began last week’s book review by saying I’m not usually interested in military history, so you may be forgiven for wondering why I’m now reviewing a book about Iraq with a picture of a helicopter and a soldier on the front! The Unravelling is not a book about the military though; Emma Sky is not a part of any armed service. This is the somewhat confusing and astounding story of what happend in Iraq after the the invasion.
In 2003 Emma Sky was working for the British Council. Having worked and lived in the Middle East before, she volunteered for a secondment to Iraq, as part of the Coalition Provisional Authority. When she arrived in Iraq she was sent to Kirkuk, where she ended up advising the top leadership in the US military as to the future of the province.
This is the first time I’ve read a book about something historical, where I remember the actual events being reported in the news. What struck me was how chaotic everything was. I don’t know about you, but when I hear on the radio that our troops have been sent to this place, we have a military presence here, we’ve sent these people there… I tend to imagine that a very definite, structured things are happening. People are being told specifically what to do, where to go, what their role is. Sky seems to have been sent to Iraq, told “er… go over there, that’ll do” and then sort of left to her own devices. As she testified to the Chilcot Enquiry in 2011, she was given no briefing and no information. She didn’t even get any sort of job description for several months.
This book is not a sensationalist account; it is told with dignity and respect for all concerned. A lot of what she writes is quietly understated: turning up at the airport to find nobody there to meet her, her lodgings being attacked at night, arriving back in Baghdad at the height of the civil war in 2007. All sorts goes on and rather than go down the “omg I was attacked, it was terrifying I nearly died you know” route, she instead says “yes, this happened – but it’s not what this story is about so let’s carry on.”
I would recommend this book to anyone with an interest in current affairs. Sky was in Iraq until 2004, returning in 2007 until 2010 and is considerd an expert on the Middle East. Before Iraq she spent time living and working in Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. She brought this experience with her to Iraq and this depth of knowledge really shows through in her words and actions.
Sky tries hard to understand and explain everyone involved: every different community group, political faction, man on the street. Early on in the book she explains a great deal about Iraq’s history – things that were not mentioned in news reports about the invasion and war but are interesting and helpful at explaining what’s happened since.
I am not an avid follower of the news, and I don’t think the background of any story is every told in enough detail to give it proper context. This book goes beyond the headlines and sensationalist storylines to make a valiant attempt at the truth of a very troubled country. It’s not an “easy read;” the content does not make pleasant reading, and there are lots of names, acronyms and general military jargon to try and keep track off (there’s a glossary of the most common at the front). But it is incredibly well written and well worth a read.
Thanks for reading.