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Ambassador Peter Galbraith Talks About His Book "The End of Iraq"

Peter Galbraith, former U.S. Ambassador to Croatia and author of a controversial new book, The End of Iraq: How American Incompetence Created a War without End, says America invaded Iraq with the goal of bringing democracy to it and transforming the region. Instead, he claims, Iraq has disintegrated into three parts – a pro-Western Kurdistan in the north, an Iranian-dominated Shiite entity in the south, and a chaotic Sunni Arab region in the center. Speaking with host Carol Castiel of VOA News Now’s Press Conference USA, Ambassador Galbraith says, in developing a workable strategy for Iraq, one must begin by facing up to the current situation.

Ambassador Galbraith states categorically, “There can be no strategy of keeping Iraq together because it is not together.” For example, the Kurds in the north don’t want to be part of Iraq, and in a referendum last year 98 percent voted for independence. It took 6 months to form the new Iraqi government, he says, but “most important it doesn’t govern anything” – neither the Kurdish north, nor the south (which is run by Shiite religious parties) nor the Sunni Arab area (which is a “battleground”) nor even Baghdad (which beyond the Green Zone is the “frontline of a civil war”).

Ambassador Galbraith suggests there are important historical parallels between Iraq and other multi-ethnic states put together at the end of World War I, such as Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, and the Soviet Union. The lesson, he argues, is that, “where people in a geographically defined area don’t want to be part of a state, you can’t keep them in a state.”

Although Iraqi leaders before the war told Washington that they wanted a unified or a federal Iraq, he says it’s “not surprising” that exiled leaders would present the case to the U.S. superpower in a way that would “bring about the result they wanted, which was American military action to overthrow Saddam.”

According to Ambassador Galbraith, the occupation of Iraq - from the day that American troops toppled Saddam Hussein’s statue in April 2003 - is probably the “single most incompetently managed major U.S. policy undertaking in the history of our republic.” The United States, he says, went into Baghdad with “too few troops,” ignoring the advice of the military, with “no plans to secure anything, except for the oil ministry,” and furthermore the “feuding parts of the U.S. government had opposed strategies” for actually governing Iraq. But most important, Ambassador Galbraith says, Washington had no plan to avoid the violence, which has “tragically spun out of control.”

It was never the U.S. administration’s plan to break up Iraq, but according to Ambassador Galbraith, “They knew so little about Iraq that they never understood that one of the consequences of the invasion was likely to be the breakup.” Ambassador Galbraith says Iraq has already broken up, and “to try to put it back together again” would involve U.S. troops fighting Shiite militias to disarm them with U.S. troops “becoming the police of Baghdad.” Most troubling, he says, is the administration’s erroneous belief that the Kurds, Shiites, and Sunnis think of themselves primarily “as Iraqis.”

Washington has a choice, Ambassador Galbraith says. If the mission is to pursue a “unified and democratic Iraq,” it will have to commit 300,000 more troops and accept 10 times as many casualties to disarm the Shiite militias. If it is unwilling to make that commitment, he argues, it should “get the coalition out of southern Iraq tomorrow.” And if U.S. troops are unable to stop the civil war in Baghdad, he argues, there is “no purpose in being there.” He suggests the Sunni Arabs be encouraged to set up their own region and to provide their own security.

Ambassador Galbraith notes that Iraq’s neighbors have vital interests in its fate. He says Iran’s influence in Iraq is unavoidable, but a formal breakup of Iraq might limit that influence to a southern Shiite state. Kurdistan, he says, is independent in all but name. He argues that Turkey’s attitude toward Iraqi Kurdistan has “evolved” over time, and Ankara now fully endorses “federalism.”

For full audio of the program Press Conference USA click here.