The Antichrist Stages Several Protests

Sadr supporters have staged several protests against the Iraqi government ( AFP)

By Eleanor Beevor

The current wave of anger now rocking Basra and other southern Iraqi cities did not come out of nowhere. Seasonal protests are something of a fixture in southern Iraq. But this wave of demonstrations is much larger than its predecessors. The protests are so far less organized – not made up of groups with specific agendas, but rather thousands of Iraqis who can no longer tolerate their hopeless living conditions. The protests have already led to the deaths of at least 14 people, and injuries to over 700. And they are coming at a critical turning point in Iraqi politics, when the country is beset by a leadership crisis, and the government has no easy options for quelling the anger.

Summer has been protest season in Basra for a number of years now. This is when discontent with poor government services peaks because of the punishing heat. It’s a season in which tap water comes out hot, and birds drop out of the sky from heat exhaustion. When there are crippling shortages of water and electricity, as there have been for the past few years, residents are incapable of washing, or of cooling down with air conditioning. And they have run out of patience for the government that is meant to be providing them.

Benedict Robin D’Cruz, a doctoral researcher at the University of Edinburgh who has monitored Iraqi protest movements told Al Bawaba:

“The current protesters are not expressing any one political vision or world view that offers a clear alternative to that system. The protests are about corruption and poor services, fundamentally. They aren’t calling for a shift from one political ideology, or form of state, to another.”

But the scale of the service provision problem is frightening. Electricity is just one example. Iraq’s power grid was incapable of keeping up with demand for electricity long before ISIS inflicted $7 billion worth of damage on it while it occupied significant parts of the country from 2014 until late 2017. This power shortage is set to get worse, as demand for electricity is estimated be growing  at 7% every year. This problem has become more acute earlier this July, when Iran cut off the electricity it provided to the southern cities of the country. Tehran claimed that Iraq had not paid its electricity bills, which had soared to $1.5 billion while Iran was experiencing shortages of its own. This is because Iran is now facing a period of uncertainty, not least of all because the Americans have recently pulled out of the 2015 nuclear deal and are threatening to reimpose economic sanctions.

The lack of basic energy needs feels like an especially cruel irony to the residents of Basra, who are living on top of Iraq’s vast deposits of “black gold” – its crude oil. Iraq exports the majority of its oil, and has even doubled its exports over the past decade. Yet due to corruption and inefficiency, southern Iraqis have seen no returns from the vast wealth beneath their feet. But without the adequate infrastructure, Baghdad cannot turn this natural wealth into relief for its citizens in a hurry even if it wants to. Protestors have made their frustration with this paradox clear – several have attacked oil installations.

This leaves the Iraqi government with extremely limited options for calming the protests. Citizens have completely lost faith in their established authorities and the parliament in Baghdad. During these demonstrations, protestors ransacked government buildings, ministries and branches of the different political parties to vent their frustrations. But what will be especially challenging for the government is that, unlike southern Iraq’s previous protests, there is no figurehead with which to negotiate, and no single agenda that can be addressed quickly.

Mustafa Habib, a political analyst and correspondent for the Iraqi media site Niqash, told Al Bawaba:

Unlike the civil and secular movements who created culture of protest against government since 2010, these protests are without leadership. This is dangerous because it will be easy for anarchists or other parties to penetrate them. It is also difficult to form a delegation capable of negotiating with government about their demands. Also, for the first time the demonstrators are criticizing everyone linked to political or religious authority, even clerics who were considered sacred previously, such as Ali al-Sistani, [the Ayatollah who is widely considered the spiritual leader of the Shi’a Muslims in Iraq].”

As all the lynchpins of the old order are being rejected, there is no obvious authority figure with the will or the credibility to restore calm. Right now, Iraq is technically between governments. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi is acting in a caretaker capacity, whilst blocs of electoral winners try to form coalitions that can scrape a majority of seats. Although Abadi won some credibility for the military victories against ISIS, it did not translate into electoral popularity among a disenfranchised population. His Dawa party, which has been in power for much of the past decade, dropped into third place in the electoral vote share – a clear expression that Iraqis were demanding more than just security.

Instead, the big winner from the 2018 election was a man who had once led protests in southern Iraq himself. An infamous Shi’ite cleric and former militia leader, Moqtada al-Sadr played the populist and nationalist cards during his campaign, and he played them well. He had certainly had some practice. Whilst civil society groups and secularist campaigners began building something of a culture of protest in southern Iraq in 2010, Sadr started expanding the tradition in 2015. He put his well-known face to protests, with a clear political message – that Iraqi politics must begin to focus on effective governance, and not sectarian identity.

Robin D’Cruz continued:

“In the protest movement that emerged in 2015, in which the Sadrists became a key actor, there was a clear political agenda which claimed to oppose the system of identity politics – the muhassassa system of ethnic-sectarian quotas in ministerial appointments.”

Muhassassa was the system instituted after the American-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, which was meant to ensure a more proportional system of sectarian representation, by enhancing the powers of the Shi’a demographic majority and reducing the likelihood of another dictatorship. Unfortunately, the result was mostly one of politicians leveraging identity for votes, and then enjoying the perks of political office rather than working for the people.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has vowed to fight corruption but despite years of mass protests it remains endemic (AFP)

And Sadr’s 2018 campaign was a case in point that the political discourse of Iraqis had changed. At every turn, Sadr emphasized Iraqi nationalism rather than appealing to a Shi’a collective identity. His campaign was relatively well rewarded.His Sairoon political alliance emerged with the largest vote share in the election. He did not run for the role of Prime Minister himself, but as the head of the largest bloc, he will have a decisive role in determining who is. However, his bloc does not have a majority, and no other voting blocs have been able to form a majority coalition yet either.

If, as seems likely, the Sairoon bloc do take government in coalition, they will struggle to balance their populist promises with political compromise. And so perhaps unsurprisingly, Sadr has insisted that negotiations for a new government must be stopped until the protestors demands are met. There are even reports that his political supporters will be ordered to join the protestors on the streets.

Thus as the election’s biggest winner threatens to join the demonstrations, and Abadi struggles for credibility, it is likely that Iraqis will be dealt temporary appeasements instead of durable solutions. One method that has been tried and tested by politicians is patronage – and the protestors know this too. Robin d’Cruz added:

“The current protests are mostly ad hoc mobilisations to extract specific concessions or benefits. This is part and parcel of Iraq’s post-2003 political-economy of patronage and clientelismThe people at the bottom of the pile, ordinary Iraqi citizens who do not benefit from patronage networks, have to resort of protest and disruption of economic activity as a means of “buying into” the system of resource distribution.”

Meanwhile, the administration in Baghdad looks set to be propped up by help from abroad. Kuwait has stepped in and donated generators for Basra, as well as 30,000 cubic metres of fuel with which to power electricity generation, and it has recently signed a new deal with Baghdad to supply power. Whether this new deal will come with political strings attached remains to be seen but what is certain is the political establishments is likely to be very weary of these protests that started in early July but see no end in sight.

Iraq has had no shortage of challenges, and the state cannot be expected to function perfectly. But its citizens have made inescapably clear that it has to do better. Whether Baghdad can deliver is uncertain. But a more worrying question is what will happen if it can’t.

A Closer Look At The Sixth Seal (Revelation 6:12)

A Look at the Tri-State’s Active Fault Line

Monday, March 14, 2011

By Bob Hennelly

The Ramapo Fault is the longest fault in the Northeast that occasionally makes local headlines when minor tremors cause rock the Tri-State region. It begins in Pennsylvania, crosses the Delaware River and continues through Hunterdon, Somerset, Morris, Passaic and Bergen counties before crossing the Hudson River near Indian Point nuclear facility.

In the past, it has generated occasional activity that generated a 2.6 magnitude quake in New Jersey’s Peakpack/Gladstone area and 3.0 magnitude quake in Mendham.

But the New Jersey-New York region is relatively seismically stable according to Dr. Dave Robinson, Professor of Geography at Rutgers. Although it does have activity.

“There is occasional seismic activity in New Jersey,” said Robinson. “There have been a few quakes locally that have been felt and done a little bit of damage over the time since colonial settlement — some chimneys knocked down in Manhattan with a quake back in the 18th century, but nothing of a significant magnitude.”

Robinson said the Ramapo has on occasion registered a measurable quake but has not caused damage: “The Ramapo fault is associated with geological activities back 200 million years ago, but it’s still a little creaky now and again,” he said.

“More recently, in the 1970s and early 1980s, earthquake risk along the Ramapo Fault received attention because of its proximity to Indian Point,” according to the New Jersey Geological Survey website.

Historically, critics of the Indian Point Nuclear facility in Westchester County, New York, did cite its proximity to the Ramapo fault line as a significant risk.

In 1884, according to the New Jersey Geological Survey website, the  Rampao Fault was blamed for a 5.5 quake that toppled chimneys in New York City and New Jersey that was felt from Maine to Virginia.

“Subsequent investigations have shown the 1884 Earthquake epicenter was actually located in Brooklyn, New York, at least 25 miles from the Ramapo Fault,” according to the New Jersey Geological Survey website.

The New Pakistani Nuclear Horn (Daniel 8:8)


The most dangerous country in the world just got considerably more dangerous. Pakistan, home to the fastest growing nuclear weapons arsenal on earth, has broken the decades old domination of its electoral politics by two family dynasties. Imran Khan, a world champion cricketer, is poised to be the next prime minister backed by the powerful army. Khan blames Pakistan’s problems on America and is the most anti-American politician in South Asia.

Imran Khan, 66, is charismatic and bold. He has campaigned for decades to break the logjam of Pakistan’s revolving elections in which either Nawaz Sharif or Benazir Bhutto and her heirs dominate the highest office of the country. Sharif, 65 and a three-time prime minister, is now in jail along with his daughter on trumped-up charges of corruption. Benazir’s son Bilawal, 29, ran an impressive campaign on his own for the first time but came in third place. Khan’s Pakistan Justice Movement (PTI) is leading the parliamentary elections with around 110-120 seats out of 272. Sharif’s party is around 60 and Bhutto at 45. These numbers are not final and there are several independents and small local parties.


Khan will need to persuade independents and small parties to join in a coalition government. He has ruled out working with either Sharif or Bhutto. The horse trading may be prolonged before a government is set—and volatile once created. There are widespread charges of fraud and tampering with the vote. Protests and boycotts are likely. A central question is which party will take control of the Punjab, the country’s largest province and the traditional base of the Sharif clan.

The central platform of Imran Khan’s movement has always been to fight corruption. Pakistan’s politics are certainly full of corruption as is the judicial process. But the most corrupt institution in the country is the army. Pakistani analysts like Aeysha Saddiqa have long documented how the army has become a major land owner and business maestro to enrich the pockets of the officer corps. The generals for decades have manipulated the judicial system to punish their enemies.

There is compelling evidence that the army is supporting Khan, intimidating his opponents and suppressing the press to get him to power. The army soured on Nawaz Sharif years ago and was especially alarmed when he blamed the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attack on the army intelligence service known as the ISI. The ISI was certainly responsible for the Mumbai operation, but to acknowledge that is verboten in Pakistan.

Khan is an outspoken defender of the army and is closely aligned with the Islamist movements patronized by the ISI. He is a frequent critic of the United States which he says treats Pakistan like a “doormat.” Khan says the American war on terror since 9/11 has cost Pakistan billions of dollars and tens of thousands of lives. While domestic violence has gone down in the last couple of years it spiked during the election season.

Pakistan and the United States have had a deeply troubled relationship for decades with great highs and lows. Both sides have used the other and been unreliable partners. Donald Trump’s administration has been outspoken about Pakistan’s connections to terrorism and its support for the Afghan Taliban. Military assistance has been suspended, although the Congress soured on aid for Pakistan in the Obama years.

Imran Khan has said that it would be a “bitter pill” to have to meet with Trump if he Khan is prime minister, but one he would swallow. He probably doesn’t have to worry. South Asia is not a priority for the Trump administration. The president has made clear he wants to bring Americans home from Afghanistan and wash his hands of the war there. His hard line rhetoric on Pakistan is unlikely to persuade Khan and the army to press the Taliban to peace negotiations. So far Trump has been all talk and no action about Pakistan’s ties to terrorism. His generals have persuaded him to stay in Afghanistan, but he is not persuaded they have a viable strategy. He may well be right.

I have been impressed by Khan’s determination when I’ve met him, but also by his proclivity for conspiracy theories no matter how irresponsible. He has a reputation for independence and volatility. His political movement is almost a cult of personality. The generals may find him hard to control.

The election is Pakistan’s second consecutive transfer of power by the ballot box, an important milestone for the country. The democratic process is still weak but it has now produced an outcome not in the old family.

Pakistan desperately needs good governance and a healthy civil-military relationship with the civilians in charge. It needs to abandon terrorism and slow down its nuclear weapons drive to devote attention and resources to development and infrastructure. It is becoming dangerously dependent on China. It has a self interest in warming relations with India. Above all it needs stable and experienced leadership.

None of that seems likely. Get ready for an uncharted future.

Shutting off the Oil (Revelation 6:6)

How serious is Iran about closing the largest global oil chokepoint?

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei will be the final decision-maker on destabilising the Strait of Hormuz

Shahir Shahidsaless

Wednesday 25 July 2018 13:47 UTC

A heated exchange of threatening words comes as tensions between Iran and the US reach new heights. In recent days, from Iran’s supreme leader to its president to its high-ranking generals come declarations that, if Tehran were not able to export oil via the Strait of Hormuz, “no other country would be able to do so”.

The Strait of Hormuz is the world’s most important oil transit chokepoint. Daily flows are around 18.3 million barrels (bpd), accounting for 35 percent of all seaborne traded oil and almost 20 percent of oil traded worldwide.

Destructive winds

Iran’s economy is already lashed with destructive winds from the US embargo on Iran’s oil export and banking system, which will take full effect on 4 November.

Shortly after the bombastic threats of the leaders of Iran and the US against each other, on 23 July, Telegram, the king of messaging apps and social media in Iran with more than 40 million users, was filled with users’ comments urging each other to buy US dollars as a hedge against depreciation of their assets.

The rial lost 14 percent against the US dollar on that one day. Hitting an all-time high, the dollar traded at 95,000 rials in the black market, up from 83,000 the day before.

There is a consensus among economists in Iran that the price of almost everything is tied to the value of the dollar

Iranians from across the political spectrum are extremely worried about the current trend. There is a consensus among economists in Iran that the price of almost everything is tied to the value of the dollar. Alluding to the sanctions, an Iranian minister said a few days ago, “We have to be ready for a storm after November.”

American officials initially said that Iran’s oil importers have to cut their imports to zero by November or face hefty penalties. But recently top Trump cabinet members, including Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, said that the US would consider sanction waivers on Iranian oil imports. Will this solve the impediment that Iran would face come November?

Sanctions waiver

During Barack Obama’s presidency, prior to the culmination of the Iran nuclear deal, the US administration would issue waivers for a number of countries and Iran could sell around a million bpd crude oil compared to 2.7 million bpd in June 2018. The problem, however, was that oil payment routes to Iran were blocked by the sanctions on the Iranian banking system.

Through a very complicated mechanism, Iran managed to bypass the international banking system. However, that evasion scheme, claimed to be the largest sanctions busting operation in modern history, is now known to the Americans as a result of Reza Zarrab’s revelations during his trial on charges of evading Iran sanctions, and presumably will be blocked.

In an attempt to keep the nuclear deal alive, the European Union (the EU) has been trying to partly compensate the impact of US sanctions by offering to guarantee Iranian oil revenue and make direct money transfers to Iran’s central bank through its financial arm, the European Investment Bank (EIB). But there are doubts that the plan will become reality.

Will Iran close the Strait of Hormuz?

The question whether Iran has the military capacity to close the Strait, which is widely debated in the media, is misleading. Iran’s goal, as the final resort, would be to destabilise the Persian Gulf and disrupt the flow of oil, causing a significant surge in oil prices that would put pressure on other countries to convince the US to change course.

An Iranian dealer checks her phone at the stock exchange in the capital Tehran on 8 May, 2018 (AFP)

Last year, US naval intelligence said in a report that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ (IRGC) naval doctrine was “based on speed, numbers, stealth, survivability, and lethality”. The report added that the IRGC had acquired fast attack craft, small boats, anti-ship cruise missiles and mines. Individually, these improvements cannot compete with Western technology.

“However, taken together, they could create an overall capability that is greater than the sum of its parts, particularly when employed in tight operational spaces like the Persian Gulf and Strait of Hormuz,” the report said

Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, will be the final decision-maker on destabilising the Strait of Hormuz. Despite his unwavering political radical stance in words, in practice he has made calculated decisions and – at times – has quietly accepted significant retreats in order to avoid any risk which might jeopardise the survival of the system.

The question whether Iran has the military capacity to close the Strait, which is widely debated in the media, is misleading

In 1998, tension rose between Iran and Afghanistan when the Taliban admitted that they had killed eight Iranian diplomats in Mazar Sharif. Following the incident, the Iranian army and the IRGC amassed 100,000 troops at the Afghanistan border. Iran’s then reformist president, Mohammad Khatami, together with almost all top brass, supported the idea of a military response to the Taliban’s crime. Khamenei, however, opposed the attack and it was called off.

Another glaring example is the case of the nuclear crisis. Despite the pressure crippling sanctions imposed on Iran’s economy, primarily during the Obama tenure, when many Iranian politicians argued that Iran should withdraw from the Non-Proliferation Treaty on nuclear weapons (NPT) to get free of its commitments, Iran stayed as a signatory to the treaty over the ten years it took to resolve the crisis.

A sudden shift

Khamenei vehemently advocated the policy of “no talks with the US” from the day he took office as the supreme leader of Iran in 1989. However, in 2013, under the immense pressure of the sanctions, he announced a sudden shift in the country’s foreign policy to the doctrine of “heroic flexibility”. This paved the path for negotiations with the US that led to the resolution of Iran’s nuclear crisis. Flexibility “in certain circumstances is positive and necessary,” he remarked.

In another outstanding case, three weeks before the historic agreement between Iran and the group of six world powers, Ayatollah Khamenei identified seven red lines that, if crossed, would make a nuclear deal impossible. The nuclear deal reached in July 2015 clearly violated almost all of the red lines. He made no reaction to those reversals.

Shortly after the conclusion of the nuclear deal, Khamenei wrote a letter to Rouhani to indicate that any new sanctions by “the opposing countries in the negotiations,” under any pretext, including “repetitive fake excuses of support for terrorism or human rights,” would void the agreement. However, although he continually attacks Trump’s move to abandon the deal unilaterally, Iran has not withdrawn from the agreement.

All that said, if a significant reduction of the country’s oil revenue, devaluation of the rial, and a surge in the cost of living rock the country with new waves of unrest that jeopardise the survival of the system, a cornered Iran will most likely destabilise the Strait of Hormuz as a last resort.

Perceptions of the IRGC commanders may also contribute to Iran making such a decision. They believe that “the world cannot live even 24 hours without the oil of this region.” In other words, they are convinced that military conflict in the Persian Gulf would be brief and the US would have to retreat from its stance.

They also argue that “naval war is different from ground war. In a naval war, once your aircraft carrier is sunk you are defeated.” By engaging in an asymmetric naval war “we can sink the American’s aircraft carrier in 50 seconds,” asserted the IRGC Navy Commander Ali Fadavi.

– Shahir Shahidsaless is an Iranian-Canadian political analyst and freelance journalist writing about Iranian domestic and foreign affairs, the Middle East, and the US foreign policy in the region. He is the co-author of  Iran and the United States: An Insider’s View on the Failed Past and the Road to Peace. He is a contributor to several websites with focus on the Middle East as well as the Huffington Post. He also regularly writes for BBC Persian. He tweets @SShahisaless.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Photo: A member of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards chants slogans after attacking a naval vessel during a military drill in the Strait of Hormuz in southern Iran on 25 February 2015 (AFP)