Kurdistan will become independent country sooner than later: Former US Ambassador

"The reality is you can’t keep people in a country they do not want to be a part of."

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – You cannot force a people to remain in a country they do not wish to be a part of; Kurdistan will be an independent country sooner rather than later, Peter Galbraith, a former US diplomat, told Kurdistan 24 in a recent interview.

Galbraith, who served as the US’ ambassador to Croatia from 1993 to 1998, also held a post as the United Nations’ deputy special representative for Afghanistan.

Ahead of the Kurdistan Region’s historic independence referendum on Sept. 25, 2017, the former US diplomat was one of many who voiced their support for the Kurds’ right to self-determination. In July 2017, Galbraith said the US should support the people of Kurdistan ahead of the plebiscite.


A year after the historic vote, Galbraith still believes the Kurds’ decision to separate from Iraq cannot be taken away, and the people of Kurdistan will one day realize their long-awaited dream of independence.

“The purpose of the referendum was for the people of Kurdistan to make a binding decision about whether they wanted to be independent or to remain part of Iraq. They made that decision; 93 percent voted for independence. That decision can never be taken away. That’s a fact,” he told Kurdistan 24.

“The reality is you can’t keep people in a country they do not want to be a part of. You can keep them in for a while, you can use brutal repression, but everybody knows that what the people of Kurdistan have decided is to leave,” he added.

Galbraith described the referendum as “a big success” and “a way for the people of Kurdistan to make a decision about their future.”

“It was a completely free and fair election,” he noted. “There was no coercion, no allegation of impropriety. And people turned out in huge numbers.”

“In many ways, it was the most successful independence referendum in modern times.”

Kurds raise a large Kurdistan flag in Erbil, the capital of the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Region. (Photo: AFP/Safin Hamed)
Kurds raise a large Kurdistan flag in Erbil, the capital of the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Region. (Photo: AFP/Safin Hamed)


The former US diplomat emphasized that the decision to hold an independence referendum was “a decision of the people of Kurdistan” who had experienced years of genocide at the hands of successive Iraqi regimes.

Galbraith added that then-President Masoud Barzani and the entire Kurdistan leadership agreed to hold a referendum.

The referendum “was adopted by the Kurdistan Parliament, and it was the decision of the Kurdistan population by 93 percent,” he said.


Although Galbraith admits that there is “never a good time to hold a referendum,” he believes the Kurdistan Region should have declared independence from Iraq following the emergence of the Islamic State (IS) in 2014.

“In 2014, [IS] took over basically all of Arab Iraq in the north. At that time, the Iraqi army just collapsed, it ran away, it failed in its duty to defend the people of Iraq. It left the people of Kurdistan vulnerable to attack.

“And at that time, President Barzani said, ‘Look, we have a border of 1,030 kilometers with [IS], and 30 kilometers with Iraq,’” Galbraith added. “And at that time, he was going to go ahead and declare independence after consulting widely. The Americans came in, and they said, ‘This isn’t a good time.’ And he agreed to the request from Secretary of State John Kerry.”

“Personally, I think [Barzani] should have gone ahead then. He was very respectful of the American position. So, [IS] was defeated [in 2017], and at that time, it seemed like the opportune time to do the referendum, and I think it was a good time to do the referendum.”

The former US diplomat highlighted the hypocrisy of the Iraqi leadership at the time, pointing to then-Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s remarks in 2015, 2016, and even at the beginning of 2017 where he said the people of Kurdistan have a right to determine their future.

Galbraith said Abadi changed his position after the defeat of IS because he thought he could win the May 12, 2018, Iraqi parliamentary elections.

In the aftermath of the Kurdistan referendum, Baghdad responded negatively to the vote and imposed a set of punitive measures, including an international flight ban, the closure of borders, and the use of military force in disputed areas.

Abadi “authorized the use of the Iraqi army and of the PMF [Hashd al-Shaabi] against the people of Kurdistan; a total violation of the Iraqi Constitution which says you can’t use the Iraqi army internally,” Galbraith told Kurdistan 24.

“He didn’t care, he thought it was good politics,” he continued. “Poor Mr. Abadi, it turned out to be very bad politics. He finished in third place, and he’s not going to be prime minister again.”

Iraqi forces drive toward Kurdish Peshmerga positions on Oct. 15, 2017, on the southern outskirts of Kirkuk. (Photo: AFP)
Iraqi forces drive toward Kurdish Peshmerga positions on Oct. 15, 2017, on the southern outskirts of Kirkuk. (Photo: AFP)


Iran, who has been suppressing the independence desires of its Kurdish population, is against an independent Kurdistan Region, Galbraith stated.

Tehran and Baghdad share a close relationship, and Iran “would like their own allies to control all of Iraq, not just part of it—not have part of it that is pro-American.”

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani orchestrated the Oct. 16, 2017, attack on Kurdish Peshmerga in the disputed province of Kirkuk.

Galbraith questioned why Washington had permitted “an attack directed by the head of the al-Quds to use US tanks to attack the Kurds in Kirkuk—America’s allies, the people who had carried on the fight [against IS] for a long time.”

“What made it even worse is the commander who actually carried out the attack was Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis,” the former US diplomat noted. “Who is Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis? He was convicted and sentenced to death in absentia in Kuwait for blowing up the American embassy in December 1983.”

“This has to be one of the weirdest, most unexplainable decisions in American policy.”


Galbraith said America’s silence toward the Iranian-led attack on Kurds in Kirkuk stems from the US’ mistakes in Iraq following the removal of former dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003.

He said the US “made a huge mistake” by allowing two parties to be democratically elected in Iraq after the country’s liberation, the Dawa Party and the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), both backed by Iran.

“Basically, Iran’s allies democratically became the government,” Galbraith said.

“Rather than recognizing the reality and supporting our friends, the Kurds, what [the US has] kept doing is keep supporting these pro-Iranian governments in hopes that somehow, they will be different than they are.

“I think the Iranians must be very amused, very pleased that all this American assistance is going to their own ally. From their point of view, this is a wonderful development.”

A pro-independence rally in the Kurdistan Region capital of Erbil. (Photo: AFP/Safin Hamed)
A pro-independence rally in the Kurdistan Region capital of Erbil. (Photo: AFP/Safin Hamed)


Despite the challenges the Kurdistan Region continues to face, Galbraith believes the people of Kurdistan will emerge victorious and will one day realize their dream of independence.

“I don’t know how long Iraq will remain as a state, because—well, this remains to be seen—but what is clear is a country where a sizeable part of its population in a geographically defined area almost unanimously doesn’t want to be a part of the country, you can’t keep them there forever,” he told Kurdistan 24.

“Sooner or later, there will be some event in Iraq that will make an opportunity for the people of Kurdistan to get what they voted for, which is independence.”

Galbraith reminded that the independence vote has already been held, and the democratic verdict is clear: the people of Kurdistan want to be independent.

“The opportunity will come, and that’s why I say the referendum was a big success, the vote has taken place. When the door opens, now Kurdistan will be able to walk through and become an independent country.”