2004 August 25 Wednesday
Attack Pace Has Not Slackened In Iraq

The Mahdi Army is building a parallel government.

In most cities where the Mahdi Army is present, there are Mahdi Army religious courts for resolving disputes and punishing criminals; Mahdi Army police patrols; and even Mahdi Army town councils for planning social programs.

All of these services pay political dividends, earning the admiration of many Shiites who don't necessarily support Sadr or his militia. And while Sadr's militia has suffered major losses in Najaf, by standing up to the US and Iraqi forces for weeks, Sadr has also raised his stature in the eyes of many Iraqis.

If Sadr can manage to stay alive his influence may eventually eclipse that of Sistani. Besides, Sistani is old. If Sistani dies from old age will some of Sistani's current supporters shift their support to Sadr?

The emergence of a religious government in the Shia area of Iraq is an argument for partition. At least the Sunni and Kurdish areas could be kept free of control by a Shia religious government.

Sovereignty transfer has not provided any security benefit so far.

A USA TODAY database and analysis of unclassified U.S. government security reports, show attacks against U.S. and allied forces have averaged 49 a day since the hand-over of sovereignty June 28, compared with 52 a day in the four weeks leading up to the transfer.

American officials keep making wrong predictons about events in Iraq.

U.S. officials had said they expected the attacks to drop as Iraqis re-established control over their country. Their thinking: Iraqi security forces would be better at gathering intelligence, and support for militants would erode because insurgents would be attacking Iraqis rather than U.S. occupation forces.

One retired Marine Corps officer sees the battle against insurgents as lasting for 10 years if the United States is willing to stay and fight that long. That would put the United States in Iraq until 2014.

ďIf we have the political will and stamina to stay, I could see this going on for 10 years,Ē says Randolph Gangle, a retired officer who heads the Marine Corps' Center for Emerging Threats and Opportunities in Quantico, Va.

Any of my optimistic hawk readers want to go on record and tell us when the level of attacks will drop to below half the current level? How about when will attacks drop to a quarter and then a tenth of the current level?

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2004 August 25 03:33 PM  Mideast Iraq

D.J. McGuire said at August 26, 2004 5:34 AM:

Not that you'll like my answer, which is in fact a condition, not a set date, but here it is:

The attacks will fall precipitously after (if) we engineer the fall of the Iranian mullahcracy.

Derek Copold said at August 26, 2004 6:22 AM:

Another wishful thinker. The Mullahcracy has been dying of the same counter-revolution for the past ten years. At any rate, Sadr isn't an Iranian catspaw. He come from the Iraqist branch of Shi'ism. SCIRI and Al-Dawa, our buddies, have much, much closer ties to Iran. Think of Mao and Khruschev and you'll have a good idea of the relationship between Sadr and Iran. They have similar programs, sometimes help each other, but still put their own national interests first.

On another note, Sadr and Sistani, while probably not in any kind of a formal alliance, do use each other, and they've done so skillfully here (Sistani especially). When the center of power seems to be drifting away from Sistani, Sadr's people erupt (usually triggered by American clumsiness). And then when it looks like some huge defeat looms for Sadr's forces, Sistani steps in with a cease-fire, making himself the key player once more. I wouldn't say this is part of any conspiracy, but it certainly has the marks of preparation meeting opportunity.

Noah Millman said at August 26, 2004 11:29 AM:

I'm a pessimistic hawk, so I don't meet the criteria. I know you're sold on the idea of partition, Randall, but I still think it creates as many or more problems than it solves. There's no international warrant for partition. The Sunni Arabs will not stand for it, so you'll still have a civil war, only we'll all be calling it a border war instead. The Turks would have to intervene more actively in the north, and the Iranians would certainly be tempted to do so in the south, if Kurdistan and Shiite Iraq broke away. I think calling for partition is the most extreme way of saying: side with the Shiites against the Sunnis.

I also agree with Derek that the Iranian regime is stronger than Michael Ledeen & Co. think. If there were a significant popular revolt, I think China circa 1989 is a more likely outcome than Russia circa 1991 at this point in time. Those neo-cons who take the fall of the Soviets as emblematic of how tyrannies collapse are missing several key points.

First, the Soviet Empire in Europe was held together almost entirely by force. And once the Berlin Wall fell and the Poles had their revolution, the Soviet state was revealed as a paper tiger. This, in turn, dramatically emboldened domestic opponents of the Soviet regime. There's no clear analogy to Iran; they have no empire of captive nations whose liberation could create a crisis of confidence in the metropole. The only remote analogy that I can think of is to the terrorist groups like Hezbollah that Iran sponsors. If the U.S. were to attack the terror camps in Lebanon, the Iranian regime would have to respond somehow, which *might* create a minor crisis. But, while I used to tout this idea, the more I think about it the more it seems like an unlikely bank-shot. If we try to take out Hezbollah, it should be because we're worried about Hezbollah or because Hezbollah is helping al-Qaeda, not because we think it'll have some kind of trigger effect elsewhere.

Second, Gorbachev was too civilized to do what was necessary to keep the Soviet Union intact. How do you think Yuri Andropov would have dealt with Boris Yeltsin? For that matter, how do you think Putin would have dealt with him? The denuement of the Cold War could have worked out rather differently with different leadership at the top - the Soviets would still have had to abandon the Cold War, which was bankrupting them, but they might have held on to power in Russia, and held on to non-Russian territories like Ukraine, for a lot longer. In any event, I think the mullahs are fully ruthless enough to do what is necessary to retain power. The only thing that could change the equation that I can think of is the reaction of the Iranian army to a true uprising (in China in 1989, there were rumors at one point that different Chinese armies were shooting at each other; had any significant faction in the military sided with the students, the outcome in China might have been rather different).

Third, the leadership of the Soviet Union by Brezhnev's day no longer believed in the revolution in any meaningful sense. It wasn't just that the people were fed up with the system (and that had been true for a very long time by 1991) and viewed it cynically, but that the leadership was sclerotic and lacked faith itself. Gorbachev was chosen as a new type of Soviet leader precisely because he looked like he could restore faith in a transparently dying system by reforming it. Precisely because there was so little faith left in the Soviet Union, reactionary elements that might have acted to preserve it did not act decisively early enough or vigorously enough when they did act (remember the coup against Gorbachev?). So what's the situation in Iran? The leadership quite clearly still believes in the system and in the revolution. There is no charismatic anti-regime leader like Yeltsin or Walesa around which opposition can coalesce and which the regime would be leery of confronting directly. Moreover, the regime - rightly - views the United States as having plans to topple them from power. Given the patriotism of the Iranian people, that makes it very hard for us to separate them from the people by any forceful action, and if we take all military options off the table then what stops the regime from crushing the people by force the way Saddam did to his people in 1991, the way the Chinese regime did to the students in 1989, etc. etc.?

Iran is a very difficult challenge. We can't let them get nukes. But military action to prevent that would almost certainly drive the Iranian people to *support* the regime, against America. And, as noted above, I'm unconvinced that "encouragement" of domestic opponents of the regime will have any meaningful effect until the regime leadership itself loses confidence. Anyhow there were more signs of strong opposition two years ago than there are today.

Finally: how long will the attacks go on? Until someone wins. This is a civil war as well as a war against the occupying power. Allawi is trying to consolidate his power in the Sunni heartland versus rival clans. Part of the way he's doing this is by crushing the Shiite opposition in the south. The Shiites in the south generally are fighting not to be crushed by the historically-dominant Sunnis. But they are also engaged in their own mini civil war. Al-Sadr needs to provoke a crisis that unites the Shiites behind him. So his interests are kind of the same as Allawi's in that both of them want a fight (albeit, of course, each needs the other to lose). Sistani is, I think, playing a longer-term game. He's old enough to know that the Shiites usually lose these power struggles. He probably understands that keeping the world invested in Iraq is good for the Shiites long-term, because it limits how repressive the Sunnis can be and makes it at least conceivable that Iraq becomes either more democratic or more federal in character, either of which means more power and independence for the Shiites. But he (understandably) doesn't trust the Americans and knows that siding with us openly is a one-way ticket to irrelevance in Iraqi politics. So he's the one player with an interest in averting open conflict, but his ability to prevent it is acutely limited. In any event, I don't know how this multi-sided civil war ends until it reaches some kind of stable solution. Even if Iran stepped out of the picture, the internal dynamics would remain (albeit if one power with an interest in continued instability in the country were removed from the game, the chances of reaching a stable solution would of course go up).

Randall Parker said at August 26, 2004 12:20 PM:


I favor partition because I see a very unhappy ending down the other road. Yes, I realize that partition has a lot of problems.

I do not see Sistani becoming more powerful at this point. He reminds me of Stalin's famous comment "How many divisions does the Pope have?". Well, how many divisions does Sistani have?

Of course Sadr could get killed tomorrow. So Sistani might yet surge in influence over the Shias. But Sistani could die from a heart attack too.

Yes, the Shias will benefit from democracy since they are the majority. But we have to manage to stablize the situation to the point where we will be able to conduct an election. When is that going to happen? Will we have to have rolling elections where divisions of US troops go successively into various areas of Iraq to put enough troops in the streets that each city can hold elections?

Iran: Well, if we can't foment an internal revolt and we can't invade them then I fail to see how we are going to stop them from building nuclear weapons. Air strikes on hidden facilities all over the country? I find that scenario unlikely as well. In my view the Iraq fiasco of Bush and the neocons has made Iran's ascension to nuclear power status far more likely. The odds were already favorable for Iran before the overthrow of Saddam. Now I think the mullahs face excellent odds in their favor.

At this point I see the Bush preemption strategy against nuclear proliferation as a failure. He shot his wad at the wrong target and botched his execution of even that misguided effort. Lots of resources were wasted. A backlash in the Muslim countries, Europe, and among the American populace has seriously weakened Bush's hand in dealing with Iran and North Korea. North Korea has smooth sailing ahead. So does Iran. I hope we do not some day lose a city as a result. I also hope the Israelis do not lose a city. But I'm not optimistic on either point.

Do you agree or disagree with my assessment?

Fly said at August 26, 2004 3:29 PM:

Randall: ďI hope we do not some day lose a city as a result.Ē

Thirty years of underestimating the Islamic terrorist threat led to 9-11 and the awareness that US cities will soon be vulnerable to terrorist nuclear attacks. (Combined with the unsuccessful attempt to diplomatically deter North Korea.)

What to do?

Continue treating the threat with police actions and diplomacy? My assessment is that this policy leads to loss of a US city and then to total war. (Letís guess 0.9.)

Follow the Bush strategy? This strategy might disrupt the nurturing of terror and turn the tide against fundamentalist Islam. As Iíve repeatedly stated, I believe the US is likely to fail and we will lose a US city and then escalate to total war. (Letís guess 0.6.)

Say the likely outcome occurs and the US loses a city. We are at war. There are no guaranteed strategies for success. Blaming Bush doesn't help.

Randall, youíve suggested a crash energy research program to decrease US dependence on ME oil. This suggestion is independent of the Iraqi invasion. If it makes sense we could do today. (Iím in favor of it though I donít believe it makes our cities any safer.)

Youíve suggested building walls around the US and ejecting all illegal aliens. Again this suggestion is independent of the action in Iraq. If it were politically possible we could do it whether we invaded Iraq or not.

(I donít believe it is politically possible now. Even if it were politically possible I believe it would lead to civil disruption in the US that would increase the terrorist threat. I believe a slower process is needed.

Continue educating people as to the dangers and drawbacks of massive, unskilled, illegal immigrations.
Start with the low hanging fruit. Deport criminals and gangbangers.
Get the border communities onboard so that local officials support cracking down on illegals.
Institute a secure national ID and database system so that citizenship can rapidly and reliably be verified.
Punish companies that hire illegals.
With the momentum built upon these successes, address national immigration reform.)

If the US had not deposed Saddam, I donít believe we would be in a better position to deter Iran or North Korea. Given that Saddam had thumbed his nose at the US for over a decade, I donít see how leaving him in power would make threats of military force more credible.

I donít believe North Korea or Iran would give up nuclear weapons without the credible threat of US military action.

US willingness to use force has already paid dividends in that basing and funding for terrorists is being curtailed and the preaching and teaching of fundamentalist hatred is starting to be controlled.

As for Iraq, I expect the situation to gradually improve. I donít believe Sadr has significant support outside Sadr City. As long as the Iranian mullahs are in power there will be low-level civil war in Iraq. Even if the mullahs were overthrown there would be continuing civil war throughout the ME. Globalization and the US are forcing the Arab culture to change and the process is ugly.

On a prior thread we discussed what criterion could be used to measure progress in this war. Continuing civil strife in Iraq may be a good criterion for gauging the likely success of a stable democracy forming. The Sadr saga is discouraging. However it is not the whole story. I suggested looking at the funding and teaching of fundamentalist hatred. Iíve read about recent successes in those areas.

A stable ME that continued to nurture terrorism would represent failure to me. An unstable ME, rife with civil war but unable to support terrorists is acceptable. A ME with tyrants overthrown and theocracies discredited and a secular society arising would be wild success.

Noah Millman said at August 26, 2004 3:57 PM:

Randall: some things I agree with, some I don't. The Stalin quote is apposite; Sistani's power is almost entirely moral suasion. But that's not nothing. It is, in fact, the only kind of power that could deliver a better outcome than a new Sunni dictatorship (which I view as by far the most-likely outcome at this point) or civil war. That's why it infuriates me that the US kept him at arms length for so many months while cozying up to a con-artist like Chalabi or thugs like the SCIRI.

I don't anticipate real elections any time soon. We're now fighting, basically, to restore Sunni supremacy. I have no idea whether Allawi is enlightened enough to see that he'll be stronger if he makes some kind of power-sharing deal with the Shiites. If not, there will never be elections, and we'll probably have full-scale civil war. If so, we may eventually be lucky enough to have rigged elections like they used to have in Lebanon. Which would be a *wonderful* outcome. But I don't expect it. I'm pretty pessimistic on this whole point.

Have we made it harder or easier to tackle Iran? Well, not finding WMD makes it much, much harder. How much you want to blame Bush for that is really a function of (a) whether you think he deliberately sexed-up intelligence to make a case for a war he'd already decided on, or (b) consistently read ambiguous intelligence in the most alarming way because of a post-9-11 syndrome that says "better safe than sorry." If the former, it's all his fault. If the latter, I cut him some slack. There were, after all, some smart people outside the Team B gang who thought Saddam had an active nuclear weapons program, Ken Pollack, most prominently.

Anyhow, leaving that aspect aside, I think it's a mixed bag. The war was executed marvelously in a military sense and terribly in a political sense - that is to say, the plans for the post-war were delusional in the extreme, and this led to the current situation. And the current situation does make it tougher to take on Iran, 'cause we've got our hands full. But one thing is nonetheless the case: we now have over 100,000 troops right next door to Iran. By contrast, pre-war we were engaged in a war of attrition with Saddam. It would have been very hard for us to realistically threaten any kind of military action against Iran without taking care of Saddam first. If you think he could have been turned into a neutral as Qaddafi has been (so it appears), that would have been an acceptable way out of the bind we were in. But I think that's fantasy. Would it have been wonderful to bump Saddam off in a coup, leaving the power structure in place? Yes, but that's also a fantasy; we tried that route for a decade without success. So if you agree with me that action against Iran would have been very hard with Saddam still in power and shooting at American planes, and if you agree that it's hard to see how we'd get rid of Saddam short of war, then it would have been hard to tackle Iran with or without war.

Anyhow, all the reasons why it's hard to tackle Iran now would have been true then as well. The regime would have put up a tough fight then as now. They'd get more popular support after an American invasion then as now. Drumming up international support for such a war would have been extraordinarily difficult before the Iraq war, at least as hard as it was to drum up support for war with Iraq. And the post-war in Iran would have been difficult for different reasons than Iraq (Iran has a very different culture, a relatively unified ethnic base, a strong national identity, etc.) but it wouldn't have been a cakewalk. Iran is much bigger than Iraq, and much more populous. And who wants to go to war with them? I'm just skeptical that non-military solutions to the Iranian proliferation problem would have worked. Whether surgical air attacks could have set them back the way Israel set back Iraq ten years with their 1981 strike, I don't know. What the political effect of such a strike would have been in the pre-Iraq-war context, after (presumably) lots of diplomatic maneuvering to try to get them to disarm voluntarily, I don't know, but I doubt it would have toppled the regime and I doubt it would have gotten support internationally. This stuff is tough, much tougher than, I think, any of us thought before Iraq.

By the way, the same thing is true of North Korea, though for different reasons. North Korea would probably collapse quickly under military assault, unlike Iran. But they'd kill hundreds of thousands of South Koreans in the process, and shred our system of collective security in Asia. Preemptive war against North Korea would definitely end the alliance with South Korea, and would make every other country in the region very scared of us. Which would push them into the arms of China. That's not exactly the outcome we want, which is why our hands are somewhat tied militarily over there. And this situation obtains with or without the Iraq war. I wrote a bunch of stuff on this back in late 2002, when I started to panic over Korea and wonder what on earth we were doing tackling Iraq when North Korea already *had* nukes, and was surely ready to sell to the highest bidder. But the more I thought about it, the harder it was to figure out what to do.

I think this is actually a big reason why Bush *did* focus on Iraq - not because it was the most important target but because it was the easiest one to take down. Kind of how Churchill talked about attacking Italy as the "soft underbelly" of the Axis. Historians still debate whether the Italian campaign was, in fact, a key part of the victory strategy or a massive diversion from the main event. Iraq, having no meaningful connection to al-Qaeda, no cooperation with Iran (the major terrorism sponsor in the region), no ties to any terrorist group that America really worried about (Abu Nidal does not count, sorry), and no WMD, was certainly not part of any "axis" of evil or otherwise. He was just unfinished business that Bush decided to deal with before moving on. Takin him out would show we meant business. This is John Derbyshire's take on the Iraq war, and I think it's a lot of Bush's, Cheney's and Rumsfeld's take. The whole Chalabi/democracy/cake-walk business just made the idea of taking down Saddam look a lot easier and to have a lot of potential collateral benefits. Turns out finishing that unfinished business created a whole bunch of new headaches instead.

I wish I knew what to do about Iran or North Korea. Heck, I wish I knew what to do about Pakistan, which is a bigger threat than Iran and North Korea put together. Iran is actually a relatively rational enemy. They are very unlikely to give nukes to terrorists; they're just going to use nukes to deter us from fighting them as they wage proxy wars across the region to become the regional hegemon. Kind of like the Soviets did, on a smaller scale, but in a very important neighborhood. Nukes are the ultimate insurance policy against winding up like Saddam; once they have them, they'll harrass us and our allies in the region with impunity, and make us look like putzes. (Of course, the prospect of nuclear war with Israel goes up, but the Israelis do have a substantial nuclear deterrent of their own, and hopefully will get a real missile defense within a few years courtesy of us.) North Korea is a basket case; it just might be possible to keep them behaving well and not selling their nuclear technology by paying them a huge bribe, while putting a missile defense around Japan, interdicting and inspecting their shipping, and putting enough firepower offshore to wipe out their army in hours if they try anything. I'm not saying I like that solution, mind you, nor am I confident we could quarantine North Korea successfully. But it's better than the options we have with respect to Pakistan. Pakistan is already a nuclear power; has an intelligence service rife with al-Qaeda sympathizers; actually harbors a whole bunch of big-wig al-Qaeda types; is massively unstable, with a history of violent coups; and has sold nuclear technology to at least one other rogue state (North Korea). But it's a major non-NATO ally. Go figure. Anyone want to invade Pakistan? Not me. Anyone know what else to do about them? Not me.

Now you've got me really depressed.

Randall Parker said at August 26, 2004 5:33 PM:


On Sunni supremacy: Even if the Sunnis ally with some Shias in the government they will do so only until they get their army and intelligence apparatus fully rebuilt. I can see a series of elections and then executive decisions that gradually reduce the influence of their legislature. I see something along the Russian model where Putin has a great deal of power even though the Duma exists. Putin is gradually gutting the free press and making Russia less democratic.

You see a distinct possibility of a full scale civil war. Yet I'm the guy who wants to partition. The "Partition War" will be far less damaging than civil war that breaks out between Sunnis and Shias.

At this point I am not inclined to cut Bush slack. I oppose his policies on too many issues (Medicare, education, immigration, border control, the U Mich racial preferences case, his betrayals are legion). I agree with Steve Sailer about Bush's lack of curiosity and refusal to learn. I put some stock in the arguments that he suffered some brain damage from 20 years of a drinking problem. That may well come on top of dyslexia.

My take on the WMD story was that we were propagandized by an alliance of neocons in the Bush Administration and media. I buy the arguments that the CIA analysts were pressured to give the Bush Administration the assessment it wanted to hear.

If Saddam was still in power the drain on the US military would be pretty small. The No Fly Zones didn't take that many aircraft to police. The flights were never shot down and the pilots and controllers essentially got to do a lot of realistic training. Yes, we now have over 100,000 troops on the border with Iran. But we couldn't possibly spare them to use in an attack on Iran. We have much more tied down now at much higher expense than we had when Saddam was still in power.

I think getting the mullahs in Iran to abandon their nuclear ambitions would have been tough with or without overthrowing Saddam. I fail to see how overthrowing Saddam makes it any easier. Look at it from the perspective of the Mullahs. They know that the American people are far more gun shy now than than they were before Saddam was overthrown. The American people see what is happening in Iraq and are turned off from war because the aftermath looks like such an unmanageable mess. The American people have far less faith in the Bush Administration than it did before the Iran invasion. Also, we have the financial drain of the Iraq occupation and the tying down of all our available volunteer Army divisions in Iraq. The mullahs know we are not going to invade. Their risk has gone down.

The biggest upside from our standpoint vis a vis Iran is that we have airbases (presumably) in Iraq we could use for an attack on Iran. But even that is questionable since we are supposed to be pretending that the puppet government in Baghdad really does have sovereign control over Iraq and that the US can't just use bases in Iraq to attack Iran.

You say:

Iran is actually a relatively rational enemy. They are very unlikely to give nukes to terrorists;

This seems like a reasonable argument. But one reason "At Dawn We Slept" on Dec. 7, 1941 was the belief that the Japanese couldn't possibly be such reckless fools as to attack the United States. Heck, Stalin once admitted to someone that the reason he miscalculated Hitler's intentions was that if he had been in Hitler's position he would have seen an attack on the USSR as too risky and reckless. Yet both of those attacks took place.

Some of the people making the "rational enemy" argument to argue that we don't need to worry about Pakistani or North Korean or Iranian nukes were also staunch critics of the US overthrow of Iraq who believe that Bush was incredibly reckless to invade Iraq. Yet Bush did that too.

My take on the nuclear proliferation problem is that the more countries get nukes the more likely someone reckless and foolish and deranged will order something done with them that will cause some cities to get nuked. Imagine a coup in Pakistan where the chain of command breaks down and some ISI guys show up at some nuclear weapons storage facility with some claim that they have been given control of the nukes.

In my view North Korea is the most vulnerable to our influence if only we were more clever about it. They have a secular regime, not a religious one. Get enough information about the outside world to the North Korean people (use airborne balloons, floating packaging and other means to bring in books and radios) and the legitimacy of the regime would dive. Add in bribery (hey you North Korean general get immunity from prosecution and millions in the bank if you help in an overthrow) and other covert actions and we might be able to get the regime to collapse.

At this point I'm predicting more nuclear proliferation. North Korea will build more nukes. Iran will succeed in building lots of working nukes. Saudi Arabia might end up buying nukes from Pakistan.

Derek Copold said at August 27, 2004 3:40 PM:

Pat Buchanan has hit the nail on the head. The only rational thing we can do is extricate ourselves from the region and its conflicts. Most of the things going on there are well out of our control, and have grown moreso since we invaded Iraq. We should walk out of Iraq at the soonest opportunity, tell the South Koreans and Japan they're more than capable of handling the North on their own (which they are) and that their defense is their responsibility, not ours. Our aid to Israel, as well as all other foreign aid, needs to be phased out. If a country--Egypt, Jordan, Israel, whoever--can't survive without perpetual outside infusions of cash, then it's screwed anyways, and the sooner that reality is faced the better. If it doesn't need the aid, then the money only hurts as it encourages sloth and bureaucracy. Either way, it's not our problem.

Obviously, this can't be done overnight, but it should be the long-range goal of any U.S. government. We need to pick our battles better, and we need to pick them over matters that concern our nation's survival. That and that alone should be the standard for going to war. Neither Iraq nor Iran, or even N. Korea for that matter, meet this standard.

gcochran said at August 31, 2004 6:27 AM:

No one who knew what he was talking about could have believed that Saddam had a significant nuclear weapons program. If I were in a mood to be charitable, I would guess that Pollack knows little about the nuclear weapons production cycle. But he surely would have _known_ that he knew little about it - the proper thing to do at that point would have been to run and find out or shut the hell up.

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