Interview: Kurdistan's Position In A Fragile Iraq
Peter Galbraith of Townshend has spent much of the last 30 years working closely with Kurds in northern Iraq as that region has tried to create a path to independence from the rest of the country. A former diplomat, Galbraith is in Kurdistan working as an advisor to Kurdish leaders.
Galbraith is the author of the 2006 book, The End of Iraq: How American Incompetence Created A War Without End. He spoke with Vermont Edition about his perspective on the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, the Maliki government and whether Iraq will remain a unified country.
On Kurdistan seeking independence from Iraq
"All the people of Kurdistan want to have an independent country, and ... there is no Iraqi army, so they have to defend their own territory with their own military. They are no longer getting any financial support from the Iraqi government, so they have to depend on their own resources. The crisis has made them an independent state, so now they’re contemplating the next step."
"The crisis has made them [the people of Kurdistan] an independent state, so now they're contemplating the next step."
On the prospects for a unified Iraq
"I wrote a book [in 2006] called The End of Iraq, which argued ... that Iraq had broken up and the United States should not be in the business of trying to put it back together. We have spent hundreds of billions of dollars trying to put Iraq back together.
"Today the divisions of the country, I think, are very stark and I think there’s no prospect of building a unified Iraq. And rightly one should accept the reality: the world is not worse off for having some states disappear. I don’t think very many people miss the Soviet Union and not many people miss Yugoslavia. I think what we regret about the breakup of Yugoslavia was the violence, not the breakup."
On who should replace Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki
"There are thee or four candidates to replace him – some from Maliki's own Dawa party; that is unacceptable to the Kurds and to the Sunnis. I think Ahmed Chalabi, who I think many in Vermont will remember as the person who persuaded the Bush administration to invade Iraq and [who] presented all sorts of evidence that turned out not to be true of weapons of mass destruction.
"The world is not worse off for having some states disappear. I don't think very many people miss the Soviet Union and not many people miss Yugoslavia. I think what we regret about the breakup of Yugoslavia was the violence, not the breakup."
"He is a leading candidate, and I think actually he probably would be the best candidate. That may surprise some people listening to me. He came to the U.S., he had no political support and he got the U.S. to loan him our army and spend $1.5 trillion in pursuit of his objectives. Now, from an Iraqi perspective, that demonstrates that he’s a very effective Iraqi. And the Americans shouldn’t be angry at him for getting the U.S. to pursue his foreign policy objectives. They should be angry at the people in Washington who simply believed on face value what he was saying."
On turning points in Iraqi history
"This is a moment in Iraqi history of equal importance to the invasion in 2003. It is changing the order of the country. In 2003 the U.S. came in, it got rid of the Saddam dictatorship, it ended 90 years of Sunni rule, which because the Sunnis were a minority, had been brutal rule. It led to the fragmentation of Iraq.
"And now you see the Sunnis coming in, taking their own territory, threatening Baghdad. Most people don’t think they can take it but they don’t rule it out. And you see the dissolving of the border between Iraq and Syria.
"In some ways, to take a longer historical perspective, in 1991 in Europe we saw the end of the World War I settlement in Europe. So the countries that were created at the end of World War I - Yugoslavia, the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia - disappeared. And now in the Middle East, we’re seeing, I think, the dissolution of Iraq and Syria. And it’s not clear how much further this will spread."
"There are thousands who are being killed. Millions who live in terror ... It really is a very grim moment."
On the human toll of the conflict
"What we have to keep in mind is that this is just an extraordinary tragedy for the people in both countries. The combined population of Syria and Iraq is in the neighborhood of 50 to 60 million. There are thousands who are being killed. Millions who live in terror, millions who’ve been displaced from their homes, millions of people whose lives have been interrupted, whose education can’t continue. And who may end up living under horrific regimes including terrorists. It really is a very grim moment."