden "could not fathom this", she said, telling her: "My grandfather was Irish and hated the British. It's like in the Balkans. They all grow up hating each other."

Ms Sky makes her accusations in an article adapted from her book in 'Politico' magazine.

She says the lack of focus from Washington ultimately allowed the White House to back Mr Maliki for a second term when he tied in the 2010 election with Ayad Allawi, the secular pro-Western leader of the Iraqiya bloc.

Mr Hill, she says, told Gen Odierno "that Iraq is not ready for democracy, that Iraq needs a Shia strongman, and Maliki is our man".

Irish Independent

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