Tomgram: Peter Galbraith, The War Is Lost

The week in Iraq began with a particularly brutal triple bombing in the oil-rich, disputed city of Kirkuk — a truck bomb took out part of the headquarters of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, the party of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, and subsequent car bombs hit a nearby market and a police patrol, with over 80 dead and more than 180 wounded. These were reminders, undoubtedly from Sunni extremists (possibly driven north by President Bush’s surge offensive around Baghdad), that the only relatively peaceful, economically prospering region of “Iraq” — Iraqi Kurdistan — may not remain that way forever. Kurds, Arabs, and Turkmen are already struggling over who is to inherit the oil-spoils of Kirkuk, which many Kurds would like to annex and turn into the capital of what they dream may someday be an independent country. Kirkuk’s fate is supposedly to be decided by a referendum at year’s end.

In the meantime, on Kurdistan’s western border, the Turkish army continues to mass — with rumors of a mobilization of up to 200,000 troops as well as tanks, heavy artillery, and air power. The Turkish military has been threatening not just “hot pursuit” of Kurdish rebels into Iraqi Kurdistan, but an actual invasion in response to terrorist acts committed by the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in Turkey, which has its own restive Kurdish population. As the Bush administration has been claiming that Iran is arming Shiite (and even Sunni) insurgents fighting U.S. troops, so the Turks are now ominously claiming that the PKK is armed, in part, with American weapons. This represents but another potentially fatal brew of forces in already chaotic Iraq. The results of a Turkish invasion are hard to calculate,! but it would surely reverberate throughout the region — and don’t expect those three “surge” brigades the Kurds sent to Baghdad to remain there long if Kurdistan explodes.

Former ambassador Peter Galbraith, author of The End of Iraq: How American Incompetence Created a War Without End, has long defended the interests of the Kurds (a people repeatedly deserted by great and regional powers) and a possible three-state solution to the Iraqi catastrophe. I’ve had my own doubts about Kurdistan as a fallback position for this administration. (Imagine, based on the record so far in the rest of Iraq, the harm they could do.) But in the following piece, posted at Tomdispatch thanks to the kindness of the editors of the New York Review of Books, Galbraith vividly lays out the dismal state of Iraq and the various catastrophes likely to flow from most of the major “benchmarks” established by the Bush adminis! tration and Congress, if they were ever to become reality. He also briefly makes the case for an American responsibility for “preserving Kurdistan’s democracy,” one that must be taken with great seriousness. Tom

The Way to Go in Iraq

By Peter Galbraith

[This essay appears in the August 16th, 2007 issue of the New York Review of Books and is posted here with the kind permission of the editors of that magazine.]

1.

On May 30, the Coalition held a ceremony in the Kurdistan town of Erbil to mark its handover of security in Iraq’s three Kurdish provinces from the Coalition to the Iraqi government. General Benjamin Mixon, the U.S. commander for northern Iraq, praised the Iraqi government for overseeing all aspects of the handover. And he drew attention to the “benchmark” now achieved: with the handover, he said, Iraqis now controlled security in seven of Iraq’s eighteen provinces.

Click here to read more of this dispatch.

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