Reidar Visser informs us today that the independent-minded US “free-lance diplomat” Peter Galbraith reportedly, from 2004 through 2008, held a five-percent share in the production-sharing agreement concluded between the small Norwegian private oil company DNO and the Kurdish Regional Government.
Galbraith, a longtime supporter of Kurdish (and before that Croatian) independence, was most recently working as deputy to Kai Eide, the head of the UN’s mission in Afghanistan. Eide fired him last week for, essentially, insubordination.
Back in 2003-05, Galbraith was an influential adviser to the US occupation authorities as they drew up Iraq’s new, heavily decentralized Transitional Administrative Law (TAL) and Constitution, and to various Kurdish political leaders. He was also hailed– and published– by major western news organizations as a credibly neutral (and presumably disinterested) analyst of Iraqi constitutional affairs.
But now it appears that, instead of being the idealist and the brave proponent of the rights of embattled minorities that he had always portrayed himself to be, in reality he was acting as a one-man East India Company, consorting with compliant “locals” (= “natives”) to rip off their country’s resources.
- Norway’s most respected financial newspaper, Dagens Næringsliv (DN), has been focusing on the operations of DNO,… especially reporting on unclear aspects concerning share ownership and its contractual partnerships related to the Tawke field in the Dahuk governorate. One particular goal has been to establish the identity of a hitherto unknown “third party” which participated with DNO in the initial production sharing agreement (PSA) for Tawke between 2004 and 2008, but was squeezed out when this deal was converted to a new contract in early 2008, prompting a huge financial claim of around 500 million US dollars against DNO which has yet to be settled. Today, DN claims to present proof that one of the two major “mystery stake-holders” involved in the claim was none other than Peter Galbraith, who allegedly held a five-percent share in the PSA for Tawke from June 2004 until 2008 through his Delaware-based company Porcupine… DN has published documents from Porcupine showing Galbraith’s personal signature, and today’s reports are complete with paparazzi photographs of Galbraith literally running away from reporters as they confront him in Bergen, where he is currently staying with his Norwegian wife. He refused to give any comment citing potential legal complications.
If proven correct, the implications of this revelation are so enormous that the story is almost unbelievable. As is well known, DNO has been criticised for the way its operations in the Kurdistan region interfere with Iraq’s constitutional process. To their credit, though, DNO are at the very least perfectly forthright about their mission in the area: They are a commercial enterprise set up to make a maximum profit in a high-risk area currently transitioning from conditions of war. Galbraith, however, was almost universally seen as “Ambassador Galbraith”, the statesmanlike former diplomat whose outspoken ideas about post-2003 Iraq were always believed to be rooted in idealism and never in anything else. Instead, it now emerges, he apparently wore several hats at the same time, and mixed his roles in ways that seem entirely incompatible with the capacity of an independent adviser on constitutional affairs.
Visser then notes the multiplicity of “hats” that Galbraith was wearing as he strode around post-invasion Iraq in the early years of the US occupation– including “ABC News consultant” (a generously compensated gig, that one usually is), and a compensated consultant for “Kurdish clients”, as well as a constitutional adviser in general and a fairly prolific author of pro-partition analyses.
Visser gives an excellent, detailed analysis of the influence Galbraith claimed he had, and the influence he almost certainly did have, on the drafting of the ‘Transitional Administrative Law’ (TAL) that was imposed on Iraq by Bush appointee Jerry Bremer in March 2004– quoting Galbraith’s own words from the book he published in 2006 that was notably titled The End of Iraq:
- Galbraith urged the Kurds to be maximalist about their demands: “The Bush administration might not like the Kurds insisting on their rights, I said, but it would respect them for doing so (163)”. Then, leading up to the TAL negotiations in the winter of 2004, Galbraith worked specifically for the Kurds in framing their demands. It is very easy to see how the Kurdish gains in the TAL and not least in the 2005 constitution are based on this contribution from Galbraith. Galbraith writes, “On February 10 , Nechirvan [Barzani] convened a meeting at the Kurdistan national assembly of the top leaders of the PUK and KDP. I presented a draft of a ‘Kurdistan chapter’ to be included in the interim constitution [i.e. the TAL]… Except for a few matters assigned to the federal government (notably foreign affairs), laws passed by the Kurdistan national assembly would be supreme within the region. The Kurdistan Regional Government could establish an armed force…The Kurdistan Region would own its land, water, minerals and oil. Kurdistan would manage future oil fields (and keep revenues) but the federal government in Baghdad would continue to manage all oil fields currently in commercial production. Because there were no commercial oil fields within Kurdistan as defined by the March 18, 2003 boundaries, this proposal had the effect of giving Kurdistan full control over its own oil…The permanent constitution of Iraq would apply in Kurdistan only if it were approved by a majority of Kurdistan’s voters (166–67).” Subsequent achievements noted by Galbraith as personal successes include staging the informal 2005 referendum on Kurdish independence (171).
The influence of Galbraith can be discerned already in the 2004 Transitional Administrative Law (where the principle of residual powers for the provincial entities was put in place), even if Galbraith was dissatisfied with the relatively long list of powers accorded to Baghdad and blamed the “centralising” policies of Paul Bremer and the Bush administration generally for this “defect”. But his hand is even more evident in the 2005 constitution, which combines residual powers for the regions with the supremacy of local law (albeit not if it contradicts the constitution, a “shortcoming” Galbraith later tried to gloss over), and which also specifically mentions the regional right to local armed forces…
While he was advising the Kurds on the principles of federalism and trying to persuade an American Democratic audience about the virtues of partition as an alternative to the Bush administration policies in Iraq, Galbraith supposedly held a 5 per cent stake in an oil field whose profit potential was directly governed by the constitutional and US policy decisions Galbraith was seeking to influence (his suggestions also included the idea of a permanent US airbase in Kurdistan).Under any circumstances, this new development is likely to strengthen the tendency among Iraqis to be more critical about the details of the 2005 constitution and not least the historical context in which it was conceived – a criticism that even Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki articulated during the run-up to the last local elections. Seemingly, Maliki’s ideas of rectifying this towards greater centralism (i.e. removing some of Galbraith’s pet projects from 2005) have met with success among voters so far.
Another problem related to this issue is the close association in the past between Galbraith and the apparent Iraq tsar of the current Obama administration, Vice-President Joe Biden…
Visser concludes by noting,
- It is of course somewhat ironic that these revelations should come at a time when Galbraith seems to possess the high moral ground in another controversy also involving Norwegians and Middle Eastern conflicts: The ongoing dispute with UN diplomat Kai Eide over Afghanistan’s elections result.
Personally, I don’t think that Galbraith does occupy the moral high ground in his dispute with Eide. It was a matter of insubordination– by an arrogant American– to his boss within a duly authorized and well-run UN mission. If he disagreed with Eide (as he evidently did) there were things he could do other than try to make end-runs around him.
Anyway, do go read all of Visser’s excellently argued piece there at Historiae. You cannot leave any comments there– but you can at the linked post on his blog. Or, of course, you can leave them here, with a very good chance that Reidar will read them here, too.
By the way, Dagens Næringsliv is apparently going to be publishing follow-up pieces on this matter.