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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

By Adam Ashton, McClatchy Foreign Staff

BAGHDAD — More American air strikes pounded Islamic State positions in Northern Iraq on Sunday while lawmakers in Baghdad struggled to choose a prime minister to lead them in forming a new government.

U.S. Central Command reported that piloted and unmanned aircraft carried out four strikes against militants outside of the Kurdish city of Irbil early Sunday, hitting Islamic State armored vehicles and a mortar position.

Kurdish leaders reported that the strikes helped them retake ground they had lost to the Islamic State, reclaiming the villages of Makhmur and Gwer.

“We are so proud,” said Serwan Abdullah Ismail, a Kurdish member of parliament who added that he wrote a thank-you letter to President Barack Obama for approving the air strikes.

The fighting unfolded as lawmakers were on a path to limp past another deadline to decide whether embattled Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki should receive a third term leading the government.

His traditional allies in the Shiite bloc called the National Iraqi Alliance have been meeting for several days to choose his successor.

They were supposed to nominate a prime minister by late Sunday according to a constitutional deadline, but most said the decision would not come until later this week.

Maliki is digging in to hold on to his job. Thousands of people marched through Baghdad on Saturday to demonstrate their support for his third term, and his face is plastered throughout the city on banners linking him to the state’s armed forces.

He has cast himself as the defender of the country in a troubled time, and there is no clear candidate to take his place. The National Iraqi National Alliance effectively gets to choose the prime minister because its members hold the most seats in parliament.

Some lawmakers closest to Maliki are sticking with him, but there are divisions within the alliance and many say Iraq needs new leadership to overcome the Islamic State.

“It’s clear that every bloc rejected him,” said Yasir Saleh, a political adviser to a group of Shiite lawmakers within the National Iraqi Alliance.

Maliki “knows that. A new prime minister will absolutely be better. He’d have a new chance with people.”

Critics call Maliki a divisive figure who alienated the country’s Sunni minority. Sunni extremists have taken over large swaths of the country’s west and north while carrying out frequent bombings within Baghdad.

Maliki’s “staying in power will be the end of Iraq,” said Maysoon al Damluji, a Sunni lawmaker.

U.S. officials have made their preference for a new prime minister clear to Iraqi lawmakers. Obama in his remarks since approving limited military intervention on Thursday has said Iraq should choose a new prime minister to unite the country.

That’s one reason Iraqi lawmakers say it’s time for Maliki to go. They believe the U.S. will provide more assistance if parliament chooses a different prime minister.

“No doubt about that,” Saleh said. “This is good news. The bad news is (the U.S. intervention) is limited.”

So far, the strikes are popular among Iraqi lawmakers who say they wish the United State had intervened earlier to prevent the Islamic State’s swift drive through central and northern Iraq’s Sunni Arab provinces.

America “should have a major role in building a new Iraqi state. Otherwise you should leave because you are doing nothing,” said Razzaq al Haidari, a member of parliament from the Shiite Badr bloc.

His party is one that pushed for the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq during the American occupation. Now, he said, “We call on the U.S., as the builder of democracy, to the defense of our country.”

Islamic State has displaced hundreds of thousands of Shiite Arabs, Christians, Kurds and Yazidis since it overran the city of Mosul in June.

Human Rights Watch estimated that the Islamic State advance into Kurdish territory sent more than 150,000 Yazidis — members of a Kurdish religious minority — fleeing from their villages. Witnesses from Mosul have reported seeing Yazidi women auctioned off by militants.

Some lawmakers vented that Shi’a and Sunni Muslims who don’t support Islamic State deserved American protection well before Obama’s decision to protect U.S. interests in the Kurdish city of Irbil.

“We feel sorry that America didn’t act from the very beginning. Why did they wait until the (Kurds) were hit? They should have acted sooner,” said Jamila Obeidi, a Sunni lawmaker from Mosul.

AFP Photo/Safin Hamed

Many Democrats are getting nervous about the upcoming presidential election. Ominous, extensively reported articles by two of the best in the business—the New Yorker's Jeffrey Toobin and The Atlantic's Barton Gellman—outline Boss Trump's plot to keep control of the White House in 2021 no matter how the American people vote.
Trump is hardly making a secret of it. He's pointedly refused to commit to "a peaceful transfer of power."

"Well, we're going to have to see what happens," is how he answered the question. He added that after we "get rid of the ballots"—presumably mail-in ballots he's been whining about for weeks--"there won't be a transfer, frankly. There'll be a continuation."

Of course, Trump himself has always voted by mail, but then brazen hypocrisy is his standard operating mode. If you haven't noticed, he also lies a lot. Without prevaricating, boasting, and bitching, he'd be mute. And even then, he'd still have Twitter. He recently tweeted that the winner "may NEVER BE ACCURATELY DETERMINED" because mail-in ballots make it a "RIGGED ELECTION in waiting."
Gellman gets this part exactly right in The Atlantic: "Let us not hedge about one thing. Donald Trump may win or lose, but he will never concede. Not under any circumstance. Not during the Interregnum and not afterward. If compelled in the end to vacate his office, Trump will insist from exile, as long as he draws breath, that the contest was rigged.
"Trump's invincible commitment to this stance will be the most important fact about the coming Interregnum. It will deform the proceedings from beginning to end. We have not experienced anything like it before."
No, we haven't. However, it's important to remember that Trump makes threats and promises almost daily that never happen. Remember that gigantic border wall Mexico was going to pay for? Trump has built exactly five miles of the fool thing, leaving roughly two thousand to go.
His brilliant cheaper, better health care plan? Non-existent.
On Labor Day, Boss Trump boasted of his unparalleled success in strong-arming Japan into building new auto-manufacturing plants. "They're being built in Ohio, they're being built in South Carolina, North Carolina, they're being built all over and expanded at a level that we've never seen before."
Not a word of that is true. Two new plants, one German, another Swedish have opened in South Carolina, but construction began before Trump took office. Auto industry investment during Barack Obama's second term far exceeded Trump's. His version is sheer make-believe.
But back to the GOP scheme to steal the election.
First, it's clear that even Trump understands that he has virtually no chance of winning the national popular vote. He's been polling in the low 40s, with no sign of change. To have any chance of prevailing in the Electoral College, he's got to do the electoral equivalent of drawing to an inside straight all over again—winning a half-dozen so-called battleground states where he defeated Hillary Clinton in 2016 by the narrowest of margins.
At this writing, that looks highly unlikely. The latest polling in must-win Pennsylvania, for example, shows Trump trailing Joe Biden by nine points. That's a landslide. Trump's down ten in Wisconsin, eight in Michigan. And so on.
So spare me the screeching emails in ALL CAPS, OK? Polls were actually quite accurate in 2016. Trump narrowly defeated the odds. It can happen. But he's in far worse shape this time. Furthermore, early voting turnout is very high, with Democrats outnumbering Republicans two to one.
Hence, The Atlantic reports, "Trump's state and national legal teams are already laying the groundwork for post-election maneuvers that would circumvent the results of the vote count in battleground states."
The plan is clear. Because more Democrats than Republicans are choosing mail-in voting during the COVID pandemic, Trump hopes to prevent those ballots from being counted. Assuming he'll have a narrow "swing state" lead on election night, he'll declare victory and start filing lawsuits. "The red mirage," some Democrats call it.
"As a result," Toobin writes, "the aftermath of the 2020 election has the potential to make 2000 look like a mere skirmish." With Trump in the White House urging armed militias to take to the street.
Mail-in votes take a long time to count. Things could definitely get crazy.
True, but filing a lawsuit to halt a Florida recount was one thing. Filing suits against a half dozen states to prevent votes from being counted at all is quite another. Public reaction would be strong. Also, winning such lawsuits requires serious evidence of fraud. Trumpian bluster ain't evidence.
The Atlantic reports that GOP-controlled state legislatures are thinking about sending Trumpist delegations to the Electoral College regardless of the popular vote winner—theoretically constitutional but currently illegal.
Fat chance. If that's the best they've got, they've got nothing.
Anyway, here's the answer: Vote early, and in person*.

[Editor's note: In some states, receiving an absentee ballot means that a voter can no longer vote in person* or may have to surrender the absentee ballot, including the envelope in which it arrived, at their polling place. Please check with your local election authorities.]