Brad Setser

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Peter Galbraith and Iraq

by Brad Setser
August 25, 2005

I think the folks over at TPM Café are right: David Brooks' latest New York Times column is a real flip-flop.  He has gone from celebrating the United States firm commitment to universal democratic principles to celebrating the United States firm commitment to realistic compromise with the basic social and political realities of Iraq.   Gideon Rose hit the nail on the head — at least for now, the realists seem to be making Bush Administration policy, even if the President's rhetoric lags facts on the ground, or in this case, words on paper.  The basic policy shift was telegraphed by a senior official (Condi? Khalizad? someone else?) in Robin Wright's Washington Post article almost two weeks ago: the United States' grand initial vision was at odds with the United States' (more limited) capabilities.

That said, I don't think Peter Galbraith's position (Brooks quotes him extensively) is all that hard to understand.  He was in Iraq to advise the Kurdish leaders on the (still not agreed) constitution, and his basic bias is pro-Kurd and pro-separation.  Iraq is an artificial creation of Winston Churchill – and the US should not try to hold it together at all costs.

Galbraith's quotes in the Los Angeles Times make his position pretty clear.  He advised the Kurds to accept an Islamic Shi'ite south in return for a "regional" constitution.   Sounds like the first step towards independence to me.  If a region can write a constitution that overrides the national constitution, is it really a region?

Although Iraq's charter does not envision installing a "supreme leader" like Iran's Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, questions are already emerging about certain provisions. For example, what are the "undisputed rules" of Islam? What constitutes "contradicting?" Since alcohol is banned in the Koran, should Iraq become a dry nation? Are women required to cover their heads? Does a prison sentence for a thief contradict the Koran, which calls for amputation of the hand?

"The problem is that there are no agreements on these questions," said Peter W. Galbraith, a former U.S. ambassador to Croatia who advised Kurdish politicians on the constitution. "It allows any cleric to make his own interpretation of the law and opens the door to a whole range of abuses."

Galbraith said the draft fell well short of the sort of democratic government the Bush administration hoped to install in Iraq. "The U.S. now has to recognize that they overthrew Saddam Hussein to replace him with a pro-Iranian state," he said.

Kurdish negotiators had objected to many of the provisions, but they eventually agreed after securing a separate provision that would allow them to draft their own regional constitution, which could override the national charter on issues such as religion and human rights, Galbraith said.


  • Posted by Guest

    The current constitutional process needs to arrive at a consensus and not be rammed through by the Kurds and the Iran backed Shiite parties with the support of the US. The possibility of the civil war spreading is too high a risk to take with so many parties and external sponsors involved.

    The Kurds will not give up this opportunity for an autonomous or independent Kurdistan. They also have the backing of the US and Israel and will play their hand of perceived strength. The issue of independence for the Kurds will only become serious if a) they decide to annex Kirkuk and the oil royalties b) Kurdish separatism spreads to Turkey and Iran.

    The troubling part is the potential creation of the Shiite super province in the south and the distribution of oil revenues from this region. This could become the cause for the expansion of the civil war. With no oil revenue base the Sadr Shiites could align with the Sunnis and the Iraqi nationalists against the possibility of a Iran influenced southern super province with the similar right as the Kurds to autonomy and potential secession. If this happens then the possibility of civil war extending into the now relatively quiet southern Iraq becomes larger. If Iraq further erupts with such a configuration of battle lines, with violence on all sides it will become next to impossible to put that genie back in the bottle.

    The Lebanon conflict will look tame.

  • Posted by SA

    The social cost of alcohol-related crime: Conceptual, theoretical and causal attributions
    Kai Pernanen
    National Institute for Alcohol and Drug Studies, Norway
    and Uppsala University, Sweden
    Draft paper presented at the Second International Symposium on the Economic and Social Costs of Substance Abuse, Montebello, Quebec, Canada
    October 2-5, 1995

  • Posted by Lonely

    Israel has placed Spy moles in Iraq to provide architecture for the future break up and plant new wars in the region
    – The second-highest diplomat at the United States Embassy in Baghdad is one of the anonymous government officials cited in an Aug. 4 indictment as having provided classified information to an employee of a pro-Israel lobbying group, people who have been officially briefed on the case said Wednesday.

    The diplomat, David M. Satterfield, was identified in the indictment as a United States government official, “USGO-2,” the people briefed on the matter said. In early 2002, USGO-2 discussed secret national security matters in two meetings with Steven J. Rosen, who has since been dismissed as a top lobbyist for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, known as Aipac, who has been charged in the case.

  • Posted by Jaseem

    I think it was Galbraith amongst others who argued that the civil war cant be won by the sunnis – the shia community is too large and so whether iraq remains united or becomes fragmented they are the big winners. I think that he also argued that the emerging shia-dominated state will see a natural confluence of interest with its neighbor Iran. This doesnt bother Galbraith but it will bother the US President.

    First, because it represents the failure of the policy to marginalize Iran. Second, because it removes Iraq as a check to Iran’s power and since that role was well served by Saddam the latter’s removal – at the cost of immense American treasure and lives – can be seen to be as tragic in its consequences (for Iraqis and americans) as it is disheartening in its futility (for americans). Third, an emerging Iraqi-Iranian entente would necessarily imply that a huge proportion of the middle east’s oil had drifted out of the orbit of America’s privileged access and control. And fourth, an emboldened and empowered Iran would not only challenge Israel – America’s local sheriff – but could undermine Saudia Arabia itself through the latters repressed shia community.

    An open ended American military presence in Iraq – and/or regime change in Tehran – may now be the only way to prevent consolidation of Iranian influence in Iraq and expansion of its alliances and power in the region.

    It is interesting to note that this is the result of following the ideals of american representative democracy. If the people are sovereign, their wishes can conflict dramatically with those of the supervising imperial power. The British, having been taught by John Stuart Mill (Representative Government) always argued that despotic imperialism’s purpose was to create the condtions for the natives gradual introduction to democracy.

    The Americans have followed their ideals, and now must abandon them or their interests. And I am not sure how american “realism” gets them out of the choices they face.

  • Posted by Guest

    found this comment on BG interesting…

    The Harsh Oil Reality Of A Tri-Partite Iraq: Civil war now seems almost inevitable… As Nigeria was a makeshift country forged by the British colonialists of the 19th century from the hundreds of tribes that had (and still have) very little to do with one another, and just as Yugoslavia was a quasi-nature of even more disparate cultures held together by the sheer dint of force of President Tito, so too is Iraq a nation forged by the British from three very different cultures now rending at the seams.

    Few understand that the Kurds in the north have in their region one of the largest unexplored oil reserves in the world, and it may indeed actually be the largest. Suffice it to say that it is enormous. The problem is that the Iraqi constitutional convention is putting forth a federally oriented constitution that grants a good deal of regional autonomy to the various ethnic groups there, creating an inherent instability. Eventually, the Shi’ia will form just such a region in the oil rich south; so too the Kurds in the oil rich (and soon to be oil-richer) north. That leaves the oil-poor Sunnis in the middle. They know this all too well, and it is perhaps the central reason why they fight as they do, having lost control of their once fabulous fortunes in the north and the south.

    The constitution, as it presently stands, mandates that all of the revenues and profits from all current known oil reserves in the three regions will be shared by the Iraqi federal government. BUT (and this is a huge “but” … a very, very huge “but”) all future oil discoveries will be controlled by the various regions. This was the only way that the constitution might even be modestly palatable to the three groups involved. Even so, we wonder how it shall be that the Kurds will continue to allow their present oil wealth to be split three ways with the Shi’ia and the Sunni. We wonder how the Shi’ia will allow their oil wealth to be split in the same fashion between the Kurds and the Sunni. Just as the Ogoni tribespeople in the southeastern Nigeria have fought for years to have control of the oil wealth that lies beneath the soil and offshore there, instead of having the revenues flow to Abuja and the federal government, so too will the Kurds and the Shi’ia fight against the Sunni…

    There will be a separate Kurdistan at some point in the future. The Turks, having fought the notion of a land-locked Kurdistan on its southeast corner, will now support such a nation, for the Kurds will have every reason to support the movement of their oil through Kurdish-Turkish pipelines to the Turkish port at Ceyhan. If Turkey supports an independent Kurdistan, which for all intents already exists given the level of autonomy and stability in that region, then eventually it will be a reality. If Iran supports the creation of an independent Shi’ia nation in the present Iraqi south as a “buffer state” to separate it from the Sunni controlled central region of present day Iraq, then it too shall eventually be independent and oil wealthy. The Sunnis, as they say, are caught in the middle. They know that and they are creating chaos, strangely, in order to hold the old Iraq together.

  • Posted by brad

    guest — interesting thesis. kurds use their oil to buy off the turks … i.e. if the turks get their share, they will accept an independent kurdistan.

    nigeria analogy is excellent as well. with oil now so high, the stakes for who gets to control the oil rents are large indeed.

    SA. a gentle reminder. comments generally should be short and on topic. not sure your first post met either criteria.

  • Posted by Guest
    Political Violence Surges in Iraq

    “The bloodshed was spurred partly by differences among Sunni and Shiite Arabs and ethnic Kurds over the constitution, along with attempts by insurgents and Hussein loyalists to derail the political process. Laith Kubba, spokesman for Prime Minister Ibrahim Jafari, said the Baghdad siege in particular was a ‘stage-managed operation’, orchestrated by supporters of Hussein intent on overshadowing work on the constitution. ‘They wanted the writing on the wall that they are still there’, Kubba said.”
    Bush urges Iraqi Shi’ites not to alienate Sunnis

    but where is sistani?

    “Iraq’s most influential Shiite cleric, Ali al Sistani, has come out against the incorporation of the northern city of Kirkuk, one of Iraq’s riches oil producing centres, into an autonomous Kuridsh state…

    “Kurdish leaders are adamant that Kirkuk – a traditionally Kurdish city which went through a process Arabisation during the rule of Saddam Hussein – be included in their territory and have called for a referendum.

    “Shiites and sunnites, who respectively make up for 63 and 35 percent of Iraq’s population, feel threatened by federalism as they fear they might lose to the Kurds the oil rich Kurdistan.”

  • Posted by SA

    Brad – My response was in relation to these lines in your post

    Since alcohol is banned in the Koran, should Iraq become a dry nation? Are women required to cover their heads? Does a prison sentence for a thief contradict the Koran, which calls for amputation of the hand?

  • Posted by brad

    SA — i included that portion of the LA times article for context, but they key point (given the over all post) was that “there is no agreement inside Iraq” on these questions, and the proposed constitutional solution (per Galbraith) is to allow the kurdish region to write a constitution that overrides the national constitution — i was not looking for a debate on the morality of alcohol, but rather on the structure of Iraq’s constitution.

  • Posted by SA

    Brad – I understand your points.

    People in the media and press are always attacking Islam and its practises. You dont know the background of these people but they excercise a major influence with baseless articles. They represent some influential groups that want to change the world to suit their corrupt ideas.

    They want moslems to give up islam from their daily lives. I have only given the reasons why moslems in Iraq or any where even though the west wants to, doesnt want such things in islamic lands.

  • Posted by Guest

    “interesting thesis. kurds use their oil to buy off the turks”

    More interesting thesis. Turks use Kurdish oil to buy off the EU. EU doesn’t notice Turkish invasion