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Emma Sky

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Emma Sky is a British cross-cultural specialist, trained in Oriental Studies and coming from a pacifist tradition, who has become a valued adviser to U.S. generals in Iraq. When the Iraq War broke out, which she opposed, she volunteered for a Foreign and Commonwealth Office team that would administer post-invasion Iraq, and let Iraqis know many Europeans opposed the war. [1]While she was expert in cultures other than her native one,
I’m experienced in working in different cultures. The most alien culture I’ve ever worked in is the U.S. military.I was used to working in the humanitarian space, the diplomatic space. I came to Iraq and that space, the military, is all over it.[2]
She has become a principal adviser to GEN Ray Odierno, now the top U.S. commander in Iraq, and rose with him from less senior commands, partially because she would give him a totally different perspective than would his conventional staff. Odierno, who had been thought to be overly harsh on civilians as a tactical commander, said
Emma was able to give me a completely different perspective: it was from an Iraqi viewpoint...We didn’t have a lot of experience in doing these things, so someone with her background and knowledge was able to assist us as to how we could best help civilians.[2]

Sky came to more widespread attention as a result on Thomas Ricks' book on the "Surge" in Iraq and the rethinking involved. [3] The regional commander, GEN David Petraeus, also had acquired a nonmilitary adviser, Sadi Othman, less formally trained than Sky, but the idea of an alternate view had been embraced. Petraeus, himself with a doctorate in international relations, has used planning groups containing both military officers with social science backgrounds and pure social scientists, as has GEN Stanley McChrystal in Afghanistan.

Some have compared her to Gertrude Bell; she first heard the comparison from Iraqis in Kirkuk. She observed that she and Bell came from different generations. “But I understand her love of the place. When anyone makes this comparison, I always think she ends up a spinster in Baghdad committing suicide.”[1]

It has occasionally been suggested, in jest, that the best advice comes from advisers at different altitudes. Sky is 5'4" while Odierno is a massive 6'5"; Petraeus is relatively small but Othman is 6' 7" and the first Jordanian to dunk a basketball in a college game.


  1. 1.0 1.1 Deborah Haynes (13 April 2009), "Anti-war Briton Emma Sky is helping to reshape Iraq", Times (UK)
  2. 2.0 2.1 Alissa Rubin (20 November 2009), "In Iraq, a Blunt Civilian Is a Fixture by the General’s Side", New York Times
  3. Thomas Ricks (2009), THE GAMBLE: General David Petraeus and the American Military Adventure in Iraq, 2006-2008, Penguin, ISBN 987-1594201974