Iraq and Gulf Analysis

Archive for November 16th, 2009

A Weak Attempt at Rebuttal: Galbraith (2009) Is Contradicted by Galbraith (2006)

Posted by Reidar Visser on Monday, 16 November 2009 10:03


The NYT has previously been generous in offering space to Peter Galbraith and may have felt it had some explaining to do to its readers. The above example is from 9 July 2006

“Innuendo.” “Absurd.” “Offensive.” Those are the words employed by Peter Galbraith over the weekend in an attempt to dismiss the charge that he had an impact on the shape of Kurdish demands in Iraq’s constitutional negotiations back in 2005. After a front-page, above-the-fold story in the New York Times last week, the Tawke-gate saga has for the first time attracted the attention of US mainstream media in a big way and Galbraith is gradually becoming more talkative.

Galbraith now maintains that his role for the Kurds back in 2004 and 2005 was that of a mere facilitator who had no impact on the formulation of Kurdish goals and ambitions as such – which in his view means that it was also unproblematic for him to simultaneously have a consultancy contract with the Norwegian oil company DNO, which began operating in the Kurdish areas of Iraq at the time. He has added that the fact that his “business arrangements” were known to the Kurdish leadership meant it was unproblematic for him to sit in on key meetings related to the constitutional process in the summer of 2005. Galbraith stresses that he “did no drafting”.

The fundamental problem for Peter Galbraith is that there exists a detailed published account that tells a very different story. Moreover, this source is authored by someone who was extremely close to those events back in 2004 and 2005 and probably knew a lot about what was going on – Peter Galbraith himself. In his book The End of Iraq, published in 2006, Galbraith recounts in considerable detail how he not only made an impact through shaping Kurdish demands, but also how almost all of his suggestions were verbatim inserted in the Kurdish negotiating proposal of February 2004 that later was to have such a great impact on the Iraqi constitution that was eventually adopted in 2005.

On p. 160 of his book, Galbraith describes his own arrival on the scene in 2003 as follows: “While they had secured support from the Iraqi opposition for federalism, the Kurds had yet to think through some practical issues. What powers would belong to Kurdistan and what to the central government in Baghdad…Who would control the police and security forces? And there was the all-important issue, who would own the oil of Kurdistan?”

Galbraith then goes on to bemoan the “conceptual problems” of the Kurdish leaders before he describes the liberating effect of memos written by himself from the summer of 2003 onwards. His choice of verbs tells the whole story: “I urged”… “Kurdistan should”… “I argued”. Among his demands was the following: “Kurdistan should, I argued, own and manage its own oil resources”. Summing up his contribution, Galbraith remarks on p. 161: “These ideas [referring to his own proposals] eventually became the basis of Kurdistan’s proposal for an Iraqi constitution”. The reader clearly gets the impression that Galbraith’s role was a decisive and even a transformative one – an interpretation that makes sense also on the basis of a comparison with the previous and much less radical constitutional proposal by the Kurdish leadership from 2003 (where in article 59.4 Baghdad was given control of “all kinds of armed forces”, and in article 59.11 the oil sector was similarly described as the prerogative of the central government).


In his own words: Galbraith describes his influence on the constitutional process in Iraq in his book from 2006

Later, on pp. 166–67 of his book from 2006, Galbraith describes how his own more detailed proposal in early 2004 was more or less copied wholesale by the Kurds to form their negotiating position as defined in February 2004. He summarises his paper Special Provisions for the Kurdistan Region of Iraq which is also reproduced in toto in an appendix to the book on pp. 225–29. These proposals – which included the key distinction between existing and future oil fields that would later enable stronger regional influence over new oilfields in the 2005 constitution and which forms the basis for the current dispute between Baghdad and the Kurds over oil – were “accepted” by the Kurdish leadership, and then forwarded to the CPA, “as a submission by the Kurdistan National Assembly”! According to Galbraith, his own proposals became the Kurdish proposal in all its details save for one extremely minor “amendment”: “Kosrat Rasul…wanted to clarify that deployment of the Iraqi Kurdistan National Guard should not only be approved by the Kurdistan National Assembly, but should only occur a the request of the federal government in Baghdad”. All the rest had been penned by Galbraith.

As to the influence of this “proposal” on the constitution of 2005, Galbraith is once more an excellent source. On p. 168 of The End of Iraq, he explains, “Masud Barzani took the initiative to organise a Kurdish delegation and negotiating position that would achieve each objective outlined in their February 11 proposal [which Galbraith had formulated in its entirety] and then some.” Galbraith’s book is also informative when it comes to his own role in radicalising the Kurdish position during late 2004 and 2005, especially on p. 171: “In September 2004, the Referendum Movement organisers [who campaigned for a referendum for Kurdish independence] asked me to meet with them… As we sipped Turkish coffee, we discussed how other independence movements had promoted their own causes. I recalled that at least one independence movement conducted an unofficial referendum on the same day as the country’s general election, setting up informal polling places near the official ones. The Referendum Movement leaders thought this was an interesting precedent but doubted that the Kurdish authorities would allow it. I explained that in a democracy the authorities could not prevent such expression of free speech as long as the organisers did not interfere in the official voting”.  As is well known, the referendum was indeed held along the lines suggested by Galbraith. Not bad for an “adviser”?

In a key paragraph of his book on p. 169, Galbraith summarises the way in which multiple elements of the “Kurdish” proposal of 11 February 2004 actually found their way into Iraq’s 2005 constitution. For example, he writes, “as the Kurds proposed in February 2004 the regional governments have exclusive control over future oil fields.” Note, however, how different this sentence looks if we insert in brackets additional information provided by Galbraith elsewhere: “As the Kurds proposed in February 2004 [entirely on the basis of my own proposal] the regional governments have exclusive control over future oil fields [in one of which I hold a business interest through DNO].” But even though all the information in the brackets above has been confirmed by Galbraith personally on separate occasions (elsewhere in his 2006 book and in newspaper interviews in 2009 respectively), he today dismisses the juxtaposition of the facts as “innuendo” and instead tries  to describe exactly the same relationship using very different words: Three days, ago, on 13 November, he told The Brattleboro Reformer (a local newspaper in Vermont) that “I gave them advice and the end result that they achieved was identical to what was already proposed in February 2004 [emphasis added]”. What Peter Galbraith does not admit in 2009 is what he boasted of in 2006, namely that 99% of the February 2004 proposal was his own work and not that of any Kurdish leader.


Private citizen, access all areas: Galbraith prevented a last-minute discussion about the taxation power of the central government in October 2005 (source: Galbraith 2006, p. 199)

In retrospect, it may seem odd that Galbraith should have chosen to publish a book in 2006 that would implicate him so clearly in an unacceptable mixing of roles in business (DNO), constitutional consultancy (for the Kurds) and Iraq policy advocacy (at home in the United States). However, the book from 2006 was a reflection of its time. Iraq seemed to be heading downhill back then, and Galbraith was probably convinced the country would break apart (as per his suggestion). Accordingly, he was not only extremely forthcoming with information concerning his own role; he actually appeared to be glowing with the pride of a would-be Kurdish T.E. Lawrence. What he failed to realise was that Iraq was a little more resilient than the pessimistic title of his book suggested.

In other respects, there is not much that is new in Galbraith’s latest attempts at rebutting the NYT article. He still has the audacity to suggest that the fact that he informed “Kurdish leaders” somehow exonerated him from any possible conflict of interest! What about the rest of the Iraqis who participated in the negotiations, did they know everything as well? And what about those in the drafting committee who did not belong to KDP/PUK and SCIRI/Daawa and were excluded from the “leadership meetings” in early August 2005, where key decisions were made, and where Galbraith himself participated repeatedly? Iraq’s former ambassador to the UN, Feisal Amin al-Istrabadi has said it best: “You don’t let Firestone draft the constitution of Liberia. You don’t let Shell draft the constitution of Nigeria. We shouldn’t have had an oil company [i.e. Norway’s DNO] drafting the Iraqi constitution.”

Finally, in a welcome development, the editorial board of the NYT has ruled that Galbraith did indeed have a conflict of interest which should have been disclosed when he wrote op-eds in the paper in favour of the soft partition policy in Iraq. This should make it clear once and for all that there is more to this case than the primitive Norwegian “conspiracy” alleged by some Vermont newspapers, according to which the whole affair has been fabricated by all-powerful Norwegian trolls bent on revenge for the Eide/Galbraith dispute in Afghanistan.

Posted in Iraq and soft partition, Iraqi constitutional issues, Oil in Iraq | 7 Comments »