Galbraith On Iraqi Army Partition

Galbraith on Iraqi Army, Partition

Former Ambassador Peter Galbraith wrote in response to a posting of last Thursday, and has kindly agreed to allow me to reprint the letter here:

‘ Dear Professor Cole:

. . . You quoted today the Brattleboro Reformer’s account of my remarks last night to the Windham World Affairs Council. You noted a transcription error in my description of the sorry state of Iraqi military and said you would seek clarification. I am happy to provide it.

I described the Iraqi Army as consisting of nine Kurdish battalions, sixty Shiite battalions, and 45 Sunni Arab battalions. There is exactly one mixed battalion. The Kurdish battalions have no Arab officers, while there are a few Kurdish and Sunni Arab officers with Shiite battalions. Being a Kurdish or Shiite officer of the Sunni Arab battalions is risky, so there are not many at all. This is hardly the picture of a national institution. I also noted that up to half the nominal troop strength consists of ghost soldiers. As there is no direct deposit in Iraq, the battalion command can pocket the salaries of soldiers that don’t exist, so there is an incentive to maintain full strength on paper. More of this can be found in my October 6 article in the New York Review of Books, “Iraq’s Last Chance”, which also analyzes
the new Constitution.

You also describe me as advocating the break up of Iraq. My position is slightly different. I argue that Iraq has already broken up, and that it will be much more costly—in terms of lives and money—to put it back together than to accept the new reality. One reason I like the new Constitution is that I believe it is

You argue that partition could lead to hundreds of thousands of deaths, but you ignore the fact that holding Iraq together has already cost well more than
100,000 lives in the various Kurdistan wars.

I also think you draw the wrong lessons from the break-up of Yugoslavia, about which I have a certain experience.* The US and Europeans focused on trying to hold Yugoslavia together when there was no way to do so. Instead, US and European diplomacy should have focused on the issues that caused the war. The war was
preventable; the break up was not.

I do not believe it is possible to keep people in a state they hate, and the Kurds clearly want out of Iraq. I do not think the break up of the rest of Iraq is inevitable, but it is possible.

Saddam murdered over 100,000 Kurds, used poison gas, and destroyed more than 4000 villages in Kurdistan as part of his effort to keep Iraq united. Mismanaged
divorce can be costly, but so is an unwanted marriage. The human cost of holding Iraq together may be much higher than that of a negotiated separation.

All the best.

Peter Galbraith ‘

When I mentioned to him that I didn’t see sentiment for partition among the Arab Iraqis, he kindly replied:

‘ I agree that the situation of Kurdistan is different from that of the South, and that there are not many Arab Iraqis who want their own independent state. But, I have talked to several prominent Shiite politicians who do say that they might consider separation if Iraq continues to deteriorate and if there is no accomodation with the Sunni Arabs. The “three state soluton” (plus Baghdad as a federal capital) may be the outcome in the context of a federation, but it is not necessarily precursor to the three independent countries. I see two independent states–not three–as the much more likely end result. ‘

*Galbraith was ambassador to Croatia

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