VLADIMIR Putin will not launch a nuclear missile as if it does Russia itself would risk being wiped off the map, a military expert has said.
Russia’s ‘brandishing of nuclear sword’ discussed by expert
Mark Voyger, Senior Fellow of the Centre of European Analysis, has dismissed Vladimir Putin’s nuclear threats as “unthinkable” as Russia would also disappear from the map if it were to execute its threat. Putin has reportedly told Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko the Kremlin will hand over nuclear-capable missile systems to Belarus in the coming months. Putin’s latest announcement follows a series of veiled nuclear threats against the West and Ukrainein its more than 100-day war against its neighbour.
Mr Voyger argues Russia is again bluffing and attempting to intimidate.
When asked about the potential for Russian response to the Kaliningrad blockade, Mr Voyger said: “For as long as the Russian army, especially the majority of the ground forces, are bogged down in Ukraine with no easy end, with no easy victory, they won’t. They won’t be able to.
On the type of response he would expect, he said: “I would expect some hybrid actions, maybe pressure of course along the borders, maybe subversive moves, cyber pressure, potentially the threat of tactical nukes.
“That’s the most probable in terms of military action Russia would use. But they’re not in a position to fight NATO, especially with an additional 300,000 troops on the eastern flank. That’s unthinkable.”
According to a Kremlin readout, Putin told Lukashensko the short-range ballistic missiles systems with a range of up to 310 miles “can use both ballistic and cruise missiles, both in conventional and nuclear versions.”
Some military analysts fear the humiliation for Putin will lead Russia to deploy chemical or nuclear weapons. As a result, several world leaders have suggested offering him a way out such as giving up parts of Ukraine’s territory.
Upon announcing its deployment, Putin added: “This truly unique weapon will strengthen the combat potential of our armed forces, reliably ensure Russia’s security from external threats and provide food for thought for those who, in the heat of frenzied aggressive rhetoric, try to threaten our country.”
Hisham al-Sayed seen lying in bed wearing a mask, with what appears to be an oxygen canister next to him
Gaza’s Hamas rulers have released a video of a captive Israeli citizen held incommunicado since 2015, showing the man lying in a hospital bed wearing an oxygen mask.
It was the first image of Hisham al-Sayed to be released since he wandered across the frontier from southern Israel into Gaza. Its release came a day after Hamas said the condition of one of the Israelis it was holding captive had deteriorated.
Other parts of the video show an intravenous drip next to the bed as well as an image of Sayed’s Israeli identification card. Sayed is a member of Israel’s Bedouin Arab minority.
The video is titled “Footage of the soldier in the army of occupation, Hisham Sayed, detained by the Qassam Brigades”. It is not dated, but a TV screen in the video shows images of the Qatar Economic Forum, which was held in Doha last week.
Sayed is one of two Israeli civilians believed to be held by Hamas. Rights groups say that both suffer from mental illness. The Islamic militant group has given no details on the conditions or whereabouts of its prisoners and it has never allowed the Red Cross to visit them.
Israel’s prime minister, Naftali Bennett, condemned the release of the video and said Hamas was holding two mentally ill people against “all international laws.”
“Issuing a video of a sick person is a despicable and desperate act,” his office said in a statement.
It described Sayid as a civilian with mental illness who had crossed the border into Gazaa number of times previously. “The actions of Hamas are proof that it is a cynical terror and criminal organisation,” the statement said, adding that the video delayed any chance of a deal.
Israel and Hamas are bitter enemies. They have fought four wars and dozens of smaller skirmishes since Hamas took control of Gaza 15 years ago.
Israel and Egypt have maintained a tight blockade over the territory since. Israel says the closure is needed to prevent Hamas from building up its military capabilities, but critics say the policy amounts to collective punishment of Gaza’s 2 million Palestinian residents.
Israel says there can be no major moves toward lifting the blockade until the soldiers’ remains and captive civilians are released.
Bennett’s office said Israel would continue working through Egyptian mediation to bring about the release of the captives.
Tehran has ramped up uranium enrichment at a pace not seen since the 2015 signing of a landmark deal, which saw Iran curb uranium enrichment in exchange for sanctions relief, before former United States President Donald Trump withdrew from the agreement in 2018.
Analysts believe that Tehran may have already attained the material needed to manufacture a nuclear weapon.
On Thursday, Iran switched off surveillance cameras used by the international nuclear watchdog, the IAEA, to monitor activity at the country’s key nuclear facilities. The move, IAEA chief Rafael Grossi warned, could deal a “fatal blow” to negotiations that seek to revive the nuclear deal.
The absence of footage from nuclear sites deprives the negotiators of the nuclear deal — known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) — of data, making it “technically impossible to have an agreement,” IAEA chief Raphael Grossi told CNN Thursday.
“Or you could have (a deal) on the basis of no information, which I suppose is not going to happen,” said Grossi. “This is why we are saying it’s a very serious thing. It has consequences. Of course it does.”
Iran has also begun installing advanced centrifuges in a cluster at an underground enrichment plant, according to Reuters, which reported that it saw an IAEA report describing the escalated nuclear activity in Iran. The reported incident came after the governing body of the IAEA passed a resolution for failing to explain uranium traces found at three undeclared sites.
The acceleration of Iran’s nuclear program comes amid rising tensions between Iran and the US. Talks around the JCPOA are at a standstill over mounting pressure from Tehran to have the country’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) — the elite branch of the Iranian Armed Forces — delisted as a terror organization. This is believed to be the final sticking point in nearly a year and a half of negotiations between the two countries.
Both sides have so far refused to budge on the issue, thanks to domestic political pressure in their respective countries.
Trump listed the IRGC as a foreign terror organization during his final weeks in office. The decision was called a “poison pill” by his critics, who accused Trump of throwing a wrench in the wheels of future negotiations over the restoration of the JCPOA.
Dangerous days ahead
The stalled negotiations have dangerous implications for the region.
“As a result, Iran is now lashing out by increasing the pressure,” she added.
When Trump pulled out of the JCPOA in 2018, he unleashed a wave of crushing sanctions on Iran’s economy. The US government found, at the time, that Tehran continued to comply with the deal. But as with many Obama-era policies, Trump was intent on undoing the landmark nuclear agreement, citing Iran’s continued meddling in the Middle East through Tehran-aligned paramilitary groups.
An ardent opponent of Trump’s so-called “maximum pressure campaign” against Iran, US President Joe Biden revived the negotiations when he took office. But Biden’s policy has so far failed to resurrect the deal, and Iran has steadily upped the ante in violating its end of the agreement.
“The Iranians have seen no benefits from the JCPOA since 2018,” said Executive Vice President at the Quincy Institute Trita Parsi. “The IAEA has seen benefits for it. Others have seen benefits for it because the Iranians by and large have been in compliance.”
“It was only a question of time before this would come to an end, in which the Iranians would say ‘well if we’re not getting anything for it, why should you?'” Parsi added.
Iran remains roughly a year away from manufacturing a nuclear weapon, according to analysts, who say that the region could now move inexorably towards further escalation.
In 2019, satellite imagery showed the construction of an experimental nuclear reactor making “expedition” progress in Saudi Arabia. The United Arab Emirates also has a nuclear program. Both of those countries’ nuclear activities appear to be happening with the safeguards of the IAEA. Yet the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran may prompt an already tenuous security situation to spiral, raising the specter of a nuclear arms race in the volatile region.
Meanwhile, Biden has run out of options, given that the US has already sanctioned Iran under the Trump administration.
The sanctions have dealt a heavy blow to its economy but have not destroyed it, and Iran is likely to be desensitized to further economic penalties. Israel’s assassinations in recent years of top officials — including a pre-eminent nuclear scientist — have also failed to curb Iran’s uranium enrichment.
This may lead the US and its allies to consider pursuing a military option.
“Some of the most aggressive escalation from the Iranian side in terms of ramping up the program happened under Biden’s watch, not Trump’s watch,” said Parsi. “That’s because Biden continued Trump’s policy.”
CNN’s Mostafa Salem and Becky Anderson contributed to this report.none
Iraqi Shia cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr has always been unpredictable, but his order to his followers to walk out of Iraq’s parliament after winning a majority of seats seems bewildering, writes Salah Nasrawi
Since his mass “Sadrist Trend” movement emerged as the largest vote-getter in Iraq’s parliamentary elections more than eight months ago, speculation surrounding the powerful Iraqi Shia cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr has been nothing if not spectacular.
Some have claimed that Al-Sadr was poised to become the country’s key political power broker and its kingmaker. Others have said that he would be Iraq’s saviour from unruly Shia militias. Yet others have praised his victory as an opportunity for the US and regional allies to join the anti-Iran camp.
On 12 June, however, Al-Sadr surprised his supporters and detractors alike by directing lawmakers loyal to him in the Iraqi parliament to resign amid a prolonged political impasse over the formation of the country’s next government.
Iraq’s parliament last week swore in new lawmakers to replace the Al-Sadr’s bloc legislators who collectively quit the 329-member assembly. Only 64 new members took the oath while nine others have yet to join.
There has always been something mercurial about Al-Sadr’s tactics in steering his way through Iraq’s messy politics. He has outmanoeuvred other Shia leaders by placing himself in a position of power and reinventing himself not just as a Shia warlord, but also as a popular leader with a messianic national mission.
None of this is new. But his decision to order the mass resignation of his MPs has set off a new round of guessing at what Al-Sadr’s objectives are and conjectures about how to fit him into Iraq’s chaotic political system.
He has also promised that a new government led by his faction would follow a non-aligned line in foreign policy, signalling his intention to stifle Iran’s influence in Iraq and enhancing the country’s national sovereignty.
In order to achieve his goals, Al-Sadr broke away from the main Shia parties and allied himself with a major Sunni bloc in parliament led by Parliamentary Speaker Mohamed Al-Halbousi and a Kurdish bloc headed by Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) leader Massoud Barzani.
To many observers, had this been followed through it would have brought about a drastic change in Iraq’s politics and sounded the death knell of the entrenched forces in government that have overseen instability, endemic dysfunction, and deeply entrenched corruption in the country.
Al-Sadr’s later order to his 74 parliamentary followers, more than a fifth of the total number of MPs, to resign and his decision to suspend his participation in the political process has driven Iraq into a period of political uncertainty.
Many have asked why Al-Sadr lobbed a political hand grenade into the raging disputes in Iraq, igniting a fresh battle in the two-decade crisis when his election victory had seemingly played to his advantage and speculation was rife that he would now pounce on his opponents.
For many Iraq watchers, Al-Sadr’s decision to call it quits seemed bizarre, with some even seeing it as insane. Indeed, even many of his supporters, who did not believe that he would give up and expected him to fight more dirtily instead, were shocked at the move and began to doubt his grasp on reason.
Being virtually in control of key posts in Iraq’s federal government and in local administration and the security forces and in command of one of the country’s key paramilitary group, the Peace Brigades, Al-Sadr has long been one of the most powerful political figures in the country.
Moreover, he has been basking in the glow of the regional and international media, which has described him as Iraq’s best hope for much-touted government reforms and as a nationalist leader able to confront Iran’s increasing influence in the country.
As the biggest winner in Iraq’s 2021 parliamentary elections and with a comfortable majority in parliament with the support of the two powerful Kurdish and Sunni blocs, nothing seemed to stand in Al-Sadr’s way or stop his faction from leading the “national majority” government he had aspired to.
Yet, in the political poker game with his tricky and tough Iraqi Shia opponents, Al-Sadr showed impatience in playing by the rules in order to veer right and still win instead of leaving the game.
There are several explanations as to why Al-Sadr acted in the way that he did.
One explanation says that Al-Sadr underestimated his rivals in the “Coordination Framework” alliance that groups all the Iran-backed factions in the Iraqi parliament together and in the resilience this showed in stalling his efforts to form a new government.
Another explanation says that Al-Sadr showed signs of overreaching himself in his bids to build his “national majority” coalition with Barzani’s KDP and the Sunni alliance led by Parliamentary Speaker Al-Halbousi without attending to the complicating factors created by the post-US invasion power-sharing system in Iraq.
While Al-Sadr may have underestimated the communal ambitions and agendas of his Kurdish and Sunni partners, such as power and oil-sharing, which could have overburdened any Sadrist-led government, he could also have miscalculated internal divisions within the two communities that could blow up or be exploited by his Shia opponents.
A third explanation says that despite being touted as a vehement opponent to Iranian influence in Iraq, Al-Sadr has lacked the energy and grip to upend Iran’s power in the country. As a result, his many times promised call for the expulsion of the influence of the Islamic Republic from Iraq has remained undelivered.
Last week, Al-Sadr took many inside and outside Iraq by surprise when he denied charges that Tehran had influenced his decision to order his supporters to quit the parliament. The unsolicited remarks were seen as an attempt to exonerate Iran of interfering in Iraq’s politics.
Whatever lies behind Al-Sadr’s moves, the Shia cleric has landed in an unenviable position and now faces some hard choices in dealing with the aftermath of his retreat from Iraq’s political process.
He must now weigh the pros and cons of his next steps as Iraq faces the prospect of further uncertainty.
An alternative would be to support proposals for new elections to end the stalemate and engineer a way back into power. However, there is no guarantee that this time Al-Sadr would secure another comfortable parliamentary majority amid speculation that his popularity has waned following his mishandling of the crisis.
A third option would be to mobilise his followers into carrying out street protests that would exploit the rage over embedded government dysfunction and unbridled corruption. Discontent is building across the country as Iraqis suffer from a summer of drought, sandstorms, electricity cuts, amid worsening public services.
These have been made worse by food price rises, a surge in Covid-19 cases, and outbreaks of deadly nose-bleed fever and cholera.
Here is where Al-Sadr’s mystery ends and his tactless power game begins. Al-Sadr should realise that this is a high-stakes game that could keep him as a spoiler who has the capacity to destabilise the political order but not the ability to acquire the national power he aspires to.
Given Iraq’s high level of political fragility and conflict, all these options are likely to fail to break the deadlock. They are more likely to increase the political instability and social unrest, or even lead to a new outbreak of violent conflict, if the dysfunctions in the country’s political system remain unaddressed.
“It is shameful for the people that their president is a supporter of normalization and is not patriotic but rather subservient to the West or the East.”
ERBIL (Kurdistan24) – Sadrist Movement leader Muqtada al-Sadr strongly criticized Iraqi President Barham Salih on Tuesday for not signing the new anti-normalization law passed by the country’s parliament.
“It is very shameful that the so-called President of the Republic of Iraq refused to sign the law,” Sadr tweeted on Tuesday. “It is shameful for the people that their president is a supporter of normalization and is not patriotic but rather subservient to the West or the East.”
“I am innocent of this crime before God and the Iraqi people,” he added. “I regret his candidacy for the presidency before and after.”
In late May, Iraqi lawmakers passed a bill that criminalizes any normalization of ties with Israel.
Following two readings of the bill by the members of parliament, the proposed law was unanimously approved by 275 lawmakers out of the parliament’s 329 members.
The law mandates the punishment of any person or entity seeking to normalize or establish ties with Israel, according to a copy of the legislation seen by Kurdistan 24.
In a tweet he shared following parliament’s vote on the law, Sadr, who pushed for the legislation, called on Iraqis to publicly celebrate the bill’s passing.
Since the signing of the Abraham Accords between Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in the fall of 2020, Sadr has repeatedly warned against establishing ties with Israel.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) has issued many statements declaring the alliance’s opposition to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), also called the nuclear ban treaty. Yet despite this public opposition, several key NATO states – Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands and Norway, as well as prospective members Finland and Sweden – joined the nuclear ban treaty’s first meeting of states parties as observers last week. These states maintain that they will not join the treaty, but their positive engagement with the treaty despite strong opposition from NATO’s nuclear powers is a key sign that NATO’s nuclear consensus is more complex than it appears.
The nuclear ban treaty, which is the first comprehensive international prohibition of nuclear weapons, rejects any form of reliance on nuclear weapons for security. Proponents of the treaty argue that nuclear weapons, like other weapons of mass destruction, can never be legitimate tools of war. Though the treaty has been boycotted by the nine states that possess nuclear weapons, including the United States, it still aims to constrain these states by stigmatizing the possession of nuclear weapons and strengthening global norms against their use.
The TPNW meeting of states parties took place in Vienna, against the backdrop of the war in Ukraine. Perhaps no single person has done more to transform NATO than Vladimir Putin. His war in Ukraine has refocused the alliance around the shared security threat of an aggressive Russia. Member states have demonstrated a renewed political and military commitment to NATO, and Finland and Sweden – long partners of NATO but proud of their independence – have submitted applications to join the alliance.
One of the top concerns of Europeans about the ongoing war in Ukraine is the threat that Russia will use nuclear weapons. But even though NATO members share a clear sense of the dangers of Putin’s nuclear threats, there are long-standing tensions among NATO members about how best to manage those risks. Since it was founded, NATO has always relied on the threat of using nuclear weapons for its own security. In response to Russia’s recent aggression, NATO leaders have emphasized the importance of NATO’s deterrent — which includes both conventional and nuclear capabilities. According to the theory of deterrence, leaders like Putin will not use their own nuclear weapons if their adversaries can respond with sufficient force.
However, within NATO, there are many who believe only nuclear disarmament can permanently eliminate the risks of nuclear war. Even if the consequences of nuclear war are unthinkable, nuclear weapons are governed by complex systems that carry the risk of use by mistake or miscalculation. Worse, with the rise of national populism, leaders of nuclear states may be willing to take more extreme risks with nuclear weapons to pursue their goals. These leaders may not be interested in preventing a nuclear war, as demonstrated by Putin’s willingness to use his nuclear arsenal as a tool of coercion.
There are many mainstream political parties and influential domestic constituencies within NATO that are skeptical of the theory of deterrence and want to see urgent action towards disarmament. As traditional arms control and nonproliferation efforts have stagnated, sometimes for decades, anti-nuclear forces within NATO have organized around the nuclear ban treaty as an avenue towards nuclear disarmament.
The United States and NATO’s other nuclear powers, the United Kingdom and France, fiercely opposed the nuclear ban treaty, which makes no exception for NATO’s use of nuclear weapons or nuclear threats. The United States urged NATO allies to boycott negotiations for the ban treaty (all but the Netherlands did); held a press conference outside of the United Nations denouncing the treaty; and, in 2020, urged all states to withdraw their support from the treaty before it entered force. The United States has argued that the nuclear ban treaty is fundamentally incompatible with NATO because it would not permit members to participate in NATO’s nuclear operations and planning.
In reality, NATO already operates its nuclear deterrent without the full participation of all members. Many members have opted out of participation in activities that remain deeply unpopular to anti-nuclear constituencies. Today, Denmark, Norway, and Spain do not permit nuclear weapons to be deployed on their territory during peacetime; Iceland and Lithuania do not permit nuclear weapons to be deployed on their territory at all, even in the case of war; and Iceland, Denmark and Norway forbid port visits from nuclear-armed naval vessels. These policies demonstrate the power of long-standing anti-nuclear sentiment to shape security policy within the alliance.
Until now, NATO’s nuclear powers have managed to hold the line against the nuclear ban treaty through their stiff opposition. Yet, even as support for NATO climbs following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, it might not be enough to shield allied governments from public pressure on nuclear weapons issues. As the salience of nuclear issues rises in political debate, public views on those issues will have more influence on policy.
The decision of NATO partners to observe the nuclear ban treaty’s first conference is not a sign that these states do not value NATO or alliance unity; rather, it should be understood that influential political forces within these states have serious intentions to pursue pathways to nuclear disarmament. The United States has neglected its leadership on arms control, nonproliferation, and disarmament. This is a clear security concern for several critical US allies.
Instead of trying to enforce a rigid and increasingly fragile consensus on NATO’s nuclear policies, the United States must accept that a coalition of democracies will have diverse security needs and threat perceptions. To maintain political cohesion in NATO will require the US security community to treat nuclear arms control, nonproliferation and disarmament as key security issues, rather than dismiss them as indulgent dreams for peaceful times. The United States must do more to demonstrate to skeptical allies that it can be trusted to act with restraint when it comes to nuclear weapons; that it shares their vision of ultimate nuclear disarmament; and that it can still be a leader even when pathways to a world free of nuclear weapons seem most difficult to find.
GETTY THE BIG APPLE: An aerial view of Lower Manhattan at dusk in New York City
USGS RISK: A seismic hazard map of New York produced by USGS “New York is susceptible to seismic shaking from earthquakes at much greater distances” Dr Simon Day, natural disaster researcher This is because the bedrock underneath parts of NYC, including Long Island and Staten Island, cannot effectively absorb the seismic waves produced by earthquakes. “An important feature of the central and eastern United States is, because the crust there is old and cold, and contains few recent fractures that can absorb seismic waves, the rate of seismic reduction is low. Central regions of NYC, including Manhattan, are built upon solid granite bedrock; therefore the amplification of seismic waves that can shake buildings is low. But more peripheral areas, such as Staten Island and Long Island, are formed by weak sediments, meaning seismic hazard in these areas is “very likely to be higher”, Dr Day said. “Thus, like other cities in the eastern US, New York is susceptible to seismic shaking from earthquakes at much greater distances than is the case for cities on plate boundaries such as Tokyo or San Francisco, where the crustal rocks are more fractured and absorb seismic waves more efficiently over long distances,” Dr Day said. In the event of a large earthquake, dozens of skyscrapers, including Chrysler Building, the Woolworth Building and 40 Wall Street, could be at risk of shaking. “The felt shaking in New York from the Virginia earthquake in 2011 is one example,” Dr Day said. On that occasion, a magnitude 5.8 earthquake centered 340 miles south of New York sent thousands of people running out of swaying office buildings.
USGS FISSURES: Fault lines in New York City have low rates of activity, Dr Day said NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the city was “lucky to avoid any major harm” as a result of the quake, whose epicenter was near Louisa, Virginia, about 40 miles from Richmond. “But an even more impressive one is the felt shaking from the 1811-1812 New Madrid earthquakes in the central Mississippi valley, which was felt in many places across a region, including cities as far apart as Detroit, Washington DC and New Orleans, and in a few places even further afield including,” Dr Day added. “So, if one was to attempt to do a proper seismic hazard assessment for NYC, one would have to include potential earthquake sources over a wide region, including at least the Appalachian mountains to the southwest and the St Lawrence valley to the north and east.”
MOSCOW—Russia threatened to station ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons on its border if Sweden and Finland are allowed to join NATO, and warned that Ukrainian membership of the military alliance could trigger World War III.
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Prominent Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr on Tuesday harshly criticized Iraqi President Barham Salih for withholding from signing the legislation criminalizing ties with Israel in a move that is seen as a blow to Salih’s second-term candidacy.
In a harsh tone, Sadr in a tweet said it is “very, very shameful that the so-called President of the Republic of Iraq (Barham) … refuses to sign the law” criminalizing relations with Israel.
Sadr at the time called on the Iraqi people to take to the streets in celebration of what he called a “great achievement.”
The law must be signed by the president, according to the Iraqi constitution. However, if he fails to do so then it would nonetheless take effect within 15 days.
The passage of the bill put Salih in a puzzle that came amid severe political tensions that have engulfed Iraq. The current president is running for a second term for the post.
“I absolve myself of his crime in front of God and the Iraqi people,” Sadr added saying he “regrets” Salih’s previous and subsequent candidacy for the presidency post.
The normalization of ties with Israel as part of the Abraham Accords is a US-led joint Middle East peace initiative. Four countries – the United Arab Emirates, Sudan, Bahrain, and Morocco – have announced normalization agreements with Israel, with America’s support.
Iraq is witnessing a brazen coup d’etat. Nine months ago, the Iran-backed Fatah paramilitary coalition suffered a devastating electoral defeat, plunging to just 17 out of 329 seats. That should have meant political extinction.
Yet, after months of cynical obstruction tactics, it has forced a situation in which — flying in the face of every constitutional principle — it has been gifted sufficient parliamentary seats to become the largest party in parliament, able to install a prime minister of its choosing.
How is such an antidemocratic outcome possible?
Despite having had the largest party in parliament following the October elections, cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr found his efforts continually thwarted when taking even elementary steps toward forming a Cabinet.
Eventually, Al-Sadr had the mother of all tantrums in early June and compelled all his 73 MPs to resign, partly due to successful Iranian efforts to shatter the fragile alliance between Al-Sadr and the Kurdistan Democratic Party.
A Hashd-dominated government consolidates Iraq’s position as an Iranian satellite state. American forces and Western assets would be compelled to depart, with dangerous consequences for the ongoing battle against Daesh. Iraq is set to wholly become a frontline state in Tehran’s war against the world, bristling with missiles and paramilitary armies. Missile strikes in recent days against an Iraq-based UAE oil company are a first taste of the enmity to come.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi’s efforts to enforce the rule of law and cultivate relations with Arab states will be left in tatters. Al-Kadhimi’s current round of visits to Tehran and Riyadh likely reflect his trepidation at how the situation is unraveling.
Did Iran pressure Al-Sadr into taking such a calamitous decision? Observers are skeptical of Al-Sadr’s denials. Inadvertently or deliberately, Al-Sadr has previously acted as the plaything of Tehran.
Iraq is set to wholly become a frontline state in Tehran’s war against the world, bristling with missiles and paramilitary armies
As son of the monumental cleric Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Sadiq Al-Sadr, Muqtada was bequeathed the position of one of Iraq’s principal powerbrokers. Prone to extreme mood swings, Al-Sadr has a track record of petulantly abandoning politics when matters do not swing his way. He was crucially silent over the 2006-07 period, when his Mahdi Army and pro-Iran death squads murdered tens of thousands of citizens in bloody sectarian purges.
In 2019, Al-Sadr was a leading figure in the protest movement. Then, overnight, he suddenly sided with Tehran-backed paramilitaries and his foot soldiers collaborated in bloodily crushing and undermining the protests. About 600 protesters were murdered by militia thugs, accompanied by a surge in assassinations of journalists and activists. If Al-Sadr’s resignation is about a return to street activism, he will struggle to rebuild credibility with mainstream activists after his past betrayals.
Who will be the next prime minister? The abhorrent Nouri Al-Maliki is a likely candidate. As prime minister between 2006 and 2014, Al-Maliki cultivated the poisonous sectarian climate that bequeathed Daesh and the plethora of paramilitary forces that today dominate Iraq. Or the Hashd may nominate one of its own; perhaps Hadi Al-Amiri or another marginally less notorious figure who would be less likely to be vetoed by Kurdish and Sunni factions.
The biggest loser is Iraq’s democracy, national identity and sovereignty. Iraqis are discovering that it does not matter who they vote for; powerful vested interests have bountiful methods for clinging onto power and advancing their corrupt and violent agendas.
This outcome sends a dangerous message to Lebanon, where Hezbollah and its allies were narrowly defeated in recent elections. Hassan Nasrallah is a more sophisticated operator than Iraq’s Hashd mafiosos and he is arguably in a stronger position. Hence, Nasrallah simply needs to tenaciously block any formula that does not grant him and his allies the keys to the Cabinet and the presidential palace, in the expectation that he and his Iranian backers will ultimately prevail.
Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Yemen are mere playing cards in the ayatollahs’ regional brinkmanship; although Iraq — due to its size and proximity — is Iran’s ace in the pack. Following the EU’s Josep Borrell’s weekend visit to Tehran, another desultory round of indirect nuclear talks is due, with scant optimism that the critical issues will be addressed.
Iran now reportedly possesses sufficient nuclear materials for a bomb, while passively being allowed to dominate the regional neighborhood. Has the diplomatic community yet grasped the catastrophic consequences of developments in Baghdad?
The ayatollahs believe they are on the brink of achieving all their demonic ambitions. The achievement of such objectives would render inevitable an apocalyptic confrontation with Israel that would suck in the regional and Western powers.
Moves toward regional alignment could also act as a definitive check on Iranian expansionism, with King Abdullah II of Jordan last week speculating about the potential for a Middle Eastern equivalent of NATO.
The Iraqi 2021 elections offered modest hope that the vicious clutches of these militias upon the Iraqi state could be loosened. I was told at the time that I was being unnecessarily pessimistic when I warned that Iran and the Hashd would use every trick in the book to prevent this outcome. Yet, even in my worst nightmares, I had not envisioned a scenario as dire as the current one, where the Hashd has rebounded from near-political extinction to become the dominant governing power.
In the coming weeks, we will see punishing battles as Hashd mafiosos seek to dominate the upper levels of all key government ministries, while also consolidating their preeminence at the provincial level. The Hashd’s economic corruption, extortion, involvement in organized crime, narcotics and arms proliferation, and pillaging of Iraq’s state budget have been massive and blatant — but expect this criminality to become even more brazen.
Iraq is now truly a militia state. Al-Sadr’s cowardly and deranged retreat from parliament potentially represents a fatal stab in the back for Iraqi democracy.