Purchased a FORA.tv video on another website? Login here with the temporary account credentials included in your receipt.
Sign up today to receive our weekly newsletter and special announcements.
Peter Galbraith is the Senior Diplomatic Fellow at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation and he's principle of Galbraith Associates, a Vermont-based firm that specializes in international negotiations. He's hardly new to international negotiations. He served as US Ambassador to Croatia from 1993 to 1998 and he was actively involved in the Croatia and Bosnia peace processes. He was co-mediator and principle architect of the 1995 agreement that ended the war on Croatia. During the war years he was responsible for US humanitarian programs in the former Yugoslavia and US relations with (unidentified) the mission headquartered in Zagreb. He was, his diplomatic interventions facilitated the flow of humanitarian assistance to Bosnia and secure the 1993 release of thousands, five thousand prisoners of war. He participated in the negotiations of the agreement that established the federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina and was co-chairman of the Croatian peace process. He of course, is a specialist in post-war reconstruction. From Bosnia he went on to East Timor. He was Director for Political, Constitutional and Electoral Affairs for the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor. He also served as cabinet member for the first transitional government of East Timor and designed the country's, the territory's first interim government and the process as well that helped set up or establish permanent constitution. In 2003, excuse me, Ambassador Galbraith was an ABC news consultant and arrived in Baghdad just four days after American troops did. He's the author of numerous articles on Iraq. Please join me in welcoming Peter Galbraith. Jane, thank you so much for that kind introduction, and to the World Affairs Council of Northern California for this invitation to talk about a subject that um, is obviously on everybody's mind. I did note that you said that this is online and can be checked if you've forgotten anything, but actually, you don't need to do any of that, just buy the book. And you can look at the index and look for the relevant facts. I'm going to speak rather briefly because if I, I've written a whole book on the subject, so I could go at great length and I'd really rather respond to people's questions, but I want to focus, perhaps before I begin with what I'm going to focus on, I should say just a word about the book. Its partly a memoir of my own experience in Iraq, which goes back, I started following it when I began working for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1979; really it became a major issue in 1980 when Iraq invaded Iran in the middle of the Iran hostage crisis. Made my first trip there in 1984 going to Baghdad, met with many of the top leaders, some of whom, like Taha Yassin Ramadan, had never met with Americans before he was the vice president, one of many of the people I've met who, both there and in the Balkans, who are now in jail, I don't know how it happens. But, uh, also traveled up into Kurdistan which at that time was relatively peaceful and about which I knew relatively little. I made a second but, to me, this was one of those issues that people really were not paying attention to, but yet we had a World War I kind of battle going on between these two countries trench warfare, use of poison gas, lasting twice as long chewing up a generation of young men and on the whole, indifference on part of the international community, except at the time when it appeared that Iran might win. I went back in, but again, I was nervous about it because it just seemed that anytime you have a war of that nature go on and on there are going to be unintended consequences, even if they're not clear. I went back again in '87, at that point the Iraqis looked like they were losing, not the least because the United States having initially tilting in favor of Iraq, having had the Rumsfeld mission to Iraq helping to establish diplomatic relations a mission, incidentally, which took place shortly after Iraq began using chemical weapons against the Iranians and about which, at least to Saddam Hussein in the two visits he made, Rumsfeld said nothing. He may have said something to Tariq Aziz, the foreign minister, but the fact is that if you don't say it to the main guy, what's the message he's getting, we really don't care about it and indeed, we didn't care. In fact, and I describe this in the book, we ended up providing intelligence to the Iranians that they used to target their chemical weapons, I'm sorry, intelligence to the Iraqis that they used to target their chemical weapons on the Iranians. Now, there were allegations, oh the U.S. provided chemicals, or chemical weapons to the Iraqis. I'm pretty sure that did not happen. But chemical weapons, this is a run of the mill World War I technology. The materials you can find many places, in fact, for the crudest variety perhaps even in a hardware store. What was really critical was, how do you deliver those weapons on concentrations of enemy troops, and in order to do that, you need to know where the troops are concentrated and that's what you get from the intelligence. And that, the United States uniquely was able to provide and even though the Iranians were, the Iraqis were using our intelligence to target those weapons, we simply went ahead and continued to supply the intelligence with no outcry at all. I went back in '87, at this point, because there'd been this bizarre shift in, Reagan had been helping the Iranians with that secret arms for hostages process, the Iraqis actually were in danger of losing the war. And of course the other problem was that the Kurds who, not for one minute were from the founding of the Iraqi state from 1920 to the present day, have reconciled to being a part of Iraq, 20% of the population, any opportunity they had to rebel, they did. And any time somebody was smashing the government in Baghdad, they were on the side of whoever was smashing. So in 1980's as, late 80's as it looked like Iran might win the war they were being supported by the Iranians, fighting against the central government. Incidentally, in 2003, when the United States was going to war with Baghdad, our most loyal ally one that took the most casualties of any ally was the Kurdistan army, the Peshmerga. They were on our side for exactly the same reason, although people in this Administration imagined that they all wanted to be good Iraqis. But anyhow, when I went back in '87, I really stumbled on the Anfal Campaign, the, what, I didn't know the name of it, but it was a military campaign that became the genocide against the Kurds. I wanted to go to Kurdistan, for odd reasons got permission to do it, and as we entered I and Heywood Rankin from the American Embassy in Baghdad, we entered into Kurdistan, we came across, what we saw was very shocking, which was the systematic destruction of all the villages along the side of the road. We had maps and in some cases places that should have been on the map were no longer there and other cases they were partially destroyed houses and shops on one side of the road, rubble on the other. Further in there were a countryside and where you knew there should have been buildings and there were none and you could see concentration camps being built. And that made a very strong impression on me, and I put that together then the next year when you had public evidence of chemical weapons being used now against the Kurds. And to me this was evidence that Iraq, which, anyhow, which had a Fascist regime, with a master race, the Arabs...part of the greater Arab world, exclusionary of the Kurds, that this was a program of genocide. I drafted very quickly a bill called the Prevention of Genocide Act, in 1988 passed the Senate, one day after it was introduced a kind of rapid speed on an important policy issue that doesn't exist anymore. But at that time...and the Prevention of Genocide Act would have imposed complete economic sanctions on Iraq for the use of chemical weapons against the Kurds that is, Saddam, sanctions on Iraq for gassing his own people. At that time, the Reagan Administration opposed sanctions. They said it was premature, it was too extreme a step. So we have this odd situation that, actually at the time that Iraq was gassing its own people, that Saddam was gassing his own people, it was too extreme to have economic sanctions, but that selfsame act was a justification for war fifteen years later. Incidentally, one of the other interesting things, again, I guess I'm advertising the book here, told in the book, is of course the same personalities that were involved in the decisions then were involved in the decisions 2003. The person who coordinated the opposition to the Prevention of Genocide Act was Colin Powell, who was the National Security Advisor at the time. The next year, when the effort was revived by Clayborne Pell and Jesse Helms, liberal conservative Alfonse D'Amato, Pat Moynihan, Robert C. Bird, Ted Kennedy... who was opposing it? Dick Cheney, the Secretary of Defense of the day, and of course James Baker and President Bush...same name different guy, I guess. But there were consequences, of course, of this appeasement policy. The most obvious one is that Saddam got the impression that he was really important. he strategic rationale that incidentally was the Cold War was going on, Iraq had been an ally of the Soviet Union, the Shah had been an ally of the United States, we'd lost the shah, we were hoping for a switch and that basically Saddam would be the new Sadat. Remember the Egyptians, having been aligned with the Soviet Union, had been switched to our side. And beyond that, that Iraq might be the bullwork, the strategic partner in the northern gulf that, replacing the Iranians. Well, Saddam concluded that he was very important and that well, maybe the United States wouldn't like it if he invaded and took over Kuwait, but wouldn't do anything about it. That of course proved to be a miscalculation, but it was one that was understandable if you look at the track record of appeasement. The book then describes what happened after the Gulf War when you had this uprising. One of the great red herrings of the time is that we should have gone to Baghdad. Nonsense. That war was over on the 27th of February. But the first President Bush had called for an uprising, the Iraqi people should, and military people should get rid of the dictator, on the 15th of February 1991. And in March, that is after the war was over, they did so. The Shiites and the Kurds rebelled; they took over their parts of the country right up to the southern reached of Baghdad and at that point the Bush administration said, "Oh my god, if the Shiites prevail there will be an alignment with the Iranians, and if the Kurds prevail they will have their independent state, and so we don't want this uprising to succeed." So they allowed the Iraqis to basically violate the cease fire, move their forces south in a space of about six months they massacred perhaps as many as three hundred thousand Shiites and to move north using helicopters which, at the cease fire the Iraqis had said, "Can we use them to fly our officials around?" and then they used them however for military purposes. The importance of this was that the Kurds of course associated them with the delivery of chemical weapons and the civilian populations panicked and the military, the Peshmerga had to deal with the civilians. But the U.S. excuse was, oh well we were hoodwinked. But obviously if somebody, if you were granted exception to a no fly order for transportation purposes and you use the helicopters for military purposes, there is every reason to say no that's not acceptable and to re-impose the no fly order. They didn't do it, they didn't do it because they didn't want the uprising to succeed because they thought it would lead to the break up of Iraq. And indeed, basically the break up of Iraq is what, in some sense it followed from that situation in '91 because they were, Bush was forced to re-intervene to rescue the Kurds. And I described, incidentally, in the book, being there, I was with the Kurds during the uprising when it collapsed and...but after that catastrophe took place, we re-intervened and effectively created Kurdistan, which has been de facto independent since 1991, has been reasonably democratic for that part of the world. They've developed their own institutions of government and the result is is that it is the one stable, secure and today, absolutely booming part of Iraq. But of course today, it's a part of Iraq where the Iraqi flag is banned, the Iraqi army is prohibited from entering. It has its own army, the Peshmerga, which are much more powerful than the Iraqi army. Iraqi government ministries are, do not operate there, they have their own ministries developing their own oil resources. It in fact is, they control their own border...if you want to go to Iraq, you need a visa, if you want to go to Kurdistan you don't need the visa. So it's a basically de facto independent, has been, since 1991. Well, when we went in, in 2003, we...basically Iraq was cobbled together at the end of the first World War by the British from three Ottoman provinces, a predominantly Kurdish one in the North, predominantly Shiite one in the south and Baghdad in the center which is Sunni. But it was ruled by the Sunni-Arab minority, twenty percent of the country, and of course in order to do that, it wasn't by consensus, it was by force. And Saddam was merely the most brutal of a series of Sunni-Arab dictators who had run Iraq. When we went in we destroyed the Sunni-Arab dictatorship in that country. We got rid of Saddam and to drive the stake through the heart of, well it was essentially an evil system well, was essentially...was an evil system the American administrator, Jerry Bremer, abolished the army and barred the top Baathists from government, so that destroyed the institutions that had kept the Sunnis in power. It did something else though, which he didn't understand at all and the Administration never understood. It destroyed the institutions that held the country together. You then had, what we'd have today, the rise of the Shiites. Now the neo-conservative architects in this war imagined that the Shiites would be grateful to the United States for the liberation and it was...it was genuinely liberation in that this regime was incredibly brutal to the Shiites, there is no question about that and that they would become democratic, western-oriented and that they would subvert Iran, especially since they have the holy places. Well, classic and my book is full of this classic example of wishful thinking, utterly disconnected from the facts. Now the first fact, the one that I already described to you, is the uprising in '91. Now basically, Bush explains his call for the uprising in his book, it was a careless ad lib. But for the people who listen to him, it wasn't a careless ad lib, they assumed he meant it and he was President of the United States and then when he didn't help, they assumed that that was intentional and in short that this was an intentional plan obviously it wasn't, but this is how Shiites saw it intentional plan on the part of the United States to have the Shiites massacred. Who was it that stood with the Shiites before and after? The Iranians. What are the main political parties in Iraq? Well the largest political party is called the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq. The name gives a clue to what its agenda is. And it's not, as Paul Wolfowitz thought, western style-democracy. Maybe democratic, but they do actually want to create an Islamic state. And the other, many of the other movements are more extreme. I still think it's liberation, democratic choice, Shiites have voted for religious parties, they're entitled to that, but of course that's, once they define themselves that way, there is no place for the Sunni Arabs in that, in that system. They might, if it had an Arab identity, a predominantly Arab identity, they might have accepted being part of a minority, part of a religious minority because after all, they still would have been a part of the same larger Arab community. But the Shiites define themselves as a religious community. I was there a few days again after we took Baghdad, went down to Karbala, joined the pilgrims, great enthusiasm and the message was we're the Shiites, we're the majority and you Americans are gonna understand that. Well, the Sunnis understood that. You then had this insurgency which developed and began with attacks on the Americans, but even from the beginning, involved attacks on the Shiites. The most prominent, the head of security, the most prominent Shiite cleric, political figure, Bakar Al-Hakim, was assassinated with ninety-nine others in a suicide bomb attack in Najaf, the holiest of the Shiite cities in the end of August 2003 and there have been escalating, where from 2003 on, but perhaps particularly in 2004, escalating attacks on Shiites and ultimately getting to the point where we are today, which you just have had...began with Shiite political leaders then evolved to pilgrims and now is just Shiite, ordinary Shiites. Well, the massacre in the market yesterday, south of Baghdad, just a classic case of this. Well the Shiites initially exercised restraint but once they took, control the government after the elections in January 2005, they formed, they responded, they recruited into the police the members of the militia, particularly the Badacore, the security militia, the interior minister was the head of that organization. Amazing that he actually recruited people who were his troops to become policemen, but he did that, surprised administration, but so um, anyhow The Interior Ministry and in other places uniformed services, basically formed death squads and began targeting people they thought were involved in the insurgency, but as the Sunni attacks escalated on Shiites, the Shiite had, became also more indiscriminate in the killings of Sunnis. And that brings us, in a very abbreviated form, to where we are today, which is there is a raging civil war going on in Iraq between the Shiite majority and a Sunni Arab minority. And the UN today came out with a death toll in, in the first six months of this year it's about twelve thousand, it's been six thousand dead in the last three months and I think that's just in Baghdad. So everybody, it's a civil war, the only people who are in denial about this is the Administration, because of course if you admit it was a civil war then you might have to reconsider what your strategy was. And incidentally Kurdistan in the north disengaged. The leaders are genuinely trying to mediate between the Sunnis and the Shiites, but among the population, among the next, the top level are trying to mediate, the next generation of leaders basically are shedding crocodile tears, and among the ordinary population, you know, there's not a lot of sadness at the chaos in the rest of Iraq, because the fact is they hate Iraq. It's not that they just don't want to be apart of it, they hate it for reasons that are actually quite understandable. Um, anyhow let's look forward and let's ask the question that, if we accept that it's a civil war, then we have to ask the question, what is the mission of the U.S. military in Iraq that has separated along ethnic and sectarian lines and that is in the throws of a civil war? Now the administration has invested heavily in the creation of a national unity government that includes all of Iraq's major communities: the Shiites, the Sunni Arabs and the Kurds. But it took six months to form this government, so it would be a suggestion that there wasn't much unity. I think I've argued and I argue in the book that there isn't really an Iraqi nation and the more pertinent question is, what does this government actually govern? It doesn't...not the south, in the southern half of Iraq, that is the Shiite area, the religious parties have created theocracies. Nothing to do with all the civil rights that we said that we'd bring to Iraq. These are theocracies policed by militias that number well over a hundred thousand. In Basra, three religious parties fight over a smuggling of oil, probably about a hundred thousand barrels a day are diverted between the last metering point in Basra city and the loading point on the ships. Do the math, $70 times, $75 times a hundred thousand, that's a lot of money. Kurdistan I've already described, effectively independent. In the Sunni center, this is where the insurgency is, the government doesn't have an effective writ there, and it doesn't function in Baghdad beyond the Green Zone. Beyond Baghdad, beyond the Green Zone, is anarchy. Ministers don't dare go to ministries outside the Green Zone because of the high risk of assassination. Within Baghdad again, this isn't much covered, but who is it that controls Baghdad? The Shiite neighborhoods of Baghdad are controlled by the Mahdi army, that is the militia of Muqtada al-Sadr, this thirtysomething cleric, the most radical of the clerics who is very pro-Iranian and very pro-Hezbollah, threatening attacks on American forces in Iraq as we speak because of our support for Israel. And the Shiite neighborhood, the Sunni neighborhoods are mostly controlled either by al-Qaeda-linked organizations or former Baathists. Now the administration, which says there's no civil war, professes a commitment to the unity of Iraq. But it has absolutely no intention of actually trying to build a unified country. And wisely so, because it wouldn't succeed. During the formal occupation of Iraq in 2003-2004, that is to say when our power was at the height, we allowed the theocracies to be set up in the south, we allowed the Shiites to have their own militias. It's unthinkable that we today, when our power is much diminished, when the political support for the war is much less, that we would actually move to disarm the Shiite militias, or that we would dissemble the theocracies that exist in the south, that isn't going to happen. So therefore the question is why do we have troops in the south, what purpose is served there? The only consequence of having them in the south, is that they are hostages if we take action against Iran. The Iranians know that, they boast about it, and however you feel that the Iranian crisis should be handled, it probably is always very helpful in negotiation to have a military option, not to be able to use it, but to have it, we have no military option to deal with Iran because of their ability to respond against us in the south of Iraq and incidentally that's one of the reasons they feel they can operate with such impunity in Lebanon and with supporting Hezbollah. So, we are in a situation where we have inadvertently and all this is inadvertent we have inadvertently empowered Iran, and it has the greatest strategic advantage it's had since the treaty of Kasri Sirin, which was 1639, I know you all knew that date. And it basically feels that the U.S. is powerless to deal with that. Our strategy to deal with the insurgency involves this: we are going to, as Bush said, as Iraqis stand up, we'll stand down. We're building up the Iraqi security forces, the police and the army. But of course, if there are no Iraqis, that strategy may not work. And what we see as an Iraqi army, is in fact, at least as it operates there, is a Shiite army. Because there are Sunni Arabs in this army, but naturally, we don't think they're reliable, nor does the Iraqi government, Shiite-led Iraqi government. So the troops that are used are Shiites. We think they're Iraqis. The Sunnis in this population, what do they see? They see, troops from a group that, who they don't share a common identity with, who are loyal to a Shiite-led government in Baghdad that came to power because the United States installed it one enemy and which is loyal to Iran, which is the historic national enemy. So, the more that we use what we think are Iraqi, but in fact are Shiite, troops, the more support we generate for the insurgency. That system isn't going to, that strategy is not going to work. And in Baghdad, there is a civil war, it's horrific, but we need to be mature. We aren't gonna solve that problem. We may have contributed to it, but it doesn't mean that there is a solution to every problem. If we want to do something about the civil war in Baghdad, we would have to increase the number of our troops in that city many times, and we would have to accept exponentially greater casualties as our troops move from military role to being police men. You can't use the local police in Baghdad and you can't use the local army because there's no Iraqi force that are trusted by both Sunnis and Shiites, and for pretty good reasons. So we would have to assume those functions. I don't think there is any support in this country for that increase in mission and I'm not even sure we could do it. After all we don't have very much in terms of, how can you be a police man if you don't speak the language and you don't really have knowledge of the local community? So we're in a situation, basically, where we have a mismatch between the resources that we have and mission. We have a, if our mission is to build a unified Iraq and to bring, even to bring stability, never mind democracy, bring stability, we don't have the resources to do it. And since we're not going to bring those resources to bear, my argument is what purpose is served by the U.S. troops? Now the argument I'm making is, what I want to emphasize here is that I want to get away from the idea of whether the war was a good idea or a bad idea, I know everybody in this room has an idea about it, I do too, but even if you thought it was a good idea, or even if you thought it was a bad idea, you have to ask the question, what are we going to do today and do we, will our troops carry out a, do you think we should have a mission that involves ending a civil war and bringing the country together, a country that is already broken up, back together again? And are you prepared to commit the kind of resources and I don't think there are very many people that support the war who would actually want to do that, so...and certainly administration doesn't. So if you are not going to do that then what is the purpose of being there and hence the logic of withdrawal. What would be the strategy you might have? Well, what I argue in the book is that instead of trying to make Iraq, well, our first flaw was that we thought we could make Iraq into what we wanted it to be. We thought it was a blank slate, we didn't think it was important to know about the history of the country...but let's scale it back and accept the reality. The country has broken up. There are constituents that we can work with. Kurdistan will be our ally it's very pro- American, maybe the only place in the world that George Bush could win an election today. The south is a, has become a theocracy. We're not going to change that, but we can still have decent relations and we don't need to have necessarily the same poisoned relationship with the Shiites in Iraq that we have with Iran because after all they have a very specific history with the Iranians. But we do have one overriding goal in Iraq, which is we do not wish al-Qaeda to establish bases in that country. We don't want it to be another Afghanistan. Now we can have a great argument, but whether I mean there is no argument, al-Qaeda basically wasn't there in Saddam's time. But that's past. We can't turn back the clock, it's there now. On the other hand, the strategy that we have for dealing with the insurgents, namely using Shiite troops that we think are Iraqi, is clearly not working, is strengthening the insurgency. So why not take advantage of what Iraq's constitution allows, which is for each of these parts of the country to have its own virtually independent region, just like what Kurdistan has, the Shiites say they want one encourage the Sunni Arabs to develop their own region, encourage them to have their own regional army which is allowed by the constitution and hope and try and encourage but it may or may not work, I can't guarantee that this would work, but it's better than any alternative that local Sunni Arab tribal leaders and others would want to take on the insurgency, which is actually rather