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I have been following the political machinations in Iraq, and warning against a government ruled by Maliki. Amir Taheri outlines the sheer magnitude of trouble brewing in Iraq as a result of Iran’s influence.
Last week, he (Maliki) concluded an accord with the Sadrist bloc — whose leader, firebrand mullah Muqtada Sadr, has been living in the Iranian holy city of Qom since 2008. The two men pretend to have forgotten, if not forgiven, the bloody battle for Basra that broke Sadr’s Mahdi Army (trained and led by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard).
To clinch the deal, Maliki has dropped his “Iraq first” rhetoric in favor of a pan-Shiite approach. He has agreed to stop legal proceedings against the fugitive mullah, who’s wanted in Najaf on a charge of murder. Maliki even has dropped hints that the remnants of the Mahdi Army, which fled to Iran, would be allowed to return with impunity.
Yet the Sadrists demand more: key posts, such as ministers for oil, the interior, defence and education. If they succeed, the key policies of Iraq’s government could be made in Tehran.
Tehran helped the deal by ordering its oldest Shiite clients, the so-called Supreme Islamic Assembly of Iraq (and its armed wing, the Badr Brigades), to back Maliki. Another Iran-sponsored Shiite group, under ex-Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, has also thrown the little weight it has behind Maliki.
Even then, the math doesn’t work. Maliki’s bloc, The State of Law, won 89 seats in the 325-seat National Assembly. Adding the Sadrists, the Badrists and the Jaafarists yields 156 — still seven short of a majority. But Maliki’s advisers claim that he can seduce enough independents to secure a bare majority.
Forming such a government would be bad for Iraq and the region — and for Maliki’s place in history. It would be based on less than 40 percent of the votes in the election. And more than 90 percent of those votes came from only nine out of Iraq’s 18 provinces.
An estimated 30 percent of Shiites didn’t vote for the four parties in the proposed coalition. In five provinces, the coalition parties didn’t draw even 1 percent.
No government in Baghdad would be able to run Iraq without the support of the secular bloc of Sunnis and Shiites led by former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, which came first with 91 seats. And any new government must also win over the Kurds, some 20 percent of the population.
The three Kurdish parties, with 60 seats, could give Maliki a strong majority. But their price is too steep. They want a third of the Cabinet and insist that no key decision be taken without their approval.
They also want a free hand to exploit oil resources in their three autonomous provinces — and to annex oil-rich Kirkuk, where Kurds are 40 percent of the population.
There is a host of problems associated with the current U.S. engagement in Iraq, not least of which is the highly restrictive Status of Forces Agreement which has Soldier’s under virtual house arrest, unable to do anything without Iraqi permission. The tactical capabilities of the Iraqi Security Forces is still highly questionable, and in one recent engagement called the Battle of Palm Grove, the ISF couldn’t handle even the basics of small unit fire and maneuver warfare.
But even within the current framework, there are still missteps by the administration that are making the problem far worse. Continuing with Taheri’s assessment:
Maliki’s advisers tell me that he decided to turn to pro-Tehran groups because he believes the Obama administration has no overarching strategy in the Middle East, let alone in Iraq. By constantly apologizing for the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and talking of leaving Iraq (and the region), President Obama risks reducing the United States to irrelevance in a complex power game that could decide the future of the Middle East.
Vice President Joe Biden’s public appeal to Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani to intervene in the formation of a new government showed the administration’s failure to understand the desire of most Iraqis, including Maliki’s supporters, to keep the mullahs out of politics — a desire shared by Sistani himself.
Maliki’s ability to hang on is not limitless. By the end of this year, as the term of the annual budget ends, his government could run out of money. His accord with the Sadrists suggests that he’ll announce a new government before then. Such a government, however, might prove unstable, making a political crisis, leading to fresh general elections, a possibility.
The Obama administration appears to have no plans to deal with the situation — even though, for all the talk of leaving, America still has 55,000 troops and perhaps as many civilian workers in Iraq.
Desperate to secure a government in Iraq – any government – the U.S. administration has done exactly the opposite of what is needed, and continues to send exactly the wrong message. China continues to violate the trade embargo with Iran, weapons are still being interdicted from Iran on their way to fighters in Afghanistan, and the administration continues to pretend that diplomacy is accomplishing forward progress with Persia.
Maliki knows better, and he is laying his bets on Tehran to prevail. It is estimated that fully one quarter of U.S. deaths in Iraq were at the hands of Iranian fighters. Even more came from Iranian-backed fighters. Their ghosts demand justice, but instead find that the U.S. and Iran may even be colluding to invoke power sharing in Iraq.
And thus this administration may yet snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.