The common Kurdish quip that Kurds enjoy “No Friends but the Mountains” has now become “No Friends but the Mountains and the Well-paid.” Lost in the holiday weekend and the news of Obama’s Nobel Prize has been another story out of Norway: Peter W. Galbraith, Democratic Party activist and long a champion of Kurdish rights, secretly held stakes in a large Iraqi Kurdish oil field while advising U.S. policy toward the Kurds. Reidar Visser has translated the story from Norway’s main business daily Dagens Næringsliv.
Rumors have swirled about what at best was Galbraith’s financial conflict of interest and at worst another case of President of Iraqi Kurdistan Masud Barzani’s diplomacy by bribery. Galbraith has long advocated for greater Kurdish autonomy if not outright independence. But he did not acknowledge that, in recent years, he stood to gain tens of millions of dollars if successful.
In January 2007, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee questioned Galbraith about his interests after he failed to volunteer his relationship with the Kurdish government during his testimony (scroll down in Al Kamen’s “In the Loop”). It now appears Galbraith skirted the truth in two instances: He did have a paid relationship with the Kurdish government (according to Kurdish leaders, he was a paid consultant for both the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and the Kurdistan Democratic Party) and he did have a financial interest with the Kurdistan Regional Government, which had given him the stake in the oil field. At the time, Senator Joseph Biden was chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Biden’s staff chose to take Galbraith at his word. Hopefully, as vice president, Biden will be wiser.