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Galbraith's Actions May Hurt Independent Advice

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Weve been hearing from a former U.S. ambassador a lot lately. He was embroiled in a dispute over whether the U.N. had allowed fraud in the Afghan election.

Peter Galbraith, the former diplomat, is also a long-time advisor to the Kurds in Iraq, and now he is being accused of having a conflict of interest because of business interests he had in that region, even as he was offering advice to the Kurdish government.

NPR's Michele Kelemen has more.

MICHELE KELEMEN: The way Peter Galbraith tells it, there's nothing unusual about his business dealings with a Norwegian oil company that has a stake in an oil field in Kurdistan. He was an unpaid advisor to the Kurds and a private citizen at the time when his business dealings started, and his activities, he says, are consistent with his views on the region and with what the Kurds wanted - more say in the energy sector.

Mr. PETER GALBRAITH (Former U.S. Diplomat): There are interests, but what's the conflict? There is no conflict between the role and help that I provided to the Kurds on what was, again, their agenda, not my agenda, and the work that I did in helping to create an oil industry in Kurdistan which was, again, something that they themselves wanted and of course they were fully aware of my business arrangements.

Professor FEISAL ISTRABADI (Indiana University): That really doesnt withstand the giggle test.

KELEMEN: That's Feisal Istrabadi, a visiting law professor at Indiana University who was involved in drafting an interim constitution in Iraq. He's now raising concerns about current Iraqi law, because, as the New York Times reported yesterday, Galbraith had an ongoing business relationship with the Norwegian company throughout the negotiations on the constitution.

Prof. ISTRABADI: This is much bigger than Peter Galbraith. This implicates the legitimacy of the entire constitutional process in Iraq. You dont let Firestone draft the constitution of Liberia. You dont let Shell draft the constitution of Nigeria. We shouldnt have had an oil company drafting the Iraqi constitution.

KELEMEN: Peter Galbraith told NPR's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED that he was not involved in the negotiations, though he was advising Kurds at the time. One Kurdish official who asked not to be named also said that Galbraith was not at the negotiating table. That official added that the business dealings did not shape Galbraith's ideology. Galbraith himself told NPR that he's been a long-time advocate for more autonomy for Iraqi Kurds.

Mr. GALBRAITH: This goes back to the 1980s, when I traveled along the Iraq-Turkey border documenting the use of chemical weapons, and I was in Kurdistan during the 1991 uprising and the period thereafter, obviously with no thought to future business activity.

KELEMEN: One Iraq watcher, Reidar Visser of the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs, says that Galbraith promoted what's often called a soft partition of Iraq, an idea that gained support from influential people here in Washington, including the now-vice president, Joe Biden. And Visser believes that Galbraith even pushed the Kurds farther than they would've gone in demanding rights in the energy sector.

Dr. REIDAR VISSER (Norwegian Institute of International Affairs): So you get the impression that Galbraith had a radicalizing impact on the Kurds, and of course that is a problem for them today because they are locked in disputes with Baghdad precisely because of their maximalist demands related to the oil sector.

KELEMEN: Galbraith has his own dispute with the Norwegian oil company, a case that he says is in arbitration in London, though he didnt give details. Meanwhile, one U.S. expert who advised the Iraqis on the constitution said privately that he's worried about the long-term implications for other American citizens who advise governments and want to be seen as independent, not just after a country's energy resources.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.