As the Bush
administration faces increasing doubts about its
performance in Iraq, its critics, spanning party
lines, have sought ways to break the tedium of
violence and redefine the American role in the
country. On the Democratic side, Peter Galbraith has
played a significant part in trying to shape a
consensus, particularly in a series of articles in
The New York Review of Books. A former ambassador to
Croatia who was deeply involved later in East Timor,
Galbraith first gained prominence on Iraqi issues as
senior advisor to the Senate Foreign Relations
Committee between 1979 and 1993. During that time he
published reports on the Iran-Iraq war and on the
Iraqi regime's brutal campaigns against the Kurds.
Galbraith is currently writing a book on Iraq.
Reason: What do you think will happen next in
Iraq, once the upcoming December elections take
place on the basis of the new constitution?
The results of the December elections are likely to
resemble the January elections. The peoples of Iraq
will vote their ethnic or confessional identity, and
few will vote as Iraqis. The Kurds will vote once
again almost unanimously for the Kurdistan list and
the Shiites will vote for the religious parties.
Last January, the Sunni Arabs expressed their
identity by not voting, which many now realize was a
mistake. They will now vote for Sunni parties, and
especially those linked to the old Sunni-dominated
At the same time, former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi
and Ahmad Chalabi will get votes from secular Arabs,
and perhaps some religious Shiites disappointed with
the weak performance of the current government.
Allawi, Chalabi, and the Communists have the only
parties that are Iraqi—in the sense of crossing the
Sunni-Shiite divide—and, even so, they don't have
any support in Kurdistan.
Reason: As someone who has argued in favor of
allowing Iraq's three main groups—Arab Sunnis,
Shiites and Kurds—to go their separate ways in a
newly structured state, do you feel the new
constitution will allow this to happen peacefully,
or will it lead to a violent breakdown, perhaps in
the manner of Bosnia?
Iraq breaks up, it will not be because of the new
constitution, which merely acknowledges a breakup
that has already taken place, and provides a
structure for Iraq's peoples to coexist. I think the
constitution can help avoid a Bosnia-type war
because it resolves many of the issues—control of
oil, the future of Kirkuk, power at the center—that
could trigger a civil war. Iraq's peoples do not
share common values, or even a desire to be in the
same state. This constitution allows the Kurds to be
secular and Western oriented, and the Shiites to
have a pro-Iranian Islamic regime in the south. This
is the only way to reconcile such disparate agendas
within a single democratic state. But, if Iraq does
break up, the constitution's loose federalism could
make the process relatively painless.
Reason: There have been many theories on how
to absorb the Sunni insurgency. In the context of
the growing mood of decentralization in Iraq, do you
feel a new central government has the capacity to
act decisively on this front?
Sunni insurgency can only be defeated by the Sunni
Arabs. The constitution allows them to form their
own region and have their own military. A Sunni Arab
regional government and regional military may be
able to win enough support to take on, or co-opt,
many of the insurgents. An Iraqi Army loyal to a
pro-Iranian Shiite government (and led by Shiites
and Kurds) will never be seen as a national army by
the Sunni Arabs.
Reason: In recent weeks there have been moves
in the United States to impose a withdrawal
timetable on the administration. The pressure to
reduce troops is growing. Where do you think these
dynamics are leading, particularly as we approach
the November 2006 U.S. elections?
American people have lost confidence in President
Bush and his administration's conduct of the Iraq
war, and for good reason. It has been the most
incompetently executed major U.S. foreign policy
undertaking of my lifetime. The pressure for
withdrawal will only grow, and may become a tidal
wave by next November.
Reason: You've been close to, or advising,
Iraq's Kurds for some time. Some would say that
makes you biased when it comes to Kurdish autonomy,
or even independence, at the expense of recreating a
unified Iraqi entity. How would you respond to that?
have great sympathy for the Kurdish people who have
suffered horribly under Iraqi rule. But my analysis
is based on the strategic interests of the United
States. Every Kurd wants independence, and keeping
the Kurds in Iraq against their will is a formula
for never-ending violence and repression. A unitary
Iraq is unstable and unachievable; a loose
federation may work. But, if not, the U.S. should
work for a peaceful separation.
Reason: Some say there already is a victor in
Iraq, and that's Iran. Do you agree, and how far can
Iran go in Iraq without provoking an Iraqi backlash?
Bush administration removed Iran's arch enemy,
Saddam Hussein, and installed Iran's allies in power
in Baghdad. The most powerful political party in
Iraq is the Supreme Council for the Islamic
Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), and it was formed in
Iran. Iran created, armed and trained the Badr
Corps, the armed wing of the SCIRI, which is the
most powerful armed force in southern Iraq, and
which has infiltrated the police and army. No wonder
the Iranians are gloating.
Reason: Do you feel that an American and
Iraqi escalation on the border with Syria is now
inevitable, particularly in light of Syria's growing
international isolation because of the United
Nations probe into the assassination of former
Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri?
did not want the U.S. to succeed in Iraq for fear
that Damascus would be the next American target.
Until things started to go so badly in Iraq, there
were people associated with the Bush administration
talking openly about "doing Syria next." But, the
stakes have gone up since the Hariri assassination.
If Syria continues to allow terrorists to cross its
border into Iraq, it is taking a terrible risk.
Reason: Do you feel the U.S. and Iraq might
use Syria's Kurds against Damascus as a means of
pressure in the future?
Reason: How will Turkey react to growing
Kurdish autonomy, particularly if the U.S. pulls out
and effectively lifts its protection from the Kurds?
Turkey's policy toward Iraqi Kurdistan so far has
been realistic and forward-looking. Iraq's
constitution creates a fully self-governing
Kurdistan and includes a procedure to resolve the
status of Kirkuk. Turkey accepts that it is the
sovereign right of Iraq to organize itself as the
peoples of Iraq choose. Turkey has chosen—very
wisely in my view—to work closely with the Kurdistan
Regional Government. It has also promoted Turkish
business in Kurdistan, including a Turkish company
that is developing the Taq Taq oil field under a
contract with the Kurdistan Regional Government.
Even Turkish hardliners recognize that Ankara has
few alternatives. There is no military option. A
Turkish intervention in northern Iraq would be much
more difficult than its domestic 15-year war fought
against the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK), and would
lead to international condemnation and possible
sanctions. An intervention in Iraq would also kill
Turkey's chances of joining the European Union. Many
in Turkey now see Kurdistan as a kindred
state—sharing Turkey's secular traditions and its
Western and democratic orientation. Kurdistan is a
buffer against an Islamic state in Arab Iraq. And,
Turkey's policy of building close ties with the
Kurdistan government gives it much more influence
than a policy based on threats.
Reason: Among Democrats, you're listened to
as a voice on Iraq policy; what are you advising
decision-makers in the party?
Democrats need to present a clear alternative to
Bush's failed policy, and not just criticize. The
Bush strategy in Iraq is based on illusions and
wishes; the Democratic strategy should be realistic.
The starting point is recognizing that Iraq has
broken up, and then working with the constituent
components. Both Kurdistan and Iraq's south are
stable, and there is no need for coalition forces to
provide security in either place. The U.S. should
reduce its footprint in the Sunni Arab areas and
focus on developing a Sunni Arab force that is
willing and able to take on the insurgents. Because
of the danger that terrorists might use the Sunni
areas to stage attacks outside Iraq, the U.S. cannot
withdraw completely from the country. But, we can
reduce our forces quickly, keeping a rapid-reaction
force in Kurdistan which is the one place in Iraq
where we are welcome. We also need to step up our
diplomacy in working to resolve issues—like Kirkuk—that
could intensify Iraq's civil war.
Reason: Is Iraq better off today than it was
under Saddam Hussein?
It is important to remember how cruel Saddam's
regime was. Because Iraq is now free, the violence
is constantly in the news; but over the past 35
years Saddam's henchmen murdered more than 500,000
Iraqis, with the world knowing little about it and
remaining, alas, largely indifferent.
Reason: Finally, do you have any confidence
that the Arab states might find an independent
solution to the Iraqi crisis? If not, where do the
Arabs come into any solution?
Within Iraq, the reputation of the Arab world
suffers from the past silence of Arab countries when
Saddam Hussein slaughtered Shiites and Kurds. Many
Shiites and Kurds believe the Arab League favors
Sunni Arabs, and it will be hard for the Arab states
to overcome this legacy of mistrust. The recent
Cairo conference on reconciliation was, however, a
good first step. Perhaps the most useful thing the
Arab world could do is to train a Sunni Arab
military force that can take on the insurgents and
Reason contributing editor Michael Young is
opinion editor at the Daily Star newspaper in