By Meteorologist Michael Gouldrick New York State PUBLISHED 6:30 AM ET Sep. 09, 2020 PUBLISHED 6:30 AM EDT Sep. 09, 2020
New York State has a long history of earthquakes. Since the early to mid 1700s there have been over 550 recorded earthquakes that have been centered within the state’s boundary. New York has also been shaken by strong earthquakes that occurred in southeast Canada and the Mid-Atlantic states.
A school gymnasium suffered major damage, some 90% of chimneys toppled over and house foundations were cracked. Windows broke and plumbing was damaged. This earthquake was felt from Maine to Michigan to Maryland.
Another strong quake occurred near Attica on August 12th, 1929. Chimneys took the biggest hit, foundations were also cracked and store shelves toppled their goods.
Strong earthquakes outside of New York’s boundary have also shaken the state. On February 5th, 1663 near Charlevoix, Quebec, an estimated magnitude of 7.5 occurred. A 6.2 tremor was reported in Western Quebec on November 1st in 1935. A 6.2 earthquake occurred in the same area on March 1st 1925. Many in the state also reported shaking on August 23rd, 2011 from a 5.9 earthquake near Mineral, Virginia.
Earthquakes in the northeast U.S. and southeast Canada are not as intense as those found in other parts of the world but can be felt over a much larger area. The reason for this is the makeup of the ground. In our part of the world, the ground is like a jigsaw puzzle that has been put together. If one piece shakes, the whole puzzle shakes.
In Rochester, New York, the most recent earthquake was reported on March 29th, 2020. It was a 2.6 magnitude shake centered under Lake Ontario. While most did not feel it, there were 54 reports of the ground shaking.
So next time you are wondering why the dishes rattled, or you thought you felt the ground move, it certainly could have been an earthquake in New York.
Here is a website from the USGS (United Sates Geologic Society) of current earthquakes greater than 2.5 during the past day around the world. As you can see, the Earth is a geologically active planet!
Another great website of earthquakes that have occurred locally can be found here.
To learn more about the science behind earthquakes, check out this website from the USGS.
DESPITE the breakthrough after a year of domestic crisis, now that all the top leadership of Iraq has been elected and appointed, including the parliament, the president, the prime minister, and the government, political stability in the country is far from certain this year. And to a large extent, the United States is to blame for this, the 20th anniversary of the invasion by which the tortured Iraq will ‘celebrate’ in two months. During the American aggression and subsequent domination, not only the economy and infrastructure were destroyed, and up to half a million Iraqis were killed, but the entire state structure was wrecked, which plunged the country into political chaos for many years.
The Iraqi agency Shafaq news noted that for almost two decades, the country was shaken by a protracted political crisis, and it suffered from an insurgency that tore it apart. The crisis has also been exacerbated by government dysfunction and widespread corruption, while the country’s oil-based economy has been severely affected by unprecedented mismanagement, thus resulting in severe financial losses for the population. And all this, Shafaq news concludes, is a shameful legacy of the invasion and aggression by the United States, which left the country in the most severe crisis and decline.
Although the fragile political system remains the main driving force, the country’s security problem remains a component determining the future of Iraq, as events on the ground further complicate the situation. In the coming months, Iraq will have to face the unpredictability associated with the consequences of the domestic conflict for the shaky policy of the country, the welfare of its population and relations with neighboring countries.
In the near future, all attention will be focused on the new government of prime minister Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani and whether it will be able to cope with numerous disturbances and subsequent public discontent. Similar to the seven prime ministers who have been in power over the past twenty years, Al-Sudani has solemnly promised to reform the economy, fight corruption, improve deteriorating public services and fight poverty and unemployment. In his address to Parliament after his approval, he also promised to amend the election law within three months and hold early parliamentary elections within a year.
On November 27, 2022, Al-Sudani demonstrated his anti-corruption efforts by appearing on local television and artfully positioning himself in the spotlight among a pile of Iraqi banknotes, while he announced the return of about $126 million after $2.5 billion had been stolen from the state treasury. However, many Iraqis remain skeptical of Al-Sudani’s anti-corruption measures and doubt whether they will be effective in ending the practice, which was promoted by some of the highest institutions of the government and the ruling elites of the country.
Corruption continues to damage Iraq and impedes the establishment of the principles of democracy, development and the ability to lift people out of poverty. The country ranks lowest in the international Corruption Perception Index being at the bottom of the list of 180 countries surveyed for the presumed level of corruption in the public sector. And this happens in the context of the richest oil reserves, revenues from which exceeded $115 billion last year, which is 52 per cent, or 1.5 times more than in 2021 ($75.65 billion).
The failure of public services remains a sign of government dysfunction in Iraq, despite the fact that the public sector employs millions of people and accounts for about 40 per cent of the annual budget. Two decades of mismanagement and rampant corruption have led to the fact that health care, education and the municipal sector have declined amid a serious crisis with water supply and electricity. The effects of poor economic policies and corruption on workers have been severe in both the public and private sectors, leaving many Iraqis unemployed, vulnerable to poverty and struggling to pay for food and other necessities.
According to the ministry of planning, while the unemployment rate in Iraq is 14.19 per cent of the work force, the poverty rate in the country is 24.8 per cent. These trends indicate that the Al-Sudani government may and most likely will face problems that will have negative consequences for further social unrest. Unemployment is especially widespread among young people, who make up the majority of the population. Many young Iraqis go to work either in the rich countries of the Persian Gulf or in Europe, especially in the north of the continent, i.e. in Sweden and Norway, whose legislation is very loyal to the Kurdish population.
One of the key problems facing Iraq today is climate change, which has exposed the country to such disasters as desertification and acute water shortage. The waters of the Tigris, Euphrates and a number of other smaller rivers are no longer sufficient for the needs of agriculture and urban services. Despite all the talk that the problem is largely the result of global warming, poor governance and inadequate solutions in this area are also largely responsible for the aggravation of the crisis, which threatens the stability of the country in the near future.
About five years after the declaration of victory over the so-called ‘caliphate’ of Daesh, the country is still struggling with this terrorist organization, and the problems of returning and reintegrating those who had a connection with this group in the past to their hometowns. Although terrorists no longer control Iraqi territory, they continue to pose a security threat through kidnappings, attacks and bombings, especially in desert areas on the outskirts of the country’s major Sunni cities. Currently, former members of Daesh and their families are in the Al-Khol refugee camp in Syria under the control of US-backed Kurdish groups. The Iraqi government fears that such returnees will be able to create ‘incubators’ where they can regroup and return to destabilize the country.
The crucial question this year will be whether the Shiite cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr and his Sadrist movement decide to take part in the parliamentary elections, which Al-Sudani has promised to hold within a year. Al-Sadr suspended his participation in politics in response to the impasse with the formation of the government after his group had won the largest number of seats in parliament according to the results of last year’s poll. If the Sadrists stay away from the elections, this decision will probably be the biggest powder keg in Iraqi politics that has ever been. Iraq may witness the election of a new legislative body that will completely change the structure of its political system. However, if the Sadrists do decide to take part in the elections, this could be another opportunity for Al-Sadr to try to get the majority of seats he needs to form a ruling coalition that could weaken the pro-Iranian camp in the country.
Another potential flashpoint to watch out for in 2023 will be the deterioration of relations between the two main political parties of Iraqi Kurdistan, i.e. the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. A fierce power struggle has been going on between the two rivals for several months, and fears are growing that they are moving towards a new round of violence, according to the Kurdish Rudaw news agency, which has characterized their relationship for decades as ‘a relationship of envy and rivalry.’
In its foreign policy, the Al-Sudani government will still have to balance the preservation of Iraq’s sovereignty, the ambitions of its neighbors and the interests of its international partners on various issues. Iran is expanding its influence in Iraq due to the fact that the Shiite Alliance ‘coordination structure’ consisting of Iranian-backed groups enjoys great political influence after it managed to bring the current government to power. Since Al-Sudani came to power in October 2022, the Alliance’s leaders have played a key role in managing national policy, and its pro-Iranian factions have restored their members to key positions in the government and security agencies. In order to increase its chances in the next elections, the Alliance plans, according to the Sky News newspaper, to introduce a new election law, which is designed to increase the number of its seats in the next parliament.
As a result of a major shift in Baghdad’s relations with the Kurdistan regional government in the north of the country, Tehran also managed to convince both sides to agree to the deployment of Iraqi army units along the border between Iran and the federal region of Iraq. They are designed to guard the border, which, according to the Islamic republic, was used by opposition groups to provoke problems between the two states.
Another foreign policy problem facing Al-Sudani is Turkey’s growing military aggression in northern Iraq, which violates its sovereignty and increases its instability. For several months, the Turkish military has been carrying out airstrikes and ground incursions into the region, while claiming to be pursuing Turkish Kurdish militants who, according to them, are using Iraqi territory to carry out attacks on Turkey. However, it should be noted that Turkish aggression is part of Ankara’s expansionist policy in Iraq and regional ambitions that were formed after the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. As a result of the American aggression, the balance of power in this region was disrupted, which allowed Ankara to act at its discretion, despite Baghdad’s official protests. While its presence in northern Iraq is aimed at pacifying the Kurds, Turkey is also targeting Sunni Muslim political groups and the Iraqi Turkuman minority in order to turn them against the central Shiite government in Baghdad.
Iraq’s relations with other neighbors and international partners will continue to depend on its stability and on whether the strategic interests of all parties are respected. To this end, the world will continue to closely monitor this new stage in Iraq’s regional relations. Under the previous government of Mustafa al-Qadimi, Iraq has already concluded various agreements with some regional and foreign countries. Al-Sudani has not yet expressed his intention to maintain meaningful ties with these countries in order to balance Iran’s growing influence in Iraq and raise Baghdad’s international prestige.
One of the key trends to pay attention to in the coming year will be Iraqi-American relations. The Iranian-backed political parties in Iraq, which now control the government and want Tehran to become a pillar in Iraq, are not very interested in developing ties with Washington. This caused not only a wave of concern, but also indignation in the United States, which seemed to be annoyed that Iraq had failed in its attempts to bring the Al-Sudani government closer to the United States and its allies, while continuing to focus on the tensions between the United States and Iran playing out on Iraqi soil. Washington is resorting to new tactics, while questioning the activities of Iranian proxies in the Iraqi government and using the carrot and stick policy towards Al-Sudani to promote a new dynamic affecting US-Iraqi relations. While the US is offering the Al-Sudani government partnership in fighting corruption, overcoming the climate crisis and helping with economic reforms, it has also blacklisted Iraqi government ministers and officials associated with pro-Iranian militants.
In today’s turbulent times, Iraq continues to face old and new challenges. However, given its trajectory of development since the US aggression in 2003, it seems likely that this already tired nation will remain in a vicious circle of instability and crisis. And as long as Washington pursues its selfish policy of protecting only its interests to the detriment of Iraq, it is unlikely that the Iraqis will be able to radically reverse the situation that has developed negatively for them.
The Russian Federation has taken the decision to deploy nuclear-capable ICBMs to Tver Oblast, escalating the conflict in Ukraine further. The move by the country amid fierce fighting around the Donbas.
By CHRISTOPHER SHARP
17:40, Mon, Jan 16, 2023 | UPDATED: 19:03, Mon, Jan 16, 2023
In a statement, the Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation said: “In the Bologovsky missile formation (Tver region), autonomous launchers of the Yars PGRK have been deployed to combat patrol routes.”
They added that the crews of the systems “will carry out the tasks of completing a march up to 100 kilometres long, dispersing units with a change in field positions, their engineering equipment, organizing camouflage and combat protection” reported Iterfax.
They added: “Planned combat training measures make it possible to check the readiness of personnel, as well as weapons and military equipment, for long-term duty on combat patrol routes.”
United States and South Korean officials appear at odds with each other over potential nuclear exercises. Seoul has said the military drills are being discussed despite US President Joe Biden’s denial.
There are more nuclear weapons states on the way.
South Korean nuclear proliferation, for example, is inevitable. It is only a matter of when.
Its President Yoon Suk Yeol said publicly this week that if North Korea’s nuclear threat grows, Seoul would consider building its own stockpile of the deadly weapons.
The speech seemed to hold little hope that the threat from the north could still be dealt with by strengthening the alliance with the United States.
Perhaps Washington’s biggest challenge of the present day is convincing its allies it can protect them.
South Korea simply doesn’t believe the US will honour its nuclear guarantee in a showdown with the north.
This is nothing new, after all.
In 1961 – a year before the Cuban Missile Crisis – French President Charles De Gaulle famously asked US President John Kennedy if he would exchange New York for Paris.
According to the historical record, “Kennedy waffled. I think the answer is probably ‘no’.
“I don’t believe the US would fight a nuke war solely for non-Americans.”
South Korea is openly considering building its own nuclear arsenal as it no longer believes the US will honour its nuclear guarantee in a showdown with North Korea, writes Professor Joseph M. Siracusa. Pictured are North Korean soldiers marching during a military parade in 2018. Picture: AFP PHOTO / KCNA via KNS /JIJI PRESS)
President Yoon’s comments mark the first time since George H. W. Bush withdrew America’s nuclear weapons from the South in 1991 that a South Korean president has officially broached the idea of arming the country with nuclear weapons.
“It’s possible that the problem gets worse,” Yoon went on, “and our country will introduce tactical nuclear weapons or build them on our own.”
And “if that’s the case, we can have our own nuclear weapons pretty quickly, given our scientific and technological capabilities.”
While South Korean public support toward nuclear weapons acquisition has ranged between 50 and 70 percent throughout the past decade, recent polling shows that number has now surpassed 70 percent.
In a recent poll, the Chicago Council on Global Affairs observed, among other things, that “71 percent of South Korean respondents supported the development of a domestic nuclear weapons program to counter the growing threat from North Korea.”
Other reasons included increasing South Korea’s prestige in the eyes of the international community, while also allowing the country to stand up to China.
A similar poll conducted by the Asian Institute for Policy Studies went a step further and “found that 70.2 per cent were in favour – with 63.6 per cent favouring an independent nuclear deterrent even if it led to sanctions”.
In any case, South Korea is clearly unhappy with US efforts to maintain the status quo.
There is something hollow about Washington’s promises these days. Saying “America is back” doesn’t quite cut it.
South Korean proponents of the bomb argue that nuclear weapons are necessary for a South Korea facing a dangerous and uncertain region surrounded by nuclear-armed neighbours; critics on the other hand maintain that nuclear weapons, at best, will only bring about limited benefits for Seoul, while leading to significant costs and perhaps even greater instability on the Korean Peninsula.
Some things are, however, incontrovertible.
North Korea fires three ballistic missiles into the East Sea
The country lies directly south of historic rival North Korea, which has had the bomb since 2006.
South Korea, unlike hapless Ukraine today, has a national insurance policy, with the US treaty-bound to defend it.
The question of US resolution is much in the air, as the credibility of the insurance policy remains untested in the face of real-world nuclear aggression.
If push came to shove, would Washington be willing to lose Los Angeles or Chicago to a North Korean reprisal?
Would the US abandon its long-time ally to spare the homeland?
Or would Washington adjust to the fait accompli of a quick North Korean takeover of the Peninsula?
A key reason for South Korea to proceed with acquiring nuclear weapons would be to directly deter North Korea, which is no longer interested in the complete or limited denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula.
‘Major scandal on his hands’: Special counsel to probe Biden’s handling of documents
It’s only going to get worse, or as one South Korean expert put it, “Despite decades of efforts to denuclearise North Korea, we are faced with what looks like an imminent seventh nuclear test, and that may not be the end of it.”
South Koreans, more blunt and open than ever before, are fed with the usual chorus of more condemnations, UN Security Council Resolution and meaningless sanctions.
Despite America’s strong but superficial attachment to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) and expected histrionics from the US State Department, South Korea could legally go nuclear in 12 months after formally withdrawing from the NPT in good faith.
A cryptic message from an IAEA spokesperson on November 16, 2022, said, “The IAEA’s 35-nation board passed a resolution on Wednesday, condemning Iran for failing to explain technically credible evidence about detecting nuclear traces at three undisclosed locations. India abstained from voting along with Pakistan and Libya, while Russia and China voted against.”
On December 17, 2022, Mohammad Eslami, head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, said, “Currently, the enrichment capacity of the country has reached more than twice the entire history of this industry.”
International Atomic Energy Agency said in November that according to its assessment, as of October 22, Iran has an estimated 62.3 kilograms (137.3 pounds) of uranium enriched to up to 60% fissile purity.
That amounts to an increase of 6.7 kilograms since the IAEA’s last report in September. That enrichment to 60% purity is one short, technical step away from weapons-grade levels of 90%. Nonproliferation experts have warned recently that Iran has enough 60%-enriched uranium to reprocess into fuel for at least one nuclear bomb.
Containing Nuclear Proliferation A Lost Opportunity?
Seeds of Iran going nuclear were sown by the infamous JCPOA agreement signed between Iran and P 5 +1 in 2015. This deal was orchestrated by the Obama administration, hoping that Iran would reverse its decision to go nuclear.
Trump administration pulled out of the agreement in 2018, stating that Iran continued to develop launch capability and set up a vast network of c
entrifuges at its NATANZ nuclear project, allowing the country to enrich uranium to weapons-grade.
During the past four years series of negotiations and meetings have been held with the following aims:
Firstly, to revive the dead JCPOA agreement by bringing the USA to rejoin.
Secondly and more importantly, to contain Iran’s Uranium enrichment capability.
While the world has moved on but few extremely significant events have taken place/are taking place, especially in the domain of nations opting to go nuclear. The Russia-Ukraine war has acted as a catalyst for the fence-sitting countries to acquire nuclear capability.
It is evident beyond an iota of doubt that had Ukraine not surrendered its nuclear weapons in a moment of self-aggrandizement, it would not have faced the destruction and near-total demolition of a large part of Ukraine.
The above situation viewed in the context of North Korea highlights the stark reality in ample measure. With capable launch vehicles to reach mainland USA, North Korea will likely carry out the seventh nuclear test soon.
With all WMDs at their command, the USA, France, Germany, and the UK combined are dumbfounded to find ways to contain North Korea’s offensive posturing.
The mirror image situation is also seen in Taiwan. President Xi has been categorical in stating that while peaceful assimilation of Taiwan with mainland China was desirable, China does not rule out a military option or words to that effect.
Conventionally, Taiwan will not be able to withstand the onslaught of the Chinese military in the long term. But if Taiwan were to have a nuclear weapon, China would think twice before attacking Taiwan.
However, Taiwan has a fairly potent weapon, which even USA does not have. The super microchip manufacturing capability places Taiwan in a numero uno position on the list of microchip manufacturers. Microchips are the lifeline of everything we use today, from smartphones to deadly ICBMs.
Destruction of the manufacturing facility will take the world into the dark ages. Samsung in South Korea is the only facility that can match Taiwan in microchip production. China’s protégé, North Korea, may threaten even this facility.
Containing nuclear proliferation, therefore, is a lost opportunity. The Ukraine model will encourage smaller nations with the technical and financial muscle to go nuclear so that no nuclear-capable country can blackmail them.
The Looming Israeli Threat
Dealing specifically with the Iranian nuclear conundrum, Israel has just held its fifth general election in four years. Benjamin Netanyahu is back. Israel has already made its intent clear. It will not allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon and will strike Iranian nuclear facilities.
Currently, Israel cannot penetrate Iranian facilities embedded into mountains unless the USA comes to aid and provides the most powerful bomb capable of penetrating deep.
Also, Iranian targets are outside the limits of existing Israeli fighters/bombers. That can be overcome with mid-air refueling, preferably during outbound leg over friendly or not-so-hostile territory.
Current IAEA findings of traces of uranium at three unspecified yet undisclosed locations would possibly trigger Israel to exercise its option to strike. With the world focused on the Ukraine-Russia war, an Israeli strike appears highly probable. I would place the probability quotient on a nine-point probability scale at seven.
Should/do the Iran-Israel conflict worry India? Should/do Chinese offensive posturing worry India? Should/do North Korea-Pakistan bonhomie worry India?
Surely foreign service mandarins and strategic experts must be scratching their brains. Will there be a positive/decisive outcome, or shall we, as always, remain confined to the sphere of indecision?
It may be of interest to everyone that Carnegie Establishment in the USA has been categorical in suggesting that India should exercise its option to carry out a thermonuclear test.
It is another issue that pseudo-Indian strategists, both military and civilian, do not have the guts to recommend shedding our ideological response/policy of ‘No first use of nukes’ to ‘Need-based first use.’
It may even define the threshold of our tolerance to their offensive actions, which both nations have resorted to from time to time.
According to IAEA reports and numerous other sources, it is evident that Iran is highly close to enriching uranium to weapon grade. If modified/altered, JCPOA comes into force. It may have already become irrelevant.
And finally, the famous words of the most brilliant strategist of modern times, Chanakya; ‘It is the intent and not a capability that acts as a deterrent.’
At times he has called for a national rebellion against foreign troops and sent out his Mehdi Army militiamen to confront the “invaders” and Iraqi security forces.
At others he has appeared more compromising, seeking for himself a political role within the new Iraq and helping form the national unity government in December 2010.
He returned to Iraq on 5 January 2011. Weeks before the withdrawal of US troops from the country, as negotiations were ongoing between Baghdad and Washington over a possible extension of their mission, he threatened to reactivate the Mehdi Army in case an extension is agreed. Prayer leader The youngest son of Grand Ayatollah Muhammad Sadiq Sadr – who was assassinated in 1999, reportedly by Iraqi agents – Moqtada Sadr was virtually unknown outside Iraq before the March 2003 invasion. But the collapse of Baathist rule revealed his power base – a network of Shia charitable institutions founded by his father. Moqtada Sadr was virtually unknown outside Iraq before the invasion, but quickly gained a following In the first weeks following the US-led invasion, Moqtada Sadr’s followers patrolled the streets of Baghdad’s Shia suburbs, distributing food, providing healthcare and taking on many of the functions of local government. They also changed the name of the Saddam City area to Sadr City. Moqtada Sadr also continued his father’s practice of holding Friday prayers to project his voice to a wider audience. The practice undermined the traditional system of seniority in Iraqi Shia politics and contributed to the development of rivalries with two of Iraq’s Grand Ayatollahs, Kazim al-Hairi and Ali Sistani. Moqtada Sadr drew attention to their links with Iran, whose influence on Iraq’s political and religious life his followers resented. Moqtada Sadr has become a symbol of resistance to foreign occupation He also called on Shia spiritual leaders to play an active role in shaping Iraq’s political future, something most avoided. Armed force Moqtada Sadr also used his Friday sermons to express vocal opposition to the US-led occupation and the Iraqi Governing Council (IGC). In June 2003, he established a militia group, the Mehdi Army, pledging to protect the Shia religious authorities in the holy city of Najaf. He also set up a weekly newspaper, al-Hawzah, which the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) banned in March 2004 for inciting anti-US violence. The move caused fighting to break out between the Mehdi Army and US-led coalition forces in Najaf, Sadr City and Basra. The following month, the US said an Iraqi judge had issued an arrest warrant for Moqtada Sadr in connection with the murder of the moderate Shia leader, Abdul Majid al-Khoei, in April 2003. Moqtada Sadr strongly denied any role. The Mehdi Army was involved in fierce fighting with US forces in August 2004 in Najaf. Hostilities between the Mehdi Army and US forces resumed in August 2004 in Najaf and did not stop until Ayatollah Sistani brokered a ceasefire. The fighting left hundreds dead and wounded. During the negotiations for a truce, the Americans also reportedly agreed to lay aside the warrant for Moqtada Sadr. The fierce clashes continued in Sadr City, however, and only ended in October after the Mehdi Army had sustained heavy losses. Political power Though costly, the violence cemented Moqtada Sadr’s standing as a force to be reckoned with in Iraq. Supporters of Moqtada Sadr have performed strongly in all elections since the 2003 invasion He became a symbol of resistance to foreign occupation – a counterpoint to established Shia groups such as the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (Sciri) and the Daawa Party. Despite this, Moqtada Sadr chose to join his rivals’ coalition for the December 2005 elections – the United Iraqi Alliance (UIA). The alliance had easily won Iraq’s first post-invasion election the previous January, and with the Sadr Bloc on board again came out on top. In the months of government negotiations that followed, Moqtada Sadr used his influence to push for the appointment of Nouri Maliki, then Daawa’s deputy leader, as prime minister. In return, his supporters got powerful positions in the cabinet. At the same time, extremist Sunni Islamist militant groups – increasingly supported by Iraq’s marginalised Sunni Arab minority – had begun to target the Shia community, not just foreign troops. Insurgents attacked Shia Islam’s most important shrines and killed many Shia politicians, clerics, soldiers, police and civilians. In 2006 and 2007, thousands of people were killed as the sectarian conflict raged in Iraq. As the sectarian violence worsened, the Mehdi Army was increasingly accused of carrying out reprisal attacks against Sunni Arabs. In 2006 and 2007, thousands of people were killed as the sectarian conflict raged. The Iraqi security forces seemed unable to stop the violence, though many blamed this on the infiltration of the interior and defence ministries by the Mehdi Army and other Shia militias. One Pentagon report described the Mehdi Army as the greatest threat to Iraq’s security – even more so than al-Qaeda in Iraq. Iran was accused of arming it with sophisticated bombs used in attacks on coalition forces. Showdown Then in early 2007, after US President George W Bush ordered a troop “surge” in Iraq, it was reported that Moqtada Sadr had left for Iran and told his supporters In August 2007, heavy fighting broke out between the Mehdi Army and Sciri’s Badr Brigade in Karbala, leaving many dead. In March 2008, the Iraqi government ordered a major offensive against the Mehdi Army in Basra The internecine fighting was condemned by many Shia, and Moqtada Sadr was forced to declare a ceasefire. In March 2008, Mr Maliki ordered a major offensive against the militia in the southern city. At first, the Mehdi Army seemed to have fended off the government’s attempts to gain control of Basra. But within weeks, it had accepted a truce negotiated by Iran, and the Iraqi army consolidated its hold. US and Iraqi forces also moved into Sadr City, sparking fierce clashes but also eventually emerging victorious. In August 2008, Moqtada Sadr ordered a halt to armed operations. He declared that the Mehdi Army would be transformed into a cultural and social organisation, although it would retain a special unit of fighters who would continue armed resistance against occupying forces. Kingmaker He meanwhile devoted his time to theological studies in the Iranian holy city of Qom, in the hope of eventually becoming an ayatollah. Analysts say the title would grant him religious legitimacy and allow him to mount a more serious challenge to the conservative clerical establishment in Iraq. At the same time, he built on the gains of the Sadr Bloc in the 2005 elections to increase his political influence. His supporters performed strongly in the 2009 local elections and made gains in the March 2010 parliamentary polls as the Iraqi National Alliance (INA), ending up with 40 seats. The result made Moqtada Sadr the kingmaker in the new parliament. He toyed initially with backing Mr Maliki’s rival for the premiership, but in June agreed to a merger between the INA and the prime minister’s State of Law coalition. Then in October, he was finally persuaded by Iran to drop his objection to Mr Maliki’s reappointment in return for eight posts in the cabinet. Secure in his standing, Moqtada Sadr returned from Iran in January to scenes of jubilation.