The Sixth Seal: More Than Just Manhattan (Revelation 6:12)

New York, NY – In a Quake, Brooklyn Would Shake More Than Manhattan
By Brooklyn Eagle
New York, NY – The last big earthquake in the New York City area, centered in New York Harbor just south of Rockaway, took place in 1884 and registered 5.2 on the Richter Scale.Another earthquake of this size can be expected and could be quite damaging, says Dr. Won-Young Kim, senior research scientist at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University.
And Brooklyn, resting on sediment, would shake more than Manhattan, built on solid rock. “There would be more shaking and more damage,” Dr. Kim told the Brooklyn Eagle on Wednesday.
If an earthquake of a similar magnitude were to happen today near Brooklyn, “Many chimneys would topple. Poorly maintained buildings would fall down – some buildings are falling down now even without any shaking. People would not be hit by collapsing buildings, but they would be hit by falling debris. We need to get some of these buildings fixed,” he said.
But a 5.2 is “not comparable to Haiti,” he said. “That was huge.” Haiti’s devastating earthquake measured 7.0.
Brooklyn has a different environment than Haiti, and that makes all the difference, he said. Haiti is situated near tectonic plate.
“The Caribbean plate is moving to the east, while the North American plate is moving towards the west. They move about 20 mm – slightly less than an inch – every year.” The plates are sliding past each other, and the movement is not smooth, leading to jolts, he said.
While we don’t have the opportunity for a large jolt in Brooklyn, we do have small, frequent quakes of a magnitude of 2 or 3 on the Richter Scale. In 2001 alone the city experienced two quakes: one in January, measuring 2.4, and one in October, measuring 2.6. The October quake, occurring soon after Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, “caused a lot of panic,” Dr. Kim said.
“People ask me, ‘Should I get earthquake insurance?’ I tell them no, earthquake insurance is expensive. Instead, use that money to fix chimneys and other things. Rather than panicky preparations, use common sense to make things better.”
Secure bookcases to the wall and make sure hanging furniture does not fall down, Dr. Kim said. “If you have antique porcelains or dishes, make sure they’re safely stored. In California, everything is anchored to the ground.”
While a small earthquake in Brooklyn may cause panic, “In California, a quake of magnitude 2 is called a micro-quake,” he added.

Germany States the Obvious About the Iranian Nuclear Horn: Daniel

Iran seeks production of weapons of mass destruction: German Intel Agency

April 27, 2021 11:03
DUBAI: Iran has sought to produce and source weapons of mass destruction in 2020, misleading the world about the nature of its nuclear program, Washington Free Beacon said on Monday citing a new intelligence report issued by a German government security agency.
Although Iran claims its nuclear program is peaceful, it has recently started enriching uranium to levels reaching 60 percent purity. It has also continued making and testing ballistic missiles, the report said.
Claims by Tehran’s leaders that Iran is not interested in building a nuclear bomb were also refuted in the report. The US State Department did not comment on the report, at a time where the Joe Biden administration works to lift sanctions on Iran and re-enter the 2015 nuclear agreement with the country.
Germany, meanwhile, has been one of the main proponents of the nuclear deal and normalizing business ties with Iran, the report said.
Tehran aimed to create business contacts with German companies in the high-tech field, the report said in its section about proliferation.
Iran also has a history of secretly working around US sanctions in order to get the technology it wants to fuel its nuclear research program. The country also made similar operations to “bypass sanctions on its oil trade,” a primary source of revenue for the hardline regime said.
The German report had also shown that Tehran is conducting espionage activities, with Germany being one of multiple European countries where Iranian spies are operating.
Tehran’s intelligence services are also taking part in “the observation of and fight against opposition groups, domestically and abroad,” the report said. This proves that Iran’s leadership continues to prioritize the monitoring of regime opponents living outside of the country, it added.
North Korea, Syria, and Pakistan were also engaged in similar Weapon of Mass Destruction efforts, the German report further noted.
The German intelligence agency’s findings reinforce “what has been revealed in scores of German intelligence reports each year after the woefully inadequate Iran nuclear deal was reached in 2015: Iran’s regime continues to seek technology for its goal to build a nuclear weapons device and expand its conventional missile arsenal,” Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies Benjamin Weinthal said.
“If Germany is serious about the business of guaranteeing Israel’s security, Middle East stability, and fighting Iran’s state-sponsored eliminatory antisemitism targeting Israel, it would block any concessions to Iran’s regime at the Vienna-based Iran talks,” Weinthal added.

Allied Nations Are Sounding Alarms Over the Iranian Nuclear Horn: Daniel 8

Allied Nations Are Sounding Alarms Over Iran. Will Biden Hear Them?

Iranian President Rouhani (File photo)

According to Swedish, German, and Dutch reports, Iran is still pursuing nuclear weapons. This comes as the Biden administration and many NATO allies are intent on restarting the Iran nuclear deal, or Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), as it is formally called.

Former President Trump withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal in 2018. At the time, most of Europe criticized Washington, stating that the deal was the best way to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

In late January 2018, Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency broke into a warehouse where Iran was storing its nuclear files after signing the JCPOA in 2015. The files clearly showed that the Iranians were intent on building nuclear weapons.

American Allies Point to Iran as a Threat

Säpo, the Swedish Security Police published its annual report last Friday. It named Iran among the greatest threats alongside Russia and China. It also specified “recruitment attempts and attempts to influence researchers in Sweden.” This, according to the report, is done to “strengthen the country’s economic and political status and military power.”

“Iran also conducts industrial espionage, which is mainly targeted against the Swedish hi-tech industry and Swedish products, which can be used in nuclear weapons programs. Iran is investing heavy resources in this area and some of the resources are used in Sweden,” the report added.

The Iranian nuclear facility of Natanz was damaged by fire after it began enriching uranium over the amount allowed by the JCPOA.
The German report, which was released on Friday, stated that Iran was using proxies from Syria, North Korea, and Pakistan to try to obtain and transport material for nuclear weapons or weapons of mass destruction (WMD), via third countries. “Weapons of mass destruction continued to be an instrument of power politics that can shake the stability of an entire state structure in both regional and international crisis situations.”

“In particular, states such as Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, and Syria tried to acquire and distribute such weapons as part of the proliferation, for example, by concealing the transport routes via third countries. The aim of such intelligence measures was to circumvent control mechanisms over third countries that are not subject to special embargo regulations,” the report says.

In 2020, German state intelligence agencies had declared that Iran’s regime continues to seek technology and material to build weapons of mass destruction.

Iran Still Denies Pursuing Nuclear Weapons, Despite All Evidence

The Netherlands’ General Intelligence and Security Service (AIVD), “investigated networks that tried to obtain the knowledge and materials to develop weapons of mass destruction. Multiple acquisition attempts have been frustrated by the intervention of the services,” AIVD posted in a report last month.

Included in the Dutch report, AIVD noted that,

“The joint Counter-proliferation Unit (UCP) of the AIVD [the General Intelligence and Security Service] and the MIVD [the country’s Military Intelligence and Security Service] is investigating how countries try to obtain the knowledge and goods they need to make weapons of mass destruction. Countries such as Syria, Pakistan, Iran, and North Korea also tried to acquire such goods and technology in Europe and the Netherlands last year.”

Iran has been adamant that it is not seeking to produce nuclear weapons. Instead, it claims that it is only pursuing nuclear power for peaceful purposes despite the discovery of compelling evidence to the contrary. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Sunday that the U.S. has been defeated in its “economic war” against Iran, adding that sanctions leveled by the Trump administration, are at the “brink of termination.”

“With the enemy’s defeat in the economic war and the sanctions coming closer to the brink of termination considering the recent [JCPOA] negotiations, there are hopes that the country’s economy would return to the course of balance and boom of the years 2014 to 2017,” Rouhani was quoted as saying by the Tasim News Agency.

Washington Still Pursues Negotiations

Jake Sullivan (right) says no deal is yet imminent with Iran on the JCPOA. (File Photo)
But Washington continues its indirect negotiations with Iran on restarting the JCPOA. National security adviser Jake Sullivan spoke with ABC News saying that there still isn’t a deal with Tehran yet.

“There’s still a fair distance to travel to close the remaining gaps, and those gaps are over what sanctions the United States and other countries will roll back,” Sullivan added. “They are over what nuclear restrictions Iran will accept on its program to ensure that they can never get a nuclear weapon.”

Republicans in Congress Disagree

A spokesman for Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) told Fox News, “The Iranian regime has never stopped seeking weapons of mass destruction to use against America and our allies. Nevertheless, the Biden administration, like the Obama administration, is committed to dismantling all meaningful pressure against the regime and flooding it with hundreds of billions of dollars.”

“Sen. Cruz had fought for years to prevent that from happening, and continues to emphasize that any deal with Iran not brought to the Senate as a treaty and passed by the Senate can and will be reversed by a future administration,” the spokesman added.

It will be interesting to see if any of our European allies and the Biden administration who criticized Trump for withdrawing from the JCPOA, will see this as Iran never being forthcoming in following the statements that Tehran made about never seeking nuclear weapons, or will they blame the U.S. for pushing Iran towards that end?

The wizards of Armageddon are back: Revelation 16

Opinion: The wizards of Armageddon may be back

Opinion by
David Ignatius
May 6, 2021 at 6:03 p.m. EDT
Nuclear weapons are probably the last thing the Biden administration wants to worry about right now. But given aggressive Chinese and Russian efforts to build new systems, and America’s aging strategic force, the wizards of Armageddon may be back.
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Chinese and Russian advances were highlighted in last month’s annual “Threat Assessment” by the U.S. intelligence community. It said China was planning to double its arsenal of nuclear weapons over the next decade in “the most rapid expansion … in its history.” And it warned that Russia remains America’s closest strategic rival as it “expands and modernizes its nuclear weapons capabilities.”
Unpack this bland language and you see some genuinely scary new threats. China is deploying a truck-based mobile intercontinental ballistic missile, called the Dongfeng-41, that could strike targets in the United States. China also has an intermediate-range mobile missile, the Dongfeng-26, that’s “capable of rapidly swapping conventional and nuclear warheads,” according to Austin Long, a Pentagon strategic planner, in a recent article in War on the Rocks.

What this means for U.S. commanders is that in a crisis, China would have hundreds of hard-to-detect trucks roaming its highways, some carrying nukes and some not — and if the missiles were fired, the United States probably wouldn’t know which were which. That, as the Cold War strategists used to say, would be “destabilizing.”
Russia is tweaking the nightmare scenarios, too. President Vladimir Putin boasted in his April 21 address to the federal assembly that Russia now has a new Avangard hypersonic ICBM, a Tsirkon hypersonic anti-ship missile and a Poseidon nuclear torpedo capable of devastating coastal cities. All these weapons have very short delivery times to defeat U.S. missile defenses. They, too, would destabilize the balance of terror.
Meanwhile, the Pentagon is deliberating how to replace its 50-year-old Minuteman missiles technology, one leg of the “triad” of U.S. strategic forces. Sen. Angus King (I-Maine), who chairs the Senate subcommittee that oversees strategic forces, told me he came away from a visit to a missile silo in North Dakota last weekend wondering, “How would you feel if your survival depended on a car you bought in 1970?”

The Pentagon’s tentative answer is a new silo-based missile known as the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent. “I would say I’m convinced but not fully convinced” that this new ICBM is the answer, King told journalists after the visit. Some other analysts argue that the United States should instead emulate the Chinese with a mobile ICBM system of our own, though it’s doubtful any state would welcome this nuclear caravan now any more than when it was first proposed in the 1980s.
The Biden administration’s main interest in nuclear weapons so far has been limiting them. After just six days in office, Biden agreed to extend for another five years the New START treaty with Russia, which limits each country’s warheads. But the treaty doesn’t cover China, and that’s the problem. Beijing doesn’t want to talk about curbing its nuclear forces until it reaches parity with the United States and Russia.
“The Chinese are modernizing their nuclear deterrent, and ours is aging. That’s the big story,” argues David Finkelstein in an interview. He directs China and Indo-Pacific security studies at CNA, an independent research institute in Arlington.

Why is China moving so quickly to jettison its old doctrine of a “limited deterrent” and double its nuclear forces? U.S. analysts aren’t sure, but some judge that the Chinese may want to make any U.S. effort to defend Taiwan militarily exceptionally costly. Beijing wants a low-cost walkover in Taipei, not a bloody assault.
“The last thing on China’s mind is a D-Day style invasion” of Taiwan, contends Christopher Johnson in an interview. He’s a former top CIA China analyst who’s now the chief executive of China Strategies Group, a political risk consulting firm. He notes that China has halved its number of short-range missiles opposite Taiwan but boosted deployments of missiles for striking U.S. bases in Guam and Japan.
China’s accelerating nuclear program vexes American analysts. During the Cold War, the United States and Russia developed a language for thinking about nuclear weapons and deterrence. Leaders of both countries understood the horrors of nuclear war and sought predictability and stability in nuclear policy. China lacks such a vocabulary for thinking about the unthinkable.

Russia and America have some severe problems these days, but they know how to talk about arms control. Even as the Biden administration thinks about building a new generation of doomsday weapons, it needs to sit down and begin a conversation with China about strategic forces that’s becoming more urgent every day.

There Can Never Be Peace With The Iranian Horn

There Can Never Be Peace With Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaks during Friday prayers in Tehran September 14, 2007. Photo: REUTERS/Morteza Nikoubazl/File Photo
When Ali Khamenei was appointed Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic, he knew he lacked Khomeini’s charisma. He needed the power of the military to subdue his rivals and consolidate his position, and accordingly pulled the Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) closer to himself. At the same time, newly elected president Hashemi Rafsanjani, who, as wartime supreme commander, had nurtured his own close relationships with IRGC generals, sought to exploit the public resources of the nation with fewer restrictions. He attempted to partner with the IRGC in his “privatization” movement, which was basically the mass transfer of public property, resources, and organizations from the government sector to regime insiders. The resulting Khatam al-Anbiya Construction Camp was the first, and remains the most notable, financial institution of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

In December 1989, Khamenei issued a decree establishing Khatam al-Anbiya with the purported aim of “utilizing the civilian capacity of the armed forces to develop the construction of the country.” The Camp was originally intended to be run as a joint enterprise among all branches of the armed forces of the Islamic Republic, including the army, the IRGC, and the police. But over time, Khatam al-Anbiya turned into an exclusively IRGC venture, with managers and senior officials appointed by the Revolutionary Guard.

The sole body overseeing the activities of Khatam al-Anbiya is the IRGC Intelligence Protection Unit. No other regulatory bodies are mandated to monitor or request performance reports from the Camp. The nominal commander of Khatam al-Anbiya is the Commander-in-Chief of the Revolutionary Guard. While he delegates the handling of the Camp’s day-to-day workings to others, he retains control over the scope and direction of the Camp’s participation in financial and economic projects.

The Khatam al-Anbiya Camp grew exponentially during Muhammad Ali Jafari’s long era of command over the Revolutionary Guard (2007-2019). During this period, the Supreme Leader, backed by his IRGC Praetorians, implemented a definitive “Look to the East” policy by systematically purging all ostensibly Western-friendly elements in the regime as well as Russifying and Sinicizing the intelligence apparatus and the military. With the ouster by the Revolutionary Guards of Hashemi Rafsanjani’s circle and the so-called “Reformists,” Khatam al-Anbiya succeeded — especially during the eight years of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s presidency (2005-2013) — in monopolizing the lion’s share of economic and development projects in Iran.

With the intensification of international sanctions against the Islamic Republic over the regime’s nuclear ambitions and the forced emigration of multinational companies from Iran, the Camp seized substantial oil and gas and petrochemical projects. This provided the platform from which Khatam al-Anbiya grew into the leviathan that now dominates almost all financial, economic, and industrial sectors in Iran.

Khatam al-Anbiya is one of the main institutions tasked with implementing Khamenei’s “Resistance Economy.” This is nothing more than a concerted effort by the Revolutionary Guard to monopolize Iran’s resources, mines, industries, and infrastructure projects in order to circumvent international sanctions and fund the ideological-military expansion of the Islamist regime in the region and beyond, as well as the ongoing suppression of popular dissent and protest inside Iran.

Khatam al-Anbiya is also responsible for preparing a “reverse sanctions list.” According to this list, goods produced by domestic manufacturers — that is, companies affiliated with the IRGC — should not be sourced from abroad, meaning the IRGC can monopolize the production and import of goods in Iran. Thus, the Camp has played a key role in concentrating Iran’s economy in the hands of the militant Islamists and the Revolutionary Guard as well as breaking the international sanctions regime against the Islamic Republic. Because of this, Khatam al-Anbiya has been sanctioned several times by successive US governments since 2010.

The sanctions have not impeded Khatam al-Anbiya’s efforts to broaden the scope of its activities more and more every day and expand the Revolutionary Guard’s empire in Iran and across the Middle East. During the past two decades, Khatam al-Anbiya has thrived to such an extent that some of its commanders, such as Muhammad Baqer Qalibaf, Rostam Ghasemi, and Saeed Muhammad, have achieved — or are about to achieve — key positions in the regime’s political hierarchy. The regime relies heavily on the Camp’s seemingly unlimited and unaccounted-for revenues, and Khatam al-Anbiya accordingly enjoys the solid support of the Supreme Leader and his so-called Household.

Qalibaf was mayor of Tehran and then speaker of the Islamic Consultative Assembly, and now aspires to the presidency. Ghasemi was the oil minister in Ahmadinejad’s government, a former advisor to Hassan Rouhani’s first deputy, and a senior advisor to the former defense minister, and is also said to be a presidential candidate in the upcoming elections. Saeed Muhammad, the last commander of the Khatam al-Anbiya Camp and a model “young Hezbollahi manager,” recently resigned his post in the hope of becoming president and announced his readiness to run in 2021.

It appears the cadets of the Khatam al-Anbiya Camp will soon be the main executors of the Islamic Republic’s policies, both inside and outside Iran. In view of the hard-line stances of the Supreme Leader and the generals of the Revolutionary Guard, it can be assumed that the Islamic Republic remains intent on intensifying its suppression of domestic dissent, animosity toward the West and the US, and expansionism in the Middle East against the security interests of Arabs and Israel.

As such, the insistence of the Biden administration and some European governments on either returning to the original JCPOA or concluding a new deal with the Islamic Republic to reduce the nuclear and missile threat it poses is far from realistic and unlikely to succeed. Peace in the Middle East is predicated on the dissolution of the Revolutionary Guard’s apocalyptic empire and the subsequent establishment of democracy in Iran.

Dr. Reza Parchizadeh is a political theorist, historian, and senior analyst. He can be reached on Twitter at @rezaparchizadeh. A version of this article was originally published by The BESA Center.

Violence Will Erupt If Abbas Cancels the Palestinian Elections: Revelation 11

Will Violence Erupt If Abbas Cancels the Palestinian Elections?

Prof. Hillel Frisch
23 Iyyar 5781 – May 5, 2021
Photo Credit: Flash90

Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas casts his vote at the P.A. headquarters, in Ramallah on Dec. 03, 2016.
At a recent meeting in Gaza, leaders of many of the 36 lists contesting the elections to the Palestinian Legislative Council scheduled for May 22 warned Mahmoud Abbas, head of the Palestinian Authority, that violence is likely to erupt should he cancel the elections on the pretext of an Israeli refusal to allow them to be held in Jerusalem.

Fatah supporters will have to choose among three lists: an official Fatah slate loyal to Abbas; an opposing list headed by Fatah renegade Muhammad Dahlan from Gaza, who resides in and is supported by the UAE; and a list formed by Nasser al-Qidwa, the son-in-law of Yasser Arafat, but headed (at least nominally) by Marwan Barghouti, the former leader of the Fatah Tanzim who has been jailed since 2002 for his involvement in the murders of Israelis. Hamas is united behind one list: Jerusalem Our Rendezvous.

Abbas is well aware that these same divisions (not including the internal Fatah violence at the time) led to an overwhelming victory for Hamas in the 2006 elections and culminated in the loss of Gaza to that group in the summer of 2007. If he allows the upcoming elections to proceed, history is likely to repeat itself.

Abbas thus seems trapped between a rock and a hard place—damned if he cancels the elections and damned if he doesn’t. But if he does, would he really face the possibility of an internal intifada?

Judging from data generated by Google Trends based on search terms related to the elections, such an intifada does not appear to be likely.

We began by typing in the phrase “Palestinian elections 2021” in Arabic. The results reveal initial excitement followed by fast-declining interest, probably because Palestinians understand that given the inimical relations between the two biggest factions, Fatah and Hamas, and the respective governments they control, the election process, rather than healing the rift, will likely exacerbate it (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: Searches for “Palestinian Elections 2021” in Arabic in the past year (Google Trends)

In fact, there was so little interest that the searches did not generate sufficient data to provide a geographical breakdown, which would have enabled a comparison between the PA and Gaza or between the northern West Bank (Nablus-Jenin-Tulkarem), where Fatah is presumably stronger, and Hebron in the south.

Nor did the election process generate increased interest among the two most important protagonists, Fatah and Hamas. The search curves generated were much the same before the issue of elections to the Legislative Council arose as they were in the far briefer period after which the elections were announced (see Figure 2).

Figure 2: Comparison between searches for Fatah (blue) and Hamas (red), May 3, 2020-April 28, 2021 (Google Trends)

At first glance, it appears that divisions in Fatah did not affect the relative importance of, and likely identification with, the organization over Hamas and that Fatah would likely prevail in the elections.

But such an analysis disregards the fact that half the seats to the Legislative Council are contested in multi-member districts in which those who secure the most votes win. Thus, if a district is represented by four members, the four candidates who secured the most votes in the district become its representatives. As there are over seven candidates contesting each seat, small differences can mean victory or defeat. Hamas supporters in a given district will overwhelmingly support their candidates in that district compared to the divided Fatah constituency, leading, as it did in 2006, to an overwhelming Hamas victory.

Even if Fatah were to prevail over Hamas in the elections, it could be severely weakened compared to the other lists. Comparing searches for Fatah and Hamas since 2004 reveals a steep decline of interest in both factions since 2015, probably stemming from fatigue with the warring parties’ failure to come to some kind of political arrangement that would end the rift (inqisam).

Figure 3: Comparison of searches for Fatah (blue) and Hamas (red) since 2004 (Google Trends)

There is no doubt that Hamas will do everything in its power to agitate for an intifada in Abbas-held territory if the decision is made to call off the elections. Abbas continues to arrest and harass Hamas leaders and supporters, Israel-PA security coordination has been fully restored, and promises made by Abbas to reemploy or compensate employees—purportedly Hamas supporters—who joined government service before Hamas took control of Gaza have not been met.

Yet while the antipathy of Hamas toward Abbas is at its highest, it lacks the credibility and resources to ignite an intifada in the area he controls. The recent surge in COVID-19 in Gaza and its relative decline in the PA has damaged the credibility Hamas enjoyed before it began ruling territory, and security coordination between Israel and the PA has heavily dented Hamas’s ability to mobilize Palestinians in Jenin, Nablus, Ramallah, and Hebron.

Abbas, then, would do himself a favor by canceling the elections. Secretly, Hamas probably agrees with Abbas, given the declining support for Hamas over recent years.

Fortunately for both, there is always Israel to blame for the failure of both the Palestinians’ democratic experiment over a quarter of a century and their century-long national movement.

{Reposted from the BESA website}

Antichrist’s Public COVID Vaccination Prompting Others to Follow Suit

Iraqi Shiite Cleric’s Public COVID Vaccination Prompting Others to Follow Suit

By Julia Marnin On 5/5/21 at 11:15 AM EDT

An Iraqi Shiite cleric’s public COVID-19 vaccination has caused hundreds of his followers to head to clinics to get vaccinated, as fear and rumors have stunted Iraq’s vaccine rollout among a second wave of infections, the Associated Press reported.

Public images of populist Shiite Muqtada al-Sadr getting vaccinated last week circulating online has prompted many to put aside their distrust of the Iraqi government, which called for its citizens to get vaccinated.

“I was against the idea of being vaccinated. I was afraid, I didn’t believe in it,” Manhil Alshabli, 30, told the AP. “But all this has changed now.”

“Seeing him getting the vaccine has motivated me,” Alshabli added and compared watching al-Sadr get vaccinated as soldiers watching their leader in the front lines of a battle.

After al-Sadr received his shot, those loyal to him launched a vaccination campaign and urged others to do the same while posting photos of themselves holding posters of al-Sadr as they received their vaccines.

Many of al-Sadr’s followers, including Alshabli, received their vaccinations in Iraq’s holy city of Najaf, and daily rates of infections decreased last week.

Iraq’s Health Ministry shared the photo of al-Sadr getting vaccinated on its Facebook page as a post of encouragement.

The Health Ministry has encouraged that the vaccines are safe, but many Iraqis do not trust the nation’s healthcare system. Out of Iraq’s population of 40 million, fewer than 380,000 citizens have been vaccinated against the virus.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Iraqi Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr
Iraqi Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr (R) drives a car as he joins anti-government demonstrators gathering in the central holy city of Najaf on October 29, 2019. After photos of al-Sadr getting vaccinated last week circulated, it prompted hundreds of his followers to follow suit, the Associated Press reported. Haidar Hamdani/AFP via Getty Images
Al-Sadr followers becoming vaccinated underscores the power of sectarian loyalties in Iraq and a deep mistrust of the state.

New case numbers spiked to over 8,000 per day last month, the highest they have ever been. The surge was driven largely by public apathy toward the virus. Many routinely flout virus-related restrictions, refusing to wear face masks and continuing to hold large public gatherings.

5,068 new cases were reported on Monday.

Iraq’s centralized system, largely unchanged since the 1970s, has been ground down by decades of war, sanctions and prolonged unrest since the 2003 U.S. invasion. Successive governments have invested little in the sector.

Many avoid going to public hospitals altogether. Last month, a massive blaze tore through the coronavirus ward in a Baghdad hospital, killing more than 80 people and injuring dozens. Iraq’s Health Minister Hasan al-Tamimi was suspended for alleged negligence, and resigned Tuesday over the incident.

Faris Al-Lami, assistant professor of community medicine at the University of Baghdad, said the government is widely viewed as corrupt and that its actions since the start of the pandemic only deepened the public’s mistrust.

He cited certain early practices, such as using security forces to take patients from their homes as if they were criminals, and holding up the burials of those who died of the virus for several weeks.

Al-Lami also pointed to what he said are current problematic policies. For example, he said high-risk patients, such as those with chronic or immunodeficiency diseases, have to wait inside hospitals to get their shots, putting them at high risk of infection. Meanwhile, people with personal connections can get them easily.

He said it’s a positive development when the vaccination of a political or religious figure encourages people to get their shots. “But the ideology that is based upon blindly following anyone’s decision is a disaster in itself,” he said.

Iraq received 336,000 new doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine in late March and Iraqis above the age of 18 are qualified to get the jab. Last month, the first shipment of Pfizer doses arrived in the country, with 49,000 shots.

“All the vaccines that arrived in Iraq are safe and effective … but until this moment, there are some citizens who are afraid of taking the vaccine as a result of malicious rumors,” said Ruba Hassan, a Health Ministry official.

The Health Ministry has introduced measures to push Iraqis to get the shots. They include travel restrictions for those unable to produce a vaccination card and dismissals of employees at shops, malls and restaurants. While the measures have led more people to seek out vaccinations, they have also confused and angered a still largely reticent public.

Restaurant owners said they were blindsided by the measures, uncertain if it meant they would face closure if they refused them.

“There is no clear law to follow,” said Rami Amir, 30, who owns a fast food restaurant in Baghdad. “I don’t want all my staff to be vaccinated because they might have severe side effects or complications,” he said, echoing widespread skepticism.

Omer Mohammed, another restaurant owner, said applicants for a new job at his eatery dropped out when he said vaccination cards were a necessary prerequisite.

Medical professionals were prioritized to receive the vaccine and were able to pre-register in January when Iraq received its first shipment of 50,000 doses of the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine.

When recent medical school graduate Mohammed al-Sudani, 24, went to get vaccinated this month he said the process was “bittersweet.” He showed up with no previous registration for the AstraZeneca vaccine. He didn’t need it. There was barely anyone there.

The next week he brought two of his aunts to the same center. There were only two other people in the waiting room.

“The nurse came in and asked them to call their relatives and friends to come to raise the number to at least 10 people because the jabs inside the vaccine kits were only valid for 6 hours,” he said.

It was a different scene in hospitals that carry Pfizer shots. Tabark Rashad, 27, headed to Baghdad’s al-Kindi hospital last week. The waiting room was crowded with dozens of people, sparking infection concerns.

“I went to protect myself against COVID-19, not get it in this room,” she said. “It was chaos.”

A follower of Muqtada al-Sadr
A follower of populist Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr holds a picture of him while receiving a dose of the Chinese Sinopharm coronavirus vaccine at a clinic in Sadr City, Baghdad, Iraq, Wednesday, May 4, 2021. Iraq’s vaccine rollout had been faltering for weeks. Apathy, fear and rumors kept many from getting vaccinated despite a serious surge in coronavirus infections and calls by the government for people to register for shots. It took al-Sadr’s public endorsement of vaccinations — and images of him getting the shot — to turn things around. Hadi Mizban/AP Photo