Whoever contracted Mansour Arbabsiar to carry out an assassination plot against Adel Al-Jubeir must be shaking their heads. If high-level officials within Iran’s leadership or a rogue cell actually intended to assassinate the Saudi ambassador - and a vocal Iranian critic - they selected one of the more pathetic “agents” in the history of espionage. Those who knew the “disoriented” Arbabsiar mocked his ability to “mastermind” a plot, citing his outgoing nature and memory lapses.
So is Arbabsiar a 30-year sleeper cell? Or was he simply chasing money, contrary to several of his friends’ testimony, only to find himself ensnared in a web at JFK? Another “old friend” in Corpus Christi, Tom Hosseini, told The Washington Post that Arbabsiar bragged about incoming wealth over the summer. What Hosseini couldn’t understand is why “anyone” would use Arbabsiar to communicate with Los Zetas. While U.S. officials compare the plot to a movie because of its “Hollywood threat,” the movie element is an unwitting protagonist stumbling into a plot above his head.
Even if the Quds were looking for an ignorant fall-guy, the haphazard communication into Iran still doesn’t make sense.
Definite proof of a double-plot may never surface, but at least one angle of a U.S.-Saudi conspiracy has been removed, if only temporarily. The Associated Press reports that the Obama administration has decided to pull nearly all 41,000 troops out of Iraq by December 31st. An unspecified number of Marines and 157 other military personnel will guard the massive U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, and handle weapons transactions, while another 5,000 private security contractors will provide national security for the State Department. However these figures are lower than the 10,000-15,000 trainers and combat personnel requested by the Pentagon.
The decision was made after Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki ruled out immunity for a residual force. The administration's pressure indicated that combat missions were indeed part of its equation, and the White House only recently forfeited to inability to maintain a training and combat force. Numerous parties in Washington hoped to see a 5-10 year buffer against Iran, but they must wait until Iraq’s parliament reconvenes on November 20th to have any last chance. An emergency agreement to allow limited training missions will offer a meager conciliation prize after so much heavy lifting, and al-Maliki seems to have ruled out the possibility entirely.
Believing that an immunity clause won’t pass, neither he nor Washington are willing to embarrass themselves and further jeopardize their influence. Presuming that al-Maliki supports a residual force and has no reason to lie, more actors than Muqtada al-Sadr’s bloc must oppose the decision. One of al-Maliki’s advisors did leave the door open to U.S. forces basing themselves across the border in Kuwait, but the issue of immunity would be left unresolved.
After months of political haggling and external pressure, the Obama administration apparently will not get its way in Iraq, an anti-climactic end for Americans. Few will complain after eight misguided years, and Obama will hold to his promise after all. Unfortunately Iraqis are left to clean up a region’s mistakes; while the absence of a U.S. force should temper some sources of violence, a steady killing of hundreds of civilians and dozens of security personnel will persist for an unpredictable number of years. Every insurgent group is sure to take credit, then begin to fight with each other over territory and influence. Government security forces remains partial, as evidenced by non-responses to bombings in Sadr City.
For better or worse, U.S. officials and troops have no place in Iraq’s politics and cities. Factor in a stalled weapons packaged to Bahrain - also for “external threats” - and Arbabsiar’s value in the U.S. is plummeting. Maybe Tehran did send him after all.