More Shaking Before the Sixth Seal: Revelation 6

For the 21st time this week, earthquakes hit the Columbia by I area

By Noah FeitUpdated July 03, 2022 12:16 PM

Two more earthquakes were confirmed in the Columbia area early Sunday morning as seismic activity continued following a recent series of relatively powerful earthquakes.

Sunday’s 1.9 and 1.6 magnitude earthquakeswere the 20th and 21st to hit the Midlands in the past week, according to the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources Geological Survey.

The first earthquake, recorded at a depth of 2.1 kilometers, or about 1.3 miles, was reported within 3 miles of Elgin at 12:16 a.m., the South Carolina Emergency Management Division said. The second hit about 2 miles beneath the surface in the area closer to Lugoff at 6:29 a.m., according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

“In case you were wondering if it was fireworks or earthquakes earlier this morning …” SCEMD said on Facebook.

While it would normally be no competition between the amount of vibrations caused by fireworks on a Fourth of July holiday weekend in South Carolina and the shaking felt from an earthquake’s tremors, the question is legitimate this year because of all the recent seismic activity.

Last Sunday, an earthquake was recorded in Elgin, according to the USGS. That led a series of earthquakes, or aftershocks, including a pair of 3.5 magnitude and 3.6 magnitude quakes on Wednesday afternoon and early evening.

Those were the two largest quakes to hit South Carolina in nearly a decade. A 4.1-magnitude quake struck McCormick County in 2014. 

Another earthquake in Georgia on June 18 reached a 3.9 magnitude and could be felt in much of South Carolina.

The recent earthquakes mean at least 50 have been detected in the Palmetto State since the start of 2022, according to South Carolina DNR. All but five of the quakes have been in the Midlands.

In all, 52 earthquakes have hit the Columbia area since a 3.3 magnitude quake was recorded on Dec. 27, 2021, according to the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources.

No major damage or injuries have been reported from any of the recent quakes.

Earthquakes that register 2.5 magnitude or less often go unnoticed and are usually only recorded by a seismograph, according to Michigan Technological University. Any quake less than 5.5 magnitude is not likely to cause significant damage, the school said.

It is typical for South Carolina to have between six and 10 earthquakes a year, the S.C. Geological Survey previously reported. There have been 77 earthquakes in South Carolina since Jan. 18, 2021, according to the S.C. Department of Natural Resources.

An explanation for the recent outburst has eluded scientists

Digging and blasting at mines, water seeping through the ground from lakes, or other changes in weight or pressure underground could all contribute to seismic activity, The State previously reported, but no one has settled on the single cause for the Midlands’ shaking. The state Department of Health and Environmental Control said last week that mining activity is not likely to be the cause of recent earthquakes, as mines in the Elgin area are shallow.

Elgin, located about 20 miles northeast of Columbia and situated on a fault line, has been experiencing an unusual earthquake “swarm” for the past several months, leaving some residents feeling uneasy. The series of quakes might be the longest period of earthquake activity in the state’s history, officials said last week. But officials have said they don’t believe the spate of minor earthquakes is an indicator that a bigger quake could be on the way.

The strongest earthquake ever recorded in South Carolina — and on the East Coast of the U.S. — was a devastating 7.3 in Charleston in 1886.

That quake killed 60 people and was felt over 2.5 million square miles, from Cuba to New York, and Bermuda to the Mississippi River, according to the Emergency Management Division.

Reported earthquakes in SC in 2021-22

Date/Location

Magnitude

Depth (km)

Jan. 18/Dalzell

2.1

6.9

Feb. 13/Summerville

2.1

5.1

May 12/Heath Springs

1.8

9.99

May 31/Summit

2.6

1.7

May 31/Summit

2.05.1

July 16/Ladson2.04.0

July 22/Ladson1.3

3.5

July 22/Ladson

1.95

3.97

Aug. 21/Centerville

1.75

1.97

Aug. 21/Centerville

1.71

3.37

Sept. 27/Summerville2.86.0

Sept. 27/Summerville

2.0

5.8

Sept. 27/Centerville

3.36.8Oct. 25/Jenkinsville2.23.8Oct. 26/Jenkinsville1.80.0Oct. 28/Jenkinsville1.81.8Oct. 28/Jenkinsville1.70.0Oct. 28/Jenkinsville2.14.2Oct. 31/Jenkinsville2.30.1Nov. 1/Jenkinsville2.05.1Nov. 9/Centerville1.53.8Nov. 16/Arial2.25.4Dec. 20/Ladson1.12.8Dec. 27/Lugoff3.33.2Dec. 27/Lugoff2.52.4Dec. 27/Elgin2.10.7Dec. 27/Lugoff1.74.9Dec. 29/Elgin2.31.6Dec. 30/Elgin2.52.5Dec. 30/Elgin2.43.8Jan. 3/Lugoff2.52.7Jan. 5/Lugoff2.60.5Jan. 5/Lugoff1.57.0Jan. 9/Ladson1.42.9Jan. 11/Elgin1.75.4Jan. 11/Lugoff2.03.2Jan. 11/Elgin1.35.0Jan. 15/Elgin1.83.5Jan. 19/Elgin1.95.0Jan. 21/Elgin1.94.8

Jan. 27/Lugoff2.11.0Feb. 2/Elgin1.53.9March 4/Elgin1.82.8March 9/Elgin2.23.6March 11/Camden2.11.2March 27/Lugoff2.11.9March 28/Centerville0.92.9April 7/Elgin2.02.9April 8/Centerville1.63.6April 22/Ladson1.13.5April 22/Taylors2.22.3May 9/Elgin3.33.1May 9/Elgin1.62.9May 9/Elgin1.784.1May 9/Elgin2.13.7May 9/Elgin2.95.6May 10/Elgin2.33.9May 10/Elgin2.86.2May 19/Elgin1.82.5May 21/Elgin1.95.6June 26/Elgin1.884.09June 29/Elgin3.52.64June 29/Elgin1.882.92June 29/Elgin3.62.95June 29/Elgin1.792.07June 29/Elgin1.513.72June 29/Elgin1.461.93June 29/Elgin2.062.22June 30/Elgin2.323.09June 30/Elgin1.442.8June 30/Elgin2.033.11June 30/Elgin2.152.56June 30/Elgin2.061.92June 30/Elgin1.492.46July 1/Elgin1.553.37July 1/Elgin2.113.83July 1/Elgin1.263.3July 1/Elgin1.684.02July 2/Elgin2.091.65July 3/Elgin1.92.1July 3/Lugoff1.63.2

Hamas condemns Israeli settlers plans to storm Mosque Outside the Temple Walls: Revelation 11

Hamas condemns Israeli settlers plans to storm Al-Ibrahimi mosque

The Israeli plans to close the Al-Ibrahimi mosque in Hebron to facilitate extremist Israeli settlers’ incursion into it tomorrow, while preventing Muslims from performing prayers is a flagrant violation against all Muslims and holy places. It constitutes an Israeli violation of the Palestinian people’s right to worship and of all international conventions and laws, given that the Israeli occupation has been notorious of violating international laws.

We confirm that the Israeli occupation’s targeting of the Palestinian identity and Islamic and Christian holy places and the acceleration of Judaization and colonial settlement projects will not change the status quo in Jerusalem nor the reality.

The Palestinian people will continue to be steadfast and defend the holy places until they restore their rights.

Navy Flowing Forces to Pacific as China Nuclear Horn Grows: Daniel 7

JUST IN: Navy Flowing Forces to Pacific as China Grows Nuclear Arsenal

NAVY NEWS

Navy photo

With China rapidly strengthening its nuclear capabilities, the Navy has begun shifting the focus of its own nuclear deterrent to the Pacific, a senior Navy official said.

China is undergoing a significant expansion of its nuclear force, according to the Defense Department’s 2021 China Military Power Report. China likely intends to have at least 1,000 nuclear warheads by 2030 and has made efforts to establish its own “nuclear triad” of air-, ground- and sea-based capabilities, the report stated.

In response, the Navy has undergone “a flow of forces from the Atlantic to the Pacific based on the change in the threats that we’re seeing in the world today,” said Rear Adm. Scott W. Pappano, the Navy’s program executive officer for strategic submarines.

Due to the sensitivity of the matter, he did not disclose any details about the size, composition or basing locations of the forces being redeployed to the Pacific. 

However, the concentration of forces in the Pacific will not leave the United States vulnerable elsewhere, he added. 

“Our [ballistic missile submarine] force is capable of supporting multiple packages from either coast,” Pappano said during an event hosted by the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies Aug. 24. The service has the ability and flexibility to respond to “whatever threats are out there right now,” he added.

“What ocean [Navy submarines are] in, it is less dependent than it used to be in the past,” he said.

As China is building up its nuclear arsenal, the Navy — which accounts for 70 percent of the United States’ nuclear deterrent — is undergoing its own modernization efforts, Pappano said. The Navy is constructing a new class of nuclear submarines called Columbia, which will replace the current Ohio-class submarines, which are scheduled to start going offline in 2027.

The Navy is determined to ensure the transition from Ohio to Columbia runs smoothly “to make sure an uninterrupted sea-based strategic deterrent is maintained,” said Pappano.

Maintaining a strong nuclear deterrent is especially important in the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine earlier this year, he added.

“For a long, long time, I think [nuclear deterrence] has not been on the forefront of the public’s mind,” he said. “Now that we have a nuclear power in a conventional war with a neighbor, I think that has brought that to the forefront again.

“I think the easiest way to sell that message is to ask ourselves whether we’re deterred or not by Russia’s nuclear arsenal right now,” he continued. “Would we be doing more in Ukraine if Russia was not a nuclear power? I’m not a policy guy, but … I think the answer is yes.”

Israelis press U.S. not to renew Obama nuclear deal

Israelis press U.S. not to rejoin Iran nuclear deal

But as they near a restoration of the 2015 agreement, Biden administration officials are unlikely to heed the Israeli calls.

By NAHAL TOOSI

08/23/2022 04:22 PM EDT

Updated: 08/23/2022 10:41 PM EDT

The Israeli government is ramping up pressure on the Biden administration to walk away from international efforts to revive the Iran nuclear deal.

But the White House isn’t budging.

Israeli national security adviser Eyal Hulata visited the White House on Tuesday, where he met with his U.S. counterpart, Jake Sullivan, to raise Israel’s concerns about the latest draft roadmap to a revival of the 2015 agreement. Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz is due to see Sullivan in Washington on Friday.

In a readout of the meeting sent late Tuesday, the White House said Sullivan had underscored the Biden administration’s “steadfast commitment to preserve and strengthen Israel’s capability to deter its enemies and to defend itself by itself against any threat or combination of threats, including from Iran and Iranian-backed proxies; and our commitment to ensure Iran never acquires a nuclear weapon.”

Also late Tuesday, the U.S. military announced it had carried out precision air strikes against facilities used by Iranian-backed armed groups in Syria, which have often threatened U.S. forces.

Meanwhile, former Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett sent out a series of tweets urging the U.S., “even now at this last minute,” to walk away from the talks, whose result, he feared, would enrich a dangerous Iranian regime that cannot be trusted.

“One way or another, the State of Israel is not a party to the agreement,” Bennett warned, reiterating a longstanding Israeli position. “Israel is not committed to any of the restrictions stemming from the agreement and will utilize all available tools to prevent the Iranian nuclear program from advancing.”

The 2015 nuclear deal, struck during Barack Obama’s presidency, lifted an array of U.S. sanctions on Iran in exchange for major restraints on its nuclear program. In 2018, then-President Donald Trump abandoned the deal, saying it was too weak and too narrow and he reimposed the sanctions while adding new ones. After about a year, Iran began violating the terms of the deal, including by enriching uranium to high levels and shutting out inspectors.

President Joe Biden has sought to rejoin the deal — he and his aides argued that it remains the best vehicle to contain an Iranian nuclear threat. Over nearly a year and a half, a period that included some long pauses, Biden’s emissaries have engaged in indirect talks with Iranian officials about reviving the agreement.

The two sides, whose discussions have been mediated primarily by European officials, have tangled on a variety of thorny topics. Those include: whether the U.S. will rescind Trump’s designation of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps; the fate of a probe by the International Atomic Energy Agency into traces of nuclear materials at various Iranian sites; and Iranian demands for certain guarantees that the lifting of sanctions will lead to economic benefits — and that the U.S. won’t pull out of the deal under a different president.

Biden has said he will not rescind the IRGC’s terrorism designation, and the IAEA has indicated it will not give up on the probe.

Iran recently responded to a European draft proposal on reviving the deal with comments mostly focused on sanctions and economic guarantees. U.S. officials have been looking at the Iranian demands and preparing their own response, which may be sent to European negotiators later this week.

The U.S. has been consulting allies, among them Israel, before sending its response, though it wasn’t immediately clear if it would wait until after Gantz’s meeting with Sullivan.

“At every step of the process, we have been in touch with our Israeli partners to update them on where we are, to compare notes on the state of Iran’s nuclear program,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price said Monday.

The Israeli officials are making their push at a sensitive time: the country, currently being overseen by a caretaker government, will soon hold its fifth election in less than four years.

The main internal debate among U.S. negotiators has been about the economic guarantees sought by Iran, said Ali Vaez, a top Iran analyst with the International Crisis Group. Those guarantees deal in part with Iran’s concerns that even if the 2015 deal is revived, foreign companies will consider it too risky to invest in the country. Even when the deal was in full force, many foreign firms were hesitant to do business in Iran.

For Israel’s political leaders, an Iran whose economy is stronger is an Iran that is a bigger threat to their country’s existence. Iran’s rulers consider Israel an illegitimate state, and some have predicted its eventual doom.

Israeli political leaders’ argument against the nuclear deal often boils down to concerns that, if the U.S. lifts sanctions on Iran, the regime will use the incoming cash to engage even more in an array of unsavory activities, including funding and arming terrorist groups that target Israel.

Many Israeli political leaders also believe Iran’s government will never truly abandon its nuclear ambitions, and that, eventually, a more economically robust Iran will again pursue such a program. Many of the nuclear deal’s provisions have expiration dates.

But some Israelis in the security establishment — often retired officers with more freedom to speak out — have broken with their political leaders on this issue. They argue that, as imperfect as the nuclear deal may be, it’s better than having no restraints on or surveillance of Iran’s program. (Iran officially denies wanting nuclear weapons, arguing its program is for medical and other purposes.)

Biden administration officials recognize that Iran’s nefarious activities don’t begin and end with the nuclear program. But they contend that containing that program will make it easier to tackle the many other challenges posed by Tehran. Those challenges include reining in its ballistic missile program and its sponsorship of terrorism.

At present, Iran’s breakout time — the amount of time needed to produce enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon — is believed to be a few weeks. Under a restored deal, it would likely be around six months. Under the original 2015 agreement, it was estimated at around a year.

Stephanie Liechtenstein contributed to this report from Vienna, Austria.

Rift between Tehran and Antichrist fuels instability in Iraq

Rift between Tehran and Shi’ite cleric fuels instability in Iraq

By JOHN DAVISON and AHMED RASHEEDAug. 23, 2022, noon GMT

IRAQI NATIONALISM: Supporters of Muqtada al-Sadr, including members of his armed militia, reject Iranian influence, favoring the nationalist ideas of the cleric (left) and his late father (right) instead. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani

BAGHDAD, IRAQ

On Feb 8, two powerful men – one a cleric, one a soldier, both fellow Shi’ite Muslims – met to discuss the future of Iraqi politics and the dominant role here of neighbor Iran.

It didn’t go well.

Iranian Brigadier General Esmail Ghaani visited the home of Muqtada al-Sadr, the prominent Iraqi cleric and former battlefield foe of American troops during the U.S. occupation here. Sadr has millions of faithful supporters across Iraq, some comprising an armed militia. He is a leading powerbroker in this majority-Shi’ite country.

Ghaani leads the Quds Force, the foreign military and intelligence branch of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, used by Tehran’s Shi’ite theocracy to project power abroad. He is charged by Tehran with keeping its influence in Iraq intact.

According to four Iraqi and Iranian officials briefed on the half-hour encounter in the holy city of Najaf, Sadr received the general with trademark brusqueness. He wore a black-and-white Arab headdress and brown robe – a deliberately local look and a contrast to the all-black vestments and Shi’ite clerical turban he generally wears in public.

Sadr’s fashion statement, the officials said, echoed his nationalist political message: Iraq, as a sovereign Arab state, would forge its own path, free of meddling by its Persian neighbor, despite sectarian ties between the Shi’ite-dominated countries.

DRESSED FOR THE OCCASION: Sadr, pictured here the day of his meeting with Esmail Ghaani, received the Iranian general in traditional Arab clothing, a contrast to the Shi’ite clerical vestments he normally wears in public. REUTERS/Handout/Sadr office

“What does Iraqi politics have to do with you?” Sadr challenged Ghaani, according to one of the officials. “We don’t want you interfering.”

Iran’s government didn’t respond to requests sent to its Foreign Ministry and its United Nations delegation seeking comment. Sadr’s office didn’t respond to questions from Reuters, either.

Sadr was feeling buoyant, the officials said, energized by a series of political wins for his nascent pan-Iraqi alliance against Iran and its Iraqi supporters – fellow Shi’ites who see Tehran as their best ally to maintain power and check undue influence from the West or Sunni Arab states. Although Sadr seeks to stay above the fray of retail politics, declining to seek office himself, he has been a crucial force in Iraq for much of the two decades since the U.S. invaded and overthrew Saddam Hussein.

In addition to power at the ballot box through legion Sadrist voters, he has maneuvered aides into top ministries and other senior government jobs, ensuring a grip on much of the Iraqi state. In 2019, his supporters joined anti-corruption protests that toppled a government led by pro-Iranian parties. Last October, Sadr supporters outperformed those parties in parliamentary elections, opening the door for the formation of a government that could pull Iraq entirely out of Iran’s orbit.

Hence Ghaani’s visit.

The general, those familiar with the visit said, was solicitous. He had sought the meeting for months, visiting Iraq regularly and once publicly praying at the grave of Sadr’s father. If Sadr included Tehran’s allies in any coalition, the Iranian officials say Ghaani told him, Iran would recognize Sadr as Iraq’s main Shi’ite political figure, no small gesture among the religious community’s fractious leadership.

PAYING RESPECT: Before his meeting with Sadr, Ghaani prayed at the tomb of Mohammed Sadiq al-Sadr, the cleric’s father and influential founder of the Sadrist movement. REUTERS/Sabereen News

Sadr was unswayed. In a tweet after the meeting, he stressed his commitment to a government free of foreign interference. “Neither Eastern nor Western,” he said, in the handwritten message scanned into Twitter. “A nationalist majority government.”

The rebuff amounted to far more than just a failed meeting.

In the months since, neither Sadr and his allies nor the pro-Iranian parties have forged a coalition to succeed the caretaker administration of Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, a compromise candidate who runs the government until parliament votes upon a new administration to replace him. Tensions between pro-Iran and Sadrist militias led to targeted killings of at least five people between those camps over two weeks in February. And Sadr’s efforts to outmaneuver Tehran led Iran and its proxies to counterattack politically and militarily, including rocket strikes against would-be allies Sadr had been courting – Kurds in northern Iraq and officials in the United Arab Emirates.

So frustrated was Sadr by the impasse and the Iranian pressure that in June he ordered his 73 lawmakers, nearly a quarter of the parliament, to resign. In July and August, he led thousands of his supporters to stage a long sit-in at the chamber.

“Punish the corrupt immediately,” Sadr said in a public statement. “Especially Shi’ites.”

SPURNING IRAN: After declining to ally with pro-Iran parties, Sadr tweeted his handwritten insistence on a coalition that is “Neither Eastern nor Western. A nationalist majority government.” REUTERS/Handout/Sadr office

Sadr’s vehemence alarms many who fear today’s tensions could fuel further instability and, ultimately, more violence within Iraq and across the Middle East. “If we want stability in the Middle East, it can’t work when there’s lots of public unrest and competition over power in Iraq, which then becomes an arena where regional competitions play out,” Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, the United Nations’ special representative to Iraq, told Reuters.

Within Iraq, the possibility of renewed bloodshed frightens many. The U.S. invasion this century and a long war with Iran in the last still haunt the populace. “Sadr could lead us into a Shi’ite on Shi’ite war,” said one pro-Iran militia commander in southern Iraq, where the fighting among factions grew deadly around the time of the February meeting.

To better understand the instability gripping Iraq, Reuters spoke with over 40 Iraqi and Iranian officials, politicians, foreign diplomats, and locals. Some of the officials, including those who described the Sadr-Ghaani meeting, spoke on condition of anonymity. The news agency also reviewed dozens of government documents detailing judicial decisions, government spending, and corruption probes, and traveled across the country’s impoverished south, home to most of its Shi’ite population and a region where residents say the deadlock is worsening historic problems with graft and institutional neglect.

“There’s a political battle in Baghdad, and we’re stuck in the middle,” said Walid Dahamat, a teacher in the poor southern town of Amarah and the brother of a local activist who was murdered by unidentified gunmen in 2019.

“Leaders are focusing on control over resources, power and vested interests instead of the needs of Iraqi people.”

The infighting among Shi’ites, and tension over what role Iran should play in the country of 40 million people, has led to Iraq’s longest run without a stable government since Saddam’s ouster. It is also paralyzing state institutions and rekindling disputes over oil, responsible for more than 40% of the country’s economy and 85% of the government budget.

Squabbling over the country’s oil wealth, locals and foreign observers say, often takes precedence over actual governance. “Leaders are focusing on control over resources, power and vested interests instead of the needs of Iraqi people,” Hennis-Plasschaert said.

Iran has much at stake, relying on Iraq as a buffer and commercial gateway to the Arab world. Tehran is beset by international sanctions, pressure to revive a nuclear agreement with the United States, and a realignment of Middle Eastern alliances. Without Iraq in its sphere of influence, Tehran could lose yet more power in a region where some of its Islamic neighbors, including the UAE, in recent years have established closer ties with the United States and Israel, its traditional foes.

For the West, Sadr may be the best hope of wresting Iraq from Iran’s dominance. “The interests of the U.S. and of Sadr’s coalition have intersected,” said Andrew Peek, a former Iraq specialist at the U.S. State Department and now a fellow at the Atlantic Council, a Washington-based think tank. Sadr’s split with Tehran is “the biggest threat to Iran’s influence in Iraq, the moment where there might be an actual challenge to it.”

THE FAITHFUL: Sadr’s supporters recently began gathering for mass prayer on Fridays in Baghdad, where clerics often preach his nationalist message. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani
SECTARIAN TENSION: Despite their Shi’ite ties with Iran, most Sadrists reject interference by Tehran in Iraqi politics. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani

“The King of Iraq”

Sadr, now 48 years old, first rose to prominence as the son of Mohammed Sadiq al-Sadr, a historic figure in Iraq who helped lead Shi’ite resistance to Saddam. The senior cleric, and two of his other sons, died from gunshots in a 1999 ambush widely believed to have been orchestrated by Saddam’s government. A prominent young cleric himself at the time, Sadr inherited the allegiance of many of his father’s followers.

After the 2003 U.S. invasion, Iraq’s Shi’ites worked to emerge from the Sunni dominance of Saddam’s dictatorship. Sadr grew cozy with Iran. With aid from Tehran, according to former advisors and diplomats, he successfully positioned himself as a populist fighting to expel Western aggressors. Thousands of insurgents, many of whom still make up the Sadrist militia known as the Peace Brigades, saw him as their leader.

Shi’ites took power in Baghdad starting in 2005, winning a majority in the first parliamentary elections of the U.S. occupation. As Shi’ite parties consolidated their hold in subsequent elections, however, many Iraqis increasingly perceived their administrations as corrupt, focused only on controlling oil wealth and the patronage it enables.

“This political system has failed,” said Mohammed Yasser, a longtime Shi’ite activist in southern Iraq. “They have provided nothing.”

Because most of those governments were allied with Iran, Sadr gradually distanced himself from Tehran. Eager to cast his movement as incorruptible, he encouraged supporters to stage mass demonstrations, preluding those that toppled the last Shi’ite coalition in 2019. He also began currying favor with Middle Eastern governments traditionally at odds with Iran, even Sunni-led powers.

In 2017, Sadr surprised many in the region by meeting with senior officials in the UAE and Saudi Arabia, Persian Gulf neighbors led by Sunni dynasties and allied with the United States. To overcome the historical rift between Sunni and Shi’ite regimes, Sadr played to ethnic ties instead. “We are also Arabs,” he told them, according to one senior Sadrist familiar with the visits.

Sadr made his first public critique of Iran that year, accusing Tehran in a statement of fueling sectarian conflict in Syria, Iraq and across the region. He also stepped up criticism of domestic rivals for Shi’ite influence, including former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a staunch Iran ally.

“Muqtada wants to be Shi’ite leader number one,” one former adviser told Reuters, “the king of Iraq.”

In 2020, two events tilted the landscape upon which Sadr would operate.

First, the United States in a drone strike killed Qassem Soleimani, Ghaani’s predecessor as the head of Iran’s Quds Force and a major player in Iraq. Soleimani had a strong relationship with Sadr, despite the cleric’s critiques of Tehran. Then, the UAE established diplomatic relations with Israel, solidifying a shift in some Arab states toward the West.

Those developments played into Sadr’s hands.

His outreach to Gulf neighbors, for instance, immediately led to help after the election with the task of courting Iraqi Sunnis. Iraqi officials familiar with the process told Reuters that Emirati envoys prodded Sunni parties to work toward an agreement with Sadrists. “For the Gulf countries, Sadr was the best chance to challenge Iranian power,” said Yazan Jabouri, an influential Sunni leader who attended meetings with the Emiratis.

The UAE’s Foreign Ministry didn’t respond to Reuters’ requests for comment.

Sadr had also courted the Kurds, a minority ethnic group with its own regional government in Iraq’s north. Shortly after the election, Sadrists and the Kurdistan Democratic Party, the ruling group in the region, told local media they would team up in a new government. For Iran, the alliance was a double setback, particularly because the ruling Kurd party, too, has friendly relations with Israel.

By January of this year, Sadr’s alliance appeared solidified – Sunnis, Kurds and Sadrists united in a coalition they dubbed “Save the Homeland.” They elected Mohammed Halbousi, a Sunni and ally of Gulf states, as speaker of the parliament, overriding opposition from pro-Iran parties and taking the first step toward the formation of a new administration. Soon, it seemed, they would have enough votes to form a government.

Tehran at first struggled to respond, especially without Soleimani, the Iranian general killed by the U.S. His influence in Iraq dated back to the earliest days of the resistance to American occupation. Two Iranian officials familiar with discussions early this year told Reuters that Tehran asked Ghaani, Soleimani’s successor, to keep pro-Iran militias united and to seek the crucial sitdown with Sadr.

SUCCESSION: Ghaani, speaking here at his predecessor’s memorial in 2020, took over as the head of the Quds Force of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards. The position has long been instrumental for Tehran’s sway in Iraq. Nazanin Tabatabaee/West Asia News Agency via REUTERS

“Things were about to get really tough”

Before Sadr and Ghaani could meet, some of Iran’s allies decided to make clear their displeasure with any move away from Tehran. On February 2, a little-known Shi’ite militia based in southern Iraq launched drone strikes on Abu Dhabi, the Emirati capital. The militia, known as the “True Promise Brigades,” said the strikes were in response to the UAE’s meddling in Iraq and Yemen, where a festering civil war has pitted regional proxies, led by Saudi Arabia and Iran, against one another.

The UAE said at the time that it intercepted the strikes.

But the attack spooked the Emiratis, according to an Iraqi government official, a Western diplomat and two Iraqi Sunni leaders who had worked with the UAE’s envoys in the coalition talks. The UAE sent officials to Tehran and Baghdad to quell tensions. “Their commitment to Sadr wavered,” Jabouri, the Sunni leader who participated in the efforts to form a government, said of the Emiratis.

Sadr and Ghaani met the following week.

Three days after their strained encounter, Sadr summoned aides to his home, several of his advisors told Reuters. He was visibly frustrated by the mounting tension, they said, and had even resumed smoking, an old habit he had quit and never done in public.

“He told us we weren’t just in confrontation with Iraqi rivals, but with the Islamic Republic,” said one advisor, whose account of the meeting was corroborated by two other senior Sadrists with knowledge of the meeting. “That things were about to get really tough.”

Iran got an assist from Iraq’s judiciary, controlled in large part by judges appointed by pro-Tehran parties. Days before parliament was to vote on a new president, Iraq’s Supreme Court decreed that a two-thirds majority was needed for the chamber even to meet. The ruling ruined the planned vote by “Save the Homeland,” whose simple majority was no longer enough to convene the assembly.

A flurry of other rulings by the court followed.

One barred Hoshyar Zebari, the coalition’s preferred candidate for the presidency, because of old corruption allegations. Zebari, a Kurdish politician and former finance and foreign minister, has denied any wrongdoing and hasn’t been convicted of any crime.

Another ruling slowed graft investigations that Sadrists were conducting against pro-Iran officials. A third banned the regional government in Kurdistan from dealing directly with foreign oil companies, targeting a crucial source of revenue for the important coalition partner.

Iraqi law experts and political insiders said the rulings, while legally sound, were strategically timed. “It was no coincidence,” said Sajad Jiyad, the Baghdad-based director of the Shia Politics Working Group at The Century Foundation, a U.S. think tank. “At the same time that there’s a government formation deadlock and Sadr has the upper hand, four to six rulings come out.”

Iraq’s Supreme Judicial Council, which oversees the country’s courts, in a statement to Reuters said the rulings weren’t political. Other Supreme Court rulings, including its ratifications of the parliamentary election results and the speaker voted upon by the coalition in January, benefited the Sadrists, it noted.

Iran’s ire then grew explicit.

On March 13, the Revolutionary Guards fired 12 missiles at the Kurdish regional capital of Erbil. Kurdish officials reported limited damage to a neighborhood outside the city center and no injuries. In a statement, the Revolutionary Guards said they launched the missiles because Israeli military operations were being conducted from Kurdistan. Tehran didn’t elaborate or provide any proof of Israeli operations.

Shi’ite Population

Shi’ites account for more than 50% of the Muslim population in Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, and Lebanon, and less than 50% elsewhere in the region. Source: Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life: Mapping the Global Muslim Population, October 2009.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry and Defense Ministry didn’t respond to requests from Reuters for comment.

The Kurdish government denied the accusation and saw the strikes as yet more retaliation for choosing sides among Shi’ites. “They wanted us to ally ourselves with the whole Shi’ite community, not one part against another,” said a senior Kurdish official, who was involved in talks with Iranian envoys around the time of the strikes.

Iran and its allies began pressuring Sadr’s Sunni partners, too.

In April, Maliki, the former prime minister and one of Sadr’s foremost Shi’ite rivals, helped repatriate and absolve two influential Sunnis who had fled Iraq because of terrorism charges, according to five lawyers and three government officials familiar with the effort. They told Reuters that Maliki himself helped convince a Baghdad court to drop those charges. As soon as the two Sunnis were cleared, they began denouncing the leadership of Halbousi, the Sunni parliament speaker elected by Sadrists and their allies, saying other Sunni leaders were better options.

OLD RIVAL: Former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, here voting after the 2021 election, is a longtime ally of Iran and one of Sadr’s chief rivals for Shi’ite influence in Iraq. REUTERS/Thaier al-Sudani

In a television appearance, Maliki denied he had assisted the two men, but said he had asked the court about their charges and helped one of them get from the airport to an audience with the judge. Critics found his comments contradictory. Maliki’s office didn’t respond to requests from Reuters for comment about any role he played in the return of the two Sunnis.

Halbousi was rattled, according to an official close to the speaker.

Amid growing criticism about his leadership from other Sunnis, he flew to Tehran, where he sought to ensure he could still have a working relationship with Iran even if the coalition that elected him failed to form a government. “Halbousi wanted assurances that if Sadr failed, he would have support from Iran,” the official said.

A spokesperson for Halbousi said the speaker had traveled to Iran on official business at the request of the Iranian parliament. She declined to discuss the visit further.

By May, Sadr’s push to form a government stalled. No other coalition emerged to form its own government.

In June, Sadr ordered the Sadrist lawmakers to resign, ceding further control of the chamber to rivals. Sadr’s office released a statement citing the impasse, the Supreme Court rulings, and disagreements with “some countries,” without elaborating, as reasons for the withdrawal. Days later, in a video online, Sadr addressed his former legislators and urged them to reject any alliance “unless God provides an opening and the corrupt are swept aside.”

Sadrists increasingly express exasperation about their inability to form a government. Some call for renewed unrest. “This time the methods of reform will be different,” Abu Mustafa al-Hamidawi, the head of Sadr’s militia, recently told an Iraqi news site. Reuters was unable to reach al-Hamidawi for further comment.

Sadr now calls for new elections, which some believe will only delay a reckoning with political rivals.

Recently, Sadrists marched toward parliament to join colleagues there occupying the chamber to protest the impasse with other parties. Sadr’s old rival Maliki patrolled with bodyguards outside his home, brandishing an assault rifle. Pro-Iran groups staged their own demonstrations, stoking fears of armed clashes.

MOUNTING FRUSTRATION: Sadrists, increasingly fed up with the political impasse, have protested in recent weeks and decried rival parties as corrupt. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani
OCCUPIED CHAMBER: Among other demonstrations, Sadrists staged a sit-in of Iraq’s parliament in late July and August. REUTERS/Wissam Al-Okaili

In southern Iraq, where tensions are most acute, locals are fed up by what they see as continued corruption and an infrastructure collapse. Despite a record income of $60 billion in oil revenues for Iraq’s government in the first half of 2022, residents often go without water or electricity.

Dahamat, the teacher in Amarah, was already frustrated by what he described as government inaction after the murder of his brother. The activist was killed after he spoke out against graft and the unmet needs of the poor south. His killers haven’t been apprehended.

Now, Dahamat said, authorities don’t perform basic maintenance at his primary school. He and colleagues, he told Reuters, recently paid for a pump and a sink to make a bathroom usable. The local school administration didn’t respond to a Reuters request for comment.

“No one in power has ever done anything for us,” Dahamat said.

Additional reporting by Parisa Hafezi in Dubai

A Shi’ite Divide

By John Davison and Ahmed Rasheed

Photo editing: Simon Newman

Graphics and art direction: John Emerson

Edited by Paulo Prada

Iraq’s top judicial body suspends activities as Antichrist’s supporters protest

Supporters of al Sadr have staged a sit-in outside the gates of the Supreme Judicial Council in Baghdad.

Iraq’s top judicial body suspends activities as Sadr supporters protest

A statement by the Supreme Judicial Council accused Shia cleric Muqtada al Sadr’s supporters of pressuring the Federal Supreme Court to dissolve Parliament.

Supporters of al Sadr have staged a sit-in outside the gates of the Supreme Judicial Council in Baghdad. (AP)

Iraq’s top judicial body has suspended its activities following a sit-in staged by supporters of Shia cleric Muqtada al Sadr.

In a statement, the Supreme Judicial Council said on Tuesday that it decided to suspend all judicial activities after al Sadr’s supporters staged a sit-in outside the gates of the body’s Baghdad headquarters to demand the dissolution of Parliament.

The statement accused al Sadr’s supporters of pressuring the Federal Supreme Court to dissolve Parliament, saying it put all judicial activities on hold in protest of such “unconstitutional acts and violations of the law”.

The council held the government and the political party standing behind the demonstration full responsibility for the protest’s consequences.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Mustafa al Kadhimi cut short his current visit to Egypt to attend a five-way Arab summit and returned to Baghdad, according to a statement released by his office.

Al Kadhimi, according to the statement, warned that “disrupting the work of the judicial institution exposes the country to real dangers”. 

He stressed that “the right to demonstrate is guaranteed by the constitution, with the need to respect state institutions to continue their work in the service of the people”.

Political turmoil

Iraq has been in a political deadlock for nine months following general elections last October, which has since failed to agree on a new government between rival parties.

Iraq’s Federal Supreme Council was scheduled to consider a lawsuit demanding the dissolution of Parliament on Tuesday, but the session was postponed to August 30.

On August 14, the Supreme Judicial Council said it does not have the authority to dissolve the Parliament.

Followers of the Antichrist press for early elections in Iraq

Followers of Muqtada al-Sadr press for early elections in Iraq

Online News EditorAugust 23, 2022

Baghdad, Aug 23 (EFE).- Hundreds of supporters of influential Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr mounted a sit-in Tuesday at the headquarters of Iraq’s Supreme Judicial Council to dramatize their demands for early elections to resolve a months-long political deadlock.

The protest, which forced the council and the Iraqi Supreme Court to suspend operations for a few hours, ended after a spokesman for Al-Sadr, Mohamed Saleh al-Iraqi, urged the demonstrators to leave.

“To preserve the reputation of our beloved revolutionaries and to not harm people, I advise a withdrawal,” Al-Iraqi said in a statement that at the same time called on the Sadrists who have been camped outside parliament since July 30 to remain there.

The Sadrists will stay “until the achievement of the demands to dissolve parliament, hold early elections and put corrupt officials on trial,” protester Abdulamir Husein told Efe.

Both parliament and the judiciary complex are located in Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone.

Al-Sadr wants the Supreme Judicial Council to dissolve parliament, but the council insists that it lacks the authority to do so.

Candidates endorsed by Al-Sadr won a plurality in the legislature in last October’s elections, but they abandoned parliament in June after the Coordination Framework, an Iran-aligned Shiite coalition, repeatedly obstructed their attempts to form a government.

The withdrawal of the 74 Sadrist lawmakers opened the door for the Framework to put forward Mohamed Shia al-Sudani as prime minister.

But the popular Al-Sadr, a defender of Iraqi sovereignty who opposes the influence of both Iran and the United States, mobilized his thousands of supporters to invade parliament and halt the installation of Al-Sudani. EFE