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William L. Eagleton, Class of '43, U.S. Ambassador and Statesman
42 Years of US Foreign Service!

Editor's Note:  While serving in 2003 in Iraq, Peoria C-130 aircraft were flying regular missions in Iraqi Freedom. At the time, then Col William Robertson was commanding the 486th Expeditionary Operations Group when one of his crews met William Eagleton, Jr. Ambassador Eagleton commented..."is this plane really from Peoria, IL?" He was happy to be in the company of fellow Peorian's on that mission. Eagleton was called back into service during the war to help build the new Iraqi Government and Kurdish areas in Northern Iraq.  

Bill Eagleton graduated from Peoria High School in 1943, served in the Navy at the end of WW2, graduated fromYale University, lnstitutdes Sciences Politiques Paris, and the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University, William Eagleton embarked on a remarkable 42 year career in the US Foreign Service, which began in Madrid and subsequently took him to Syria, Lebanon, Northern lraq, Iran, Mauritania, London, Yemen, Algeria, Libya, Iraq, and Syria again where he served as Ambassador. Following retirement from the Foreign Service, he launched a second career with the United Nations, first as Deputy of UNRWA in Vienna, then as Special Coordinator for Sarajevo during the Bosnian war, and finally as Special Representative to the Secretary General for Western Sahara. He briefly rejoined US Government service in 2003, as Special Adviser for Northern Iraq. Author of two books, the Kurdish Republic of Mahabad (1954), and Kurdish Rugs and other weavings (1985), his friendship with the Kurdish people goes back to the early 1950s. 

Excerpts from:

The following information was provided from a letter that Richard W Eagleton, his son,  allowed me to print.  It's a fascinating summary of studying the Kurds and a friendship forged many years ago.  Bill Eagleton was at the forefront of forging relationships and respecting freedom and liberty.   

My father became fascinated by The Kurds after reading an article by Archie Roosevelt , the only American to visit Qazi Mohammed and the Kurdish Republic of 1946.  My Dad was quite a young diplomat at the time of beginning his direct involvement with Kurdistan and after his first posting to Damascus in 1950, was sent to Beirut to study Kurdish dialects, in preparation for Kirkuk, 1954-55, where he ran a U.S. interests section and library and spent so much of his time exploring the Kurdistan region with its wealth of ancient culture and Tribes. 


In those days, a young diplomatic officer, lived a lifestyle that the British had been accustomed to, visiting local peoples and their ways of life and getting to know as much as possible about the land they were sent to. As my father said to me several times between 2002 and 2006 when I accompanied him on yearly visits to Kurdistan as well as Baghdad.  "Our ability to study a country by direct contact with the locals, was an essential part of our training and is now sadly lacking, in the situations where security considerations, prevent officers from learning enough directly, keeping them virtual prisoners behind walls and locked gates."


This advice was basic to my own explorations that have allowed me such richness of contact, that I can count on many friends and brothers in Kurdistan and their special qualities of warmth, humor and depth of humanity, so easily integrated with my own experience of the world.


When our family lived in Tabriz in Iran, from 1959-1961, my father traveled a lot among Kurds and particularly, to Mahabad, the town where The Kurds had declared their republic. I was fortunate to be invited to go with him a number of times, aged 6 and 7 and very memorable that experience still is!


My father began to have contact directly with Mulla Mustafa Barzani in 1961, at a pivotal time for Kurdish communication and a point at which Barzani was seeking US support for the rights of Kurds, after so many hard times that began in the wake of the First World War and which had forced Kurdish resistance, with no other choice but to fight for survival.  Dad, respected Barzani and his careful planning, amid such impossible odds. When he spoke of him, it was clear that he understood him to be an extraordinarily courageous leader with charisma and a righteous cause, yet at the same time, living simply with his people, noticing and caring for the humblest. This is the image of the mythical hero who puts the fate of his companions before his own. This is what the nobility of Kings means, but who knows of Kings who are not flawed?

My father researched the Kurdish Republic and gathered whatever he could in the way of photographs and evidence, hidden from the hands of authorities who would destroy both the carriers and burn their images. From these visits to Mahabad, where we slept on iron beds in the garden of the Habibi home where Mulla Mustafa's Peshmerga used the same in 1946, I gazed up at the immense sky of diamonds with nothing but natural wonder!

My father's first contact with Barzani came in the early summer of 1961, when preparing to leave Tabriz. "A Kurd in Mahabad with whom I had discussed the Kurdish Republic of 1946 informed me that he had a message from Mulla Mustafa for the US Government. Barzani wanted us to know that he would be taking military action against the Qassem regime. this would not affect U.S. interests, he said."

The years that followed this, inevitably brought enormous challenges and division, even between friends, but Barzani was always ready to face them.

(from, "To my friends The Kurds") the W.L.Eagleton memoir, to be printed in Erbil 2024)


(My father's book The Kurdish Republic of 1946, contains so much more about Barzani and that fateful time).

I have outlined many seasons for an international drama series that starts with the events of 1946 who's working title, "No friends but the mountains,"is a well known Barzani quote.

When Barzani finally traveled to the USA in 1976, where he remained until his death in 1979, he visited my father with his sons Idris and Massoud. I asked him about that meeting, the photos from which are well known in Kurdistan. The times were difficult for support of the Kurdish cause and my father was sad that he could not alter the policies that were in place. The visit included an evening at my Dad 's home where he and my stepmother Kay, hosted these friends and shared memorable moments. Barzanl gifted a beautiful precious stone ring to Kay, which now proudly adorns my sister Mary Louise 's hand.

More about this visit and what Barzani and his sons spoke of, my father never wrote down, though he later told me that he did not like the attitude of Kissinger toward the Kurds, the latter having supported their cause for some years, even providing weapons for their struggle, but later betraying them, when interests shifted with the wind!

I am sure now, after 22 years of visits and a lot of integrating, that my father was happy for my life to intertwine so closely with the Kurds.  Barzani finally let go at his appointed hour in '79 and I spent the last week of my father's life, sharing his bedroom in his home in Taos. I had prepared to journey back from New Mexico to Erbil that very day of January 2011 and knowing my Dad was close to leaving, I took mine.  When I reached Albuquerque airport, my stepmother called to say he had just passed. I had said my farewell and knew he would have wanted me to keep going without any further delay.

Mustafa Barzani left a great legacy, after such lifelong struggle and sacrifice. He was faithful to the Kurdish cause right to the end, maintaining his sense of purpose and continuing to encourage all others with his vision of dignity and freedom from oppression.

This remains a great inspiration to those who follow, whatever the challenges they face. His closest family, carry much noble responsibility, in their care for Kurdish identity, shared with so many of their talented and ingenious brothers and sisters, all moving forward into a different new world environment, but one that reminds us to respect our forefathers as well, so as to build a more vitally meaningful world, one that Barzani and all who have died for it, would be proud of!

From the
1943 Crest
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