Divided, Iraq Can Stand

An interview with former ambassador Peter Galbraith

(Page 2 of 2)

Galbraith: Syria 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?

Galbraith: No.

Reason: How will Turkey react to growing Kurdish autonomy, particularly if the U.S. pulls out and effectively lifts its protection from the Kurds?

Galbraith: 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?

Galbraith: The 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?

Galbraith: Yes. 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?

Galbraith: 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 terrorists.

Reason contributing editor Michael Young is opinion editor at the Daily Star newspaper in Beirut.

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