Iraq and Gulf Analysis

Archive for January 14th, 2010

System Failure: The Ban on Mutlak

Posted by Reidar Visser on Thursday, 14 January 2010 20:50

The Iraqi elections commission (IHEC) has reportedly upheld the decision by the accountability and justice board to bar around 500 candidates, including Salih al-Mutlak, from participating in the 7 March elections, based on allegations of Baathist sympathies. The banned candidates can appeal to a board of seven judges that came into existence only three days ago, and whose names still appear to remain a secret.

It is hard to describe this development as anything than other than complete system failure in the new democracy in Iraq. Almost inevitably, the atmosphere of the elections will now turn into a repeat of December 2005, with escalating rhetoric that can easily turn sectarian. Parliament had the obvious option of marginalising Ali al-Lami, the Iran-connected leader of the former de-Baathification committee; instead they went for the more convenient solution of approving seven judges that now have the delicate and enormous task of dealing with hundreds of appeals in a matter of weeks. Why did they not ask Ali al-Lami to step down instead? Why did not the “independent” IHEC offer any resistance? What are the forces the Iraqi parliament and the IHEC are so afraid of? Mutlak has played a constructive role in Iraqi politics since 2005; the sudden allegation of dangerous Baathist revival plans simply smacks of panic on the part of his political opponents and involvement by forces outside Iraq.

As for the external environment some reports say UNAMI (and possibly also the Americans) pleaded with the IHEC not to follow through on the ban on Mutlak. The recent top-level Arab League visit to Baghdad is widely seen to have had the same objective. Quite inexplicably, the newly-arrived British ambassador to Baghdad chose the hearing on the Iraq War in London to warn against the possibility of a coup in Baghdad, which can only have added fire to the flames. But other than that, only Iran is known to be supportive of the ban. To add insult to injury, the Iranian foreign minister visited Baghdad just days before parliament decided to let the accountability and justice committee have its way.

The future now depends on how swiftly the newly constituted appeals court handles the cases. If the appeals drag on for many weeks then inevitably this issue will continue to dominate the agenda and the elections can easily become a replay of 2005, probably to the satisfaction of the ISCI/Chalabi/Sadrist alliance (Hakim has spent the past two days in Kurdistan talking about a renewed Shiite-Kurdish alliance). Interestingly, however, Salih al-Mutlak this morning actually expressed confidence that the appeals court would deal justly with any appeal by him.

Posted in Iranian influence in Iraq, Iraq's 2010 parliamentary election, Iraqi constitutional issues, Iraqi nationalism | 9 Comments »

Once More, Peter Galbraith Fails to Clear His Name

Posted by Reidar Visser on Thursday, 14 January 2010 6:59

The Iraqi parliament has already gone on holiday until next Tuesday so we might as well take a look at the most recent attempt by Peter Galbraith to explain to the world exactly what he was up to with his multiple roles in Kurdistan in the period 2004–2006. Whereas his latest contribution does not really contain any significant new information, it has been circulated by the author and his friends with such fervour that a refutation should be available for the record.

Galbraith’s latest version of events appears in the 14 January issue of The New York Review of Books under the headline “A Statement on My Activities in Kurdistan” – and as such cannot fail to generate expectations of a “full and final disclosure”. In that perspective, however, the piece is a rather disappointing affair. With the exception of two minor details there is no new information, just a rehash of the same old story, and the article certainly fails to effectively rebut the key point of criticism against Galbraith: That he continued to stay involved in the Iraqi constitutional process also after he acquired a business interest in the Norwegian oil company DNO and its Kurdistan operations in 2004. The only new pieces that are added to the puzzle are the fact that the Iraqi oil ministry must have known about Galbraith’s interest in DNO (since Galbraith represented the company on a joint committee), and also that the government of the United States was somehow informed.

Today, Galbraith wants us to read his “Kurdistan activities” between 2004 and 2006 roughly as follows. After having been interested in the Kurdish cause during the 1990s (partly on basis of his experience with Kurdish refugees after the 1991 uprising) he in 2004 “helped Kurdistan’s leaders draft a proposal for a self-governing Kurdistan that was submitted to the Coalition Provisional Authority on February 11, 2004, for inclusion in Iraq’s interim constitution”.  Since the proposal also included provisions for regional control of the oil sector, Galbraith’s next step was to help the Kurds start building their oil sector in practice on the ground. Accordingly, he “helped bring DNO, a Norwegian oil company, into Kurdistan”. As part of this process, he was “paid by DNO and entered into a financial arrangement with the company through a Delaware partnership, Porcupine LP.” Later, in 2005, he “advised” the Kurds on their negotiations for a permanent constitution; however Galbraith stresses that their negotiating position was more or less similar to the one “they” had defined in February 2004, “and they achieved virtually all of it”. Galbraith specifically denies having “pushed through” anything during the negotiations, thereby refuting a claim made by The New York Times concerning his overall level of influence on the Iraqi constitutional process.

Galbraith’s account is unsatisfactory for at least two reasons. Firstly, no matter how much he tries to dress things up by referring to the “Kurdish proposal of February 2004” there is no way he can erase what he himself wrote on this subject back in 2006, when he in considerable detail bragged about how almost every single word of that proposal had in fact been written by himself. On p. 167 of The End of Iraq, Galbraith highlighted this fact by dramatically describing the sole change to his own proposal that was introduced by the Kurds: “Kosrat Rasul, the veteran PUK peshmerga who had served as Kurdistan’s second prime minister in 1994, wanted to clarify that deployments of the Iraqi Kurdistan national guard outside the region should not only be approved by the Kurdistan national assembly but should only occur at the request of the federal government in Baghdad. His amendment underscored the Kurds’ reluctance to be involved in Iraq’s wars. With that change, the proposal was accepted.” Galbraith’s five-page proposal, that is, with the single-paragraph amendment by Rasul! In other words, every time Galbraith refers to “the Kurdish proposal of February 2004”, please substitute “the Galbraith proposal of February 2004”. This applies for example when Galbraith writes, “The Kurds…had set the agenda and they pushed through their own proposal”. It was largely Galbraith’s proposal they pushed through.

Secondly, with respect to the supposedly “informal” nature of Galbraith’s involvement with the constitution after he had acquired an “interest” in DNO in June 2004 (at which point the conflict of interests obviously got more pronounced), at least three smoking guns can be found just in the open sources. The first two are again of Galbraith’s own making, and once more can be found in The End of Iraq. On p. 199 in a footnote Galbraith cannot resist revealing how he personally intervened to dissuade a British official from opening a debate about the taxation power of the central government close to the deadline for the constitutional draft. Also, on p. 171 he depicts his own role in staging a semi-official referendum on Kurdish independence on the sidelines of the January 2005 elections. The third significant reference is from his friend, Jonathan Morrow, who on p. 13 of a report entitled Iraq’s Constitutional Process II from 2005 describes how the “Kurdish parties were able to invite into the ad hoc meetings [where Kurdish and Shiite leaders designed the shape of the new constitution] experienced non-Iraqi international negotiators and constitutional lawyers, including former U.S. diplomat Peter Galbraith and University of Maryland Professor Karol Soltan, to advance the Kurdish case.” Again, what was he doing there, if he had a business interest in DNO? This truly is a “private citizen” extraordinaire, with access to all areas, and clearly so active that even open-source materials attest to his influential role.

One additional aspect that strangely has yet to receive much attention in the American debate is the question of possible disinformation of the US Congress by Galbraith in ways that could advance his own “business interests”. On 11 January 2006, Galbraith, who by that time was still involved with DNO, suggested several policy measures in a testimony to the US Senate called “Acknowledge Partition and Withdraw: A Reality Based Strategy for Iraq”. Among these measures was the idea of a general US withdrawal from Iraq, with the exception of a “small over the horizon force in Kurdistan”, explained with reference to the claim that “the Kurds are among the most pro-American people in the world and would welcome a US military presence, not the least because it would help protect them from Arab Iraqis who resent their close cooperation with the US during the 2003 War and thereafter.” Coincidentally, of course, that small American military force would also protect Galbraith’s “business interests” and the Tawke oilfield to which these interests relate. But Galbraith did not tell Congress that, did he?

Additionally, many of the conjectures by Galbraith in his congressional testimony are inaccurate or misleading. For example, the idea that other Iraqis would embark on some kind of systematic revenge operation to physically attack the Kurds for their cooperation with the Americans since 2003 seems a little exaggerated. (By 2006, vast number of non-Kurdish Iraqis had done exactly the same thing in terms of cooperation.) Galbraith also vastly overplays Shiite interest in federalism when he asserts that “Iraq’s Council of Representatives has already passed a law paving the way to the formation of a Shiite ‘super-region’ in fifteen months” and later goes on to talk about “a Shiite Region likely on its way”. In fact, three years later, few Iraqi Shiites seem to have any interest in a Shiite region whatsoever (even Ammar al-Hakim has left the specific idea of a nine-governorate “Shiite” region and now talks about federal regions more generally). Also, Galbraith failed to mention that the law to which he referred in fact enables several thousand other, non-sectarian scenarios of Iraqi governorates combining into federal regions  (yes, that’s right, thousands, new regions can be everything from a single governorate to 14 governorates coming together and need not be territorially contiguous, so the reservoir of possible combinations of those existing governorates that are allowed to form multi-governorate regions, i.e. excepting Baghdad, is truly mind-boggling).

Towards the end of his attempt at rebuttal, Galbraith does a wonderful job of highlighting the general shakiness of his own position. He writes, “A separate issue arises over what I should have disclosed in connection with my articles in The New York Review of Books… I wrote several other articles in 2004 and 2005, some of which briefly discussed the oil issue, and did not mention my business arrangements. These arrangements were covered by confidentiality agreements, but I should have stated that I had business interests in Kurdistan. I regret not having done so and apologize to the editors and readers of The New York Review of Books. In my later articles, I did state that I was ‘a principal at the Windham Resources Group, a firm that negotiates on behalf of its clients in post-conflict societies, including in Iraq.’ ”

The big issue, of course, is that he did not mention Porcupine and DNO! But to Galbraith that distinction between a consultancy firm and an oil company appears to be unimportant, and he offers the reference to the Windham Resources Group in the hope that this may mollify NYRB readers after his failure to disclose inconvenient truths about Norwegian oil companies and multi-million stakes in the Kurdistan oil industry. As with so many other aspects of his “activities in Kurdistan”, Galbraith is either unable or unwilling to see the bigger picture and the strong and problematic linkages between his private-citizen “business interests” on the one hand and the Iraqi constitutional process and US policy debate on the other.

Posted in Basra and southern regionalism, Iraq and soft partition, Iraqi constitutional issues, Iraqi nationalism, Oil in Iraq | 3 Comments »