Thursday, October 15, 2009

Peter Galbraith, the Iraq War and Kurdish oil

Jamie Galbraith in his book The Predator State (2009) talks about Chinese economic policies and is careful to disclose that he himself once worked as an economic consultant to the Chinese government.

His brother Peter, on the other hand, has been one of the most prominent advocates of an independent Kurdistan in one form or another. And until now, he had not disclosed the nature of his own business ties with oil companies doing business in Kurdistan. Farah Stockman has the story in Galbraith helped Iraqi Kurds keep rights to fields Boston Globe 10/15/09.

I've always been reserved about Peter Galbraith's criticisms of the iraq War just because he was so insistent on an independent Kurdistan, which it hardly seems to me is in the interest of the United States to encourage:

Some analysts said yesterday that Galbraith stood to gain personally from language that he helped draft for the Iraqi Constitution when he was advising Kurdish leaders during negotiations with Iraqi and US officials in 2005. They said his business ties should have been publicly disclosed at the time.

"Galbraith has been such a central person to the shaping of the Iraqi Constitution, far more than I think most Americans realize," said Reider Visser, a historian of southern Iraq and who edits the Iraq-focused website, "All those beautiful ideas about principles of federalism and local communities having control are really cast in a different light when the community has an oil field in its midst and Mr. Galbraith has a financial stake."

Galbraith said in a telephone interview that Kurdish leaders knew of his oil interests, but he was not under any obligation to tell the US and Iraqi officials involved in the negotiations.

According to Stockman's report, Galbraith and his son Andrew set up a company called Porcupine, which entered into a partnership with the Norwegian oil company DNO:

Two days after Porcupine was established, the Kurdistan Regional Government signed a contract to develop Kurdistan’s first oil field with DNO, ushering in a potential economic windfall for the semiautonomous region. DNO eventually struck oil, and currently owns a 55 percent stake in the Tawke field.

But Iraq's central government has refused to accept the legality of its agreement, creating a heated standoff that has stopped the flow of oil from Kurdistan in recent days.
The Norwegian newspaper Dagens Naeringsliv (DN) broke the story this past weekend: Sparket toppdiplomat i omstridt dobbeltrolle 10.10.2009:

Samtidig ligger han også i krangel med det bergensbaserte oljeselskapet DNO International ved voldgiftsdomstolen i London, skriver Dagens Næringsliv lørdag.

- Jeg kan ikke si noe om dette fordi jeg ønsker ikke å komme i juridiske vanskeligheter, sier Galbraith som la på sprang da DN oppsøkte ham i Bergen, torsdag.

Dokumentasjon DN har innhentet viser at den fremtredende diplomaten i flere år har hatt fem prosent eierskap i det store oljefeltet Tawke i Kurdistan. Med dagens oljepris kan feltet inneholde olje verd nærmere 200 milliarder kroner. Galbraith har i flere år fungert som sentral rådgiver for de kurdiske lederne i Irak.

Toppdiplomaten spilte en nøkkelrolle i utformingen av Iraks grunnlov og bidro til å sikre den kurdiske regionen stor grad av selvstendighet. Nå viser det seg at Galbraith hadde eierinteresser i et av de største oljefeltene i Kurdistan.
Sorry, I don't know Norwegian so I can't translate it. Although Norwegian is close enough to German that I could at least find the story and pick out a relevant passage. And I've never blogged a story in Norwegian before, so I figured I would take the chance. :)

Helena Cobban has also written about the Galbraith/DNO deal at her Just World News blog: NYT studiously ignores Galbraith-DNO link 10/13/09; More on Galbraith; Boston Globe runs the story 10/15/09. I should emphasize that there is no allegation that Galbraith broke the law in his oil dealings. But Helena spells out why keeping that arrangement secret was so problematic:

In 2003-05, when Galbraith was rushing round Iraq and the world arguing passionately for a radical form of Kurdish separation from the central Iraqi state, he was not in fact on the US government payroll. He had been, in late 2002, when he taught at the Naval War College in Newport, RI. But in the 2003-05 period, he was presenting himself as (a) a constitutional affairs specialist, and (b) an adviser to the Kurdish leaders, who was providing his advice to them on a contract or sometimes even "expenses-only" basis because of the depth of his commitment to their cause.

In all the articles he published in the US media in and since those years, arguing for the radical devolution of Iraqi governmental powers to the country's various ethno-sectarian groups (including the Kurds), not once do I recall having seen it say in the tag-line that he had business interests related to the topics he was writing about.
She links to this post by Reidar Visser, Galbraith Confirms Oil Interests in Kurdistan 10/15/09, which provides information from a later DN article about him. Visser writes:

Just to confuse matters somewhat, in the Norwegian press today, a press release from Porcupine has been reproduced, to the effect that Porcupine “confirms the existence of a contractual relationship to DNO” while at the same time saying the company “does not have and has not had any third party interests in DNO’s PSA in Iraqi Kurdistan”. However, Dagens Næringsliv today also reproduces a full document from 2006 explicitly showing Porcupine listed as a 5% partner in the Tawke oilfield project. The document relates to the approval of expenses for test drilling.
This could involve some legalistic double-talk playing on the fact that the Iraqi government doesn't recognize the DNO arrangement with the Kurdistan regional government as legally valid.

I would note here that Galbraith recently resigned from a UN post in Afghanistan in disagreement about how the election fraud there should be handled. I have no actual reason to think so. But I can't help but wonder whether his public criticism of the Karzai government at a time when the US is trying to put the best face on that corrupt election may have something to do with the press getting hold of this story.

I'm sorry to see this news about Galbraith's oil dealings. Although I disagreed with his enthusiasm for Kurdish independence/autonomy, I had assumed that he was expressing good faith opinions. This casts an unfortunately cloud over his credibility.

Here are some of my earlier posts referencing Galbraith and his commentaries on Iraq and Iran. His evaluation that the Iraq War made Iran relatively much stronger is still accurate. But now you have to wonder how his formulation of the issue may have been shaped by a desire to emphasize the problematic nature of the relationship between Iraq's Shi'a regime and Iran to make the prospect of an independent Kurdistan more desirable from an American point of view. It's really too bad he concealed his business dealings on Iraqi Kurdish oil in this way.

Peter Galbraith on the Iraq War 02/27/07
Peter Galbraith on Iran and Iraq 09/19/07
Hersh's latest on expanding the Iraq War to Iran 10/02/07

Galbraith is also the author of The End of Iraq: How American Incompetence Created a War Without End (2006) and Unintended Consequences: How War in Iraq Strengthened America's Enemies (2009). His most recent article for the New York Review of Books is Is This a 'Victory'? 09/25/09; 10/23/08 issue, in which he critices Republican Presidential candidate John McCain because he "has said nothing about how he would protect Iraq's Kurds, the only committed American allies in the country". Several paragraphs of the article are devoted to the Kurds. They read much less credibly now that I know that when his article was published he had had a financial stake in Kurdish autonomy/indepdence for years:

In early September, al-Maliki sent Iraqi troops into Khanaqin, a dusty Kurdish town on the Iranian border northeast of Baghdad. While technically not part of the Kurdistan Region, the Kurdistan Regional Government has administered Khanaqin since 2003. The forces of the Kurdish Peshmerga army, who liberated the town from Saddam that April, have provided security. It is widely expected that Khanaqin will formally be incorporated into the Kurdistan Region as part of the process specified in Article 140 of Iraq's constitution for determining Kurdistan's borders. By sending Arab troops to Khanaqin, al-Maliki deliberately picked a fight with the Kurds, who have been the Shiites' partner in governing Iraq since 2003.

Iraq's Kurds have had a very large part in post-Saddam Iraq. Iraq's president, deputy prime minister, foreign minister, and army chief are all Kurds. The Peshmerga fought on the US side in the 2003 war and is the one indigenous Iraqi force that is reliably pro-American. Iraqi Kurds are secular, democratic, and pro-Western. Both militarily and politically, they have supported US policy, even when they have had reservations about its wisdom.

In recent months, al-Maliki has tried to marginalize the Kurds. In ordering troops to Khanaqin, he did not consult Jalal Talabani, Iraq's Kurdish president, and he did not involve General Babakir Zebari, the Kurd who supposedly heads Iraq's army. In order to bypass Hoshyar Zebari, Iraq's Kurdish foreign minister, al-Maliki has appointed his own "special envoys." [my emphasis]
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