LISA OWEN: Thanks for joining me this morning. This week we've seen in Iraq more than 90 people killed as a result of IS bombings, protesters over the last couple of weeks storming parliament, and most recently, a number of football fans slaughtered in the north of Iraq. How unstable is that country?
EMMA SKY: Iraq remains unstable, and you see in these number of attacks— Absolutely tragic. And Islamic State's taking advantage of the political paralysis in Baghdad. The West tends to be focused on Islamic State. But in Baghdad, you're seeing protests that have been going on for weeks and weeks, demanding that the government be replaced. They're very angry at the levels of corruption, angry at the mismanagement, and they're demanding that the Prime Minister, Haider al-Abadi, replaces the current set of ministers.
Well, the thing is, at the end of your book, you sort of summed up in the final pages by saying, 'There was nothing to be seen from all the blood and treasure we had invested.' So given the fact that the country is still unstable, has all these problems, was the war worth it? Did it achieve anything?
The war should never have happened. I mean, the war was fought on the basis of there being weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, which there weren't. So the premises for the war was wrong. But nothing that happened in Iraq after the invasion was inevitable. It wasn't preordained that it was going to go this way. Iraq could have had much better futures. And it's a tragedy when you look at all that investment, all that blood and treasure, that the Iraqi people are still suffering from tremendous fear, these bombings, which are just indiscriminate; this goes on 13 years after the invasion.
Well, when you say once they moved in there, nothing was preordained, I think the failure has been laid very squarely at the feet of Tony Blair and George Bush. But what responsibility does President Obama need to take, do you think?
Well, there's enough blame to go round — obviously, the decision to invade based on wrong intelligence; after that, having no plan for the day after; collapsing the state through de-Ba'athification and dissolving all the security institutions. But from 2007 to 2009, that period that we call the surge, there was the right strategy, leadership and resources, and the violence went down, and Iraq was headed in the right trajectory. When President Obama became president— I mean, he had campaigned on ending the Iraq War, and the first thing he did as president was give the instructions, give the orders, to end that war. But he didn't uphold the election results of 2010, when Iraq had a really good national election; instead, the decision was taken to keep the incumbent in power, even though he wasn't the winner from those elections. And then there was a precipitous withdrawal of US troops. And when the politics turned bad again in Iraq, that created the environment that allowed Islamic State to rise up out of the ashes of al-Qaida in Iraq. So there's enough blame on both sides.
Well, I suppose the thing is that President Obama, in respect of Islamic State, has said that it is his goal to degrade and defeat it. Are they degraded and defeated?
When you look at Islamic State today, it's holding much less territory than it was in 2014, when it swept over a third of Iraq. So, yes, it is being pushed back. But Islamic State really is a symptom of broken politics, mismanagement, horrendous corruption. And unless those issues are resolved, this iteration of Islamic State can be crushed — if the grievances aren't dealt with, if the root causes aren't dealt with — then some of the Islamic State might rise up in the future, and the cycle will just continue.
Well, the thing is, mentioning that, the son of Islamic State, as you call it, the next big push is into Mosul in the northern summer. Is that the right tactic, and what will come out of that?
EMMA: Well, the people of Mosul hate living under the Islamic State, and that is very clear. They hate it. You can see messages being sent out. How they live, I mean, it's terrible. But they're also very fearful of the Shia militias, of the Kurdish peshmerga. And there's no sense of what's the plan for the day after — who's going to govern these liberated territories.
So it's the same mistake? There's potential for the same mistake again?
Well, what we have seen previously was no matter how successful military tactics are, nothing is sustainable if the governance and the politics aren't sorted out. And at the moment, I don't see any clear indication that the Sunni tribes of Mosul are actually involved in the liberation or that there's agreement on what comes next, how this area should be governed.
Well, you've raised questions about the instability there, in the sense that there are now 5000 US soldiers back in Iraq and that there's potential that they could be targeted if people become increasingly frustrated with the political — or lack of political — progress. So I'm wondering — we have New Zealand trainers, soldiers, there in Taji, behind the wire. Are they safe, do you think?
Safe is obviously a relative term in the context of Iraq. There are this assortment of international forces there. It is very much agreed that the Iraqis have to be in the lead. But the issue is the Iraqi army dissolved, it disintegrated again in 2014, and all these efforts now to try and build up the Iraq army are in a context where non-state actors — so Shia militias, Kurdish peshmerga, also Iranian forces — are all there, and they are stronger than the Iraqi Army. So it is a very, very complex environment. I mean, I think the work that the New Zealand forces are doing in training Iraqi forces is good, but obviously that is just a small contribution in a much more complicated and bigger context.
You were opposed to this war and still are. You said you went to Iraq to apologise. I'm wondering, is there still stuff going on there that we still need to be apologising for?
We spoke about the blame for Bush and the blame for President Obama, but the Iraqi political elite, they themselves much take a huge share of the blame for what has happened. They had an opportunity, a chance to build up a better future for the Iraqi people, and they have failed. Iraq is, I think, 161 out of 166 in terms of the most corrupt countries in the world. This is the Iraqi political elite, and it is they who have failed their people more than anyone else.
Thank you so much for joining me this morning, Emma Sky. Interesting to chat to you.
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