In This Review

The Unraveling: High Hopes and Missed Opportunities in Iraq
The Unraveling: High Hopes and Missed Opportunities in Iraq
By Emma Sky
PublicAffairs, 2015, 400 pp

Sky, a British expert on development and conflict resolution in the Middle East, opposed the U.S.-led 2003 invasion of Iraq. To atone for her country’s involvement, she volunteered to work for the Coalition Provisional Authority, which was set up by the Americans to govern Iraq. She ended up spending six years in Iraq, first as the senior cpa civilian official in Kirkuk and then as a political adviser to the U.S. generals running the war; she worked especially closely with General Raymond Odierno. Like many soldiers and journalists who hang out in combat zones, she became addicted to the tension and loyal to her colleagues. The book is a fast-paced diary based entirely on her recollections and enlivened by her skillful character sketches. But it doesn’t shed much new light: in line with other, more analytic accounts of the war, Sky’s narrative suggests that Iraq’s “unraveling” was not inevitable but rather the result of poor decisions on the part of clumsy leaders. She faults Washington—and in particular U.S. Vice President Joe Biden—for trusting too much in Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. “Biden was a nice man,” Sky writes, “but he simply had the wrong instincts on Iraq.”