The United States Geological Survey says the 3.3 magnitude quake hit several mikes south of the town of Ormstown, Quebec a little after 5:30 A.M. There are some slightly conflicting reports, as the Montreal Gazette reports that the quake was a 3.6 magnitude. Ormstown is located around 20 minutes north of the New York border.
The Times Union says the quake was felt as far south as the town of Ticonderoga in Essex County, and as far west as the city of Ogdensburg on the New York-Ontario border. The effects were also felt as far north as Montreal.
Some strike even closer to home. In April 2017, a 1.3 tremor occurred around two and half miles west of Pawling. In early 2016, an even smaller quake happened near Port Chester and Greenwich, CT. In the summer of 2019, a quake struck off the New Jersey coast.
Al-Monitor traveled to Iraq’s impoverished southeast, known for drug smuggling and militia violence, to explore the continued support there for the Sadr movement.
ESSAM AL-SUDANI/AFP via Getty Images
January 20, 2023
AMARA — Thin young men dart through the massive crowd, handing out photos of an iconic figure in Iraqi history to the men leaving Friday prayers at the central mosque in Iraq’s southeastern Maysan province.
Fewer than a dozen women entirely covered in black sit on the ground outside during the prayers. The overwhelming majority here are men, as is the case at a major football (soccer) competition that was held further south in Basra and in the halls of the central government in Baghdad to the north.
Maysan remains one of Iraq’s poorest provinces. These worshippers’ continued lack of economic means is clear, as is their wariness of outsiders.
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Young men who clearly have more control of the area than the few policemen around nevertheless welcomed Al-Monitor’s female correspondent. Some of those who attended the prayers agreed to discuss the situation in the province.
The photos distributed here among the crowd were of Grand Ayatollah Sayyid Muhammad Muhammad-Sadiq al-Sadr, assassinated in 1999, who was the widely revered father of Iraq’s powerful firebrand cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.
Many of the older men streaming out of the mosque sport scars and suffer disabilities from their years of fighting in the ranks of Sadr’s Jaish al-Mahdi against the “US occupation” in the post-2003 period.
Sadr seen as a kingmaker
Muqtada is still seen as a kingmaker of sorts in Iraq but has kept a lower profile since some of the worst violence in many years in the country started on Aug. 29 last year in Baghdad’s Green Zone, where his supporters had been conducting a month-long protest.
In June, Sadr ordered all 73 parliamentariansfrom his bloc, the largest at that time in parliament, to resign after months of political bickering left the country without a government for what was seen as a dangerously long period.
Dozens were killed in fighting in the Green Zonein late August that ensued after Sadr announced he was leaving politics “for good.”
The night between Aug. 29 and Aug. 30 was marked by RPGs, missiles and mortars fired in Baghdad amid what sounded and looked like war in the most heavily fortified part of the city. The firefight stopped only after an Aug. 30 press conference in which Sadr demanded his followers leave the Green Zone within 60 minutes or he would “wash his hands of them.”
The candidate for prime minister strongly opposed by Sadr at that time, Mohammed Shia al-Sudani, was sworn in weeks later. Sudani had previously held several government positions in this southeastern province.
Tensions and conflict between Sadr’s supporters and those more closely linked to Iran have been frequent for years. The situation escalated sharply amid massive 2019 protests across central and southern Iraq that brought down the government at that time.
Many of the initial protesters in 2019 — and those killed — were from Baghdad’s impoverished northeastern district known as Sadr City, named after Muqtada’s father and another wellspring of support for his son. Many people from Maysan have migrated to this area in recent decades in search of work.
Residents pointed out to Al-Monitor heavily damaged and burned-out carcasses of headquarters of armed factions linked to the Sadr’s rivals in the political alliance known as the Coordination Framework, including one of Asaib Al al-Haq, in different areas of Maysan’s provincial capital, Amara.
The provincial headquarters of the Iran-linked armed factions were attacked after the 2019 protests began and have remained shut in the city since. However, many of their supporters remain in the city with some rumored to own multiple businesses in more affluent parts of the city.
The elder Sadr, whose face still adorns many billboards throughout Iraq over 20 years after his assassination, was known for defying President Saddam Hussein and using Friday prayers during the 1990s as a tool for networking and gathering strength to oppose the government. There are some indications that the younger Sadr, having announced his withdrawal repeatedly from politics but still one of the most powerful figures in Iraq, may seek to do the same, including here.
Despite relatively scant media attention, apart from occasional news of drug busts, the impoverished province of Maysan plays an outsized influence on what happens in the capital as well.
The current governor of the province, Ali Dawai Lazem, is closely linked to Sadr. He was mooted as a possible Sadr-backed candidate for the role of prime minister following the 2018 electionsand has been in control of this southeastern province for over a decade. He took over the position from Sudani, who was then governor of Maysan in 2010.
When Sudani was sworn in as prime minister of Iraq in October of last year, his strongest backers were the Iran-linked Coordination Framework.
He had previously held a number of positions in Maysan, including mayor of Amara starting in 2004 and governor of Maysan between 2009 and 2010.
Sadrist alliances received the largest number of votes in Iraq’s last two elections, in May 2018and in October 2021. Both times, however, the prime minister eventually sworn in was not the choice of the Sadrist movement.
Concerns have risen in recent months about the cross-border movement of funds, weapons and drugs in Maysan, with some alleging that Sadr’s rivals — Iran-linked armed factions and political parties linked to them — play a part in these lucrative trades.
One of the black-turbaned supporters of Sadr who had been present during the Friday prayers but who asked that his name not be published railed against what he implied was involvement in the drug trade by some of those taking part in the government. He urged better border control, saying that jailing drug users is “useless” if the aim was to stop the movement into the country of drugs and weapons.
Sadr as a nationalist figure
Another man at the mosque claimed those in the Sadrist movement are “all willing to sacrifice themselves” for Sadr and the greater good, as symbolized by white “shrouds” often worn across the shoulders of those attending communal prayers as well as by Sadrist parliamentarians prior to resigning from parliament last year.
One of the most frequent criticisms of the Sadrist movement is that its followers resemble a cult, though the fact that his supporters mostly tend to follow his orders unquestioningly has at times been seen as serving a useful purpose, such as when he was able to halt the fighting in August of last year.
Al-Monitor also spoke to a former unit commander of Jaish al-Mahdi who said that he had been fighting under Sadr since 2004: initially against the “US occupation forces” and later in the ranks of Saraya al-Salam against the Islamic State.
He claimed that the main difference between fighters answering to Sadr and those of armed groups close to political parties within the Coordination Framework is that “other groups work on behalf of foreign countries,” while the Sadr movement instead works for “Iraqi sovereignty.”
“Those factions receive funding and those giving them the money want something in return,” he said, alluding to Iran as the country providing framework-linked factions with funding without directly mentioning it.
Sadr has long held a more nationalist stance than factions linked to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps. He has repeatedly over the years spoken out against Iraqi armed groups crossing into Syria and fighting on behalf of the Iran-led, cross-border “resistance” movement alongside the Syrian government and against armed opposition factions there.
On who holds the most power in Maysan, the former Jaish al-Mahdi unit commander pointed to neither the young men watching over the streets nor those with the most weapons as proof but instead at votes.
“It’s clear, isn’t it? Look at the last elections,” he said. “The Sadrist movement. Of course.”
Russia has made its first batch of nuclear-capable torpedoes that are said to be so powerful they could cause radioactive ocean swells and huge nuclear tsunamis that could destroy coastal cities in the U.S. or its allies.
“Of course, the Poseidon torpedo is not the same as the bomb in the Baker test, so we can’t say that the consequences would be the same. But we know from our own government’s testing of nuclear weapons underground that there can be major consequences for marine and human life. Collectively, the nuclear tests conducted in and around Bikini Atoll have had long term health and environmental impacts.”
The blast of the bomb would also have major effects on ecosystems: seabed invertebrates have been found to be significantly disturbed by natural tsunamis, while on land, tsunamis uproot trees, destroy bird nesting sites, cause land animals to drown, and wash pollution back into the sea that may poison a range of marine life.
Poseidon, if it is ever deployed, would likely be less destructive to human life than a land-based nuclear bomb, however, due to the differences between the atmosphere and the ocean in terms of fallout. Poseidon can also be fitted with a conventional warhead, according to a Congressional Research Service report from last year, which said the system may not be deployed until 2027.
“While a ‘Nuclear Ocean Swell’ sounds plenty horrifying, it would be distinct from an on-land detonation in that there would be no fire storms to loft soot into the stratosphere and thus no climate impact,” Tyler Rohr, a chemical oceanographer and biogeochemical modeller at the University of Tasmania in Australia, told Newsweek.
“[Poseidon] wouldn’t have the same global reach as a large-scale conflict in cities, unless of course it triggered a larger geo-political conflict fought on land.”
The yield of Poseidon may be up to 100 megatons, Shaun Burnie, a senior nuclear specialist at Greenpeace, told Newsweek in 2022. This figure—about seven thousand times more than the nuclear bomb dropped on Hiroshima—matches that given by Russian TV anchor Kiselyov. However, other experts disagree with this figure: “[That’s] simply insane—that would be the biggest warhead ever deployed”, David Hambling, a technology journalist specializing in defence, told EuroNews.next.
“I mean, with the current Russian regime, who knows? It’s possible that they might have the hubris to build something like that, but it certainly is grotesquely gigantic,” he said.
The tsunami threats may not even come to fruition if Poseidon were used, as the enormous amounts of energy actually required to trigger a tsunami may not be achieved by the nuclear torpedoes.
“We know that from quite a lot of work which was actually done again back in the crazy days of the Cold War about doing this very thing, and creating tsunamis with nuclear weapons,” Hambling said.
“It turns out you need a vast amount of energy to do that—even more than you can get out of a nuclear blast. If it’s moved into a harbor and detonated very close offshore, it would certainly be able to destroy a city. But it probably wouldn’t damage much beyond that, and it certainly wouldn’t do as much damage as a large nuclear airburst.”
The torpedoes themselves are thought to be around 65 feet long, have a range of about 6,200 miles, and a top speed of 50 nautical mph, Sidharth Kaushal, a research fellow for sea power and missile defense at British defence think tank RUSI, told Euronews.next in May 2022.
The Belgorod, the submarine that the new batch of Poseidon torpedoes is reported to be destined for, may be only the first in a fleet of four submarines that could carry the weapons. Testing of components including the nuclear power unit had been successfully completed, an anonymous source reportedly told TASS.
Accommodating Iran and risking Israel’s futurePABLO MARTINEZ MONSIVAIS/AP PHOTO
Never! Never would Iran be allowed to have a nuclear weapon. That was the pledge of the Clinton and Bush administrations. Not only that. “Never” was the purpose of 191 nations in agreeing to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. It came into force in 1970 to save the planet from destroying itself and all human life. Hence the near universal agreement, a unique adherence for an arms control measure.
But the story since then is maddening and ominous. One of the parties to the treaty was Iran, and Iran has been in almost continuous noncompliance with the treaty it agreed to.
Flash forward to the Obama administration. Now the president is no longer trying to stop Iran from going nuclear. “Never” has been slimmed down to 13 years – at best! The Iranians have secured enough nuclear fuel to make the first generation bomb small enough to be dropped from a transport plane. The former International Atomic Energy Agency inspector, Olli Heinonen, reckons the proposed agreement from the Lausanne talks leaves Iran “a threshold breakout nuclear state for the next 10 years.” But we may have only the mirage of an agreement since Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and his associates are producing tons of ambiguity about what was agreed – and on our side, where unity is essential in dealing with a very slippy adversary, there are troubling discrepancies between the French and U.S. understandings.
Just look at the wriggles and evasions since Lausanne. President Barack Obama said the sanctions would be lifted only after Iran has delivered on its commitments. Supreme Leader Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani draw new red lines. They insist on the immediate removal of sanctions on agreement; they reject monitoring of Iran’s military sites and have the nerve to say its subversion – assistance to “resistance” groups – will continue.
Yet the sanctions that took years to put in place are being removed almost immediately, unlinked to a change in Iran’s behavior. The symmetry is grim: The Iranians walk away from long-standing commitments and the Americans compromise on long-standing demands.
Obama had previously stated that “the deal we’ll accept” with Iran “is that they end their nuclear program” and abide by the U.N. resolutions that have been in place. Yet more enrichment will continue with 5,000 centrifuges per decade and all restraints will end in 15 years.
That is the key. By making a breakout time the central measure by which to judge the effectiveness, the administration has made verification the most important part of the agreement. We must be in a position to show that we can detect what the Iranians are doing and when they are doing it. The IAEA inspectors must have access to declared and undeclared sites. The artificial deadline the administration imposed has had the perverse effect of pressuring Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry, and not the Iranian government, to make concessions. On almost every key issue, the Iranians won the day as the Obama administration folded. The entire infrastructure of the Iranian nuclear weapons program remains intact.
Why is Kerry, not Iran, making concessions in nuclear deal negotiations?THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
There is no way to reconcile Obama’s acceptance of Iran as a threshold nuclear state with a safe fate for Israel. Thus the view overwhelmingly shared by Israelis that he is risking the Jewish state’s future. A deal based on this framework after all would threaten the survival of Israel. Obama has broken with Israel on an existential and unforgivable level. When Obama finally tightened the sanctions forcing Iran to the table, he surrendered, especially on the issue of centrifuges that Iran has developed. Perhaps Obama can afford a bad deal because he has a year and a half left of his presidency. But the people in the Middle East have to live with the consequences of Obama’s agreement with Iran long after he is gone. For that is when the bulk of the nuclear deal with the world powers will be in effect.
Obama deliberately wrote off the inconvenient view of the country that is most endangered, Israel. He accommodated radical Islamist theocrats when he should have insisted on the opposite, that the survival of Israel is non-negotiable. In effect, he betrayed the trust of the Jewish state. And it is not just Israel that opposes Obama’s deal. The Arab leaders, especially our closest friends, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, have made clear they share Israel’s view.
Linda Chavez asks whether any of our allies even trust our word any longer? Why should they when the president failed to live up to promises, for example, to stop Russian aggression in Ukraine, or to keep the murderous Assad regime from killing Syrian civilians. The Iranian deal is more capitulation to those who threaten U.S. national security. Iran will even get an immediate economic boost when we lift sanctions, which will strengthen a regime that is already ascendant as a regional power.
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Obama has regularly tried to oversell Americans on this issue. When he became president, Iran had “thousands of centrifuges” which now would be cut down to around 6,000. In fact, according to the New York Post, in 2008 Iran only had 800 centrifuges. It was on Obama’s watch, and because of his perceived weakness, that Iran accelerated its nuclear program. Then, the president asserted that all of Iran’s “paths” to developing a nuclear arsenal would be blocked. Yet, he still acknowledged what is now the common perception that Iran might still be able to build a bomb in just a year.
The president offers false choices between something like this deal and U.S. involvement in another ground war in the Middle East. Why does he not acknowledge the third choice is to force Iran to behave: wider sanctions, diplomatic action and proximity pressures to force Iran to abide by six U.N. resolutions?
In fact, to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons capability, the U.S. must impose the most stringent possible limits on Iran’s ability to produce fissile material. It means permitting Iran only a civilian nuclear power program without enrichment facilities or capabilities. This must be joined with a strict and comprehensive inspection regime underpinned by credible and concrete promises to punish noncompliance. Such a deal must extend as long as the U.S. and its partners believe Iran retains its nuclear weapons ambition, which will threaten its neighbors, and remains the unsettling force in the Middle East.
But none of Iran’s nuclear facilities, including the Fordow center will be closed, as The Washington Post noted. Not one of the country’s 19,000 centrifuges will be dismantled. Tehran’s existing pile of enriched uranium will be “reduced” but not necessarily shipped out of the country. In effect, then, Iran’s nuclear infrastructure will remain intact even though some of it will be mothballed for 10 years. But when the accord lapses the Islamic Republic will instantly become a threshold nuclear state.
Most upsetting is that even with much greater restriction the deal would not be permanent but instead one or more sunset clauses whereby all limits would ultimately be lifted.
Congress fears it has no substantive input, which means a deal would be implemented without its consent. The vote and voice of Congress is vital to the credibility and durability of a final deal that would be acceptable to the U.S. and not just to this administration.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee understands that breakout time is crucially related to the size of Iran’s stockpile of fissile material. How much of its existing stockpile would Iran be required to ship out of the country? It has reneged on one deal and will try to do it on another if it is allowed to continue its efforts to increase the efficiency of its operating centrifuges. We need prohibitions on such activity, which would also include bans on any and all work on centrifuges other than those currently installed or operated, as well as clear restrictions on when, where, why and how Iran could replace the installed centrifuges.
RACHEL BRODY FOR USNWR
What would an acceptable deal look like? We need an end to all research and development activity on advanced centrifuges in Iran; a significant decrease in the number of centrifuges that are operational or become operational if Iran breaks the agreement and decides to build a bomb; the closing of the Fordow facility as an enrichment site, even if enrichment is suspended there; an agreement to ship Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium out of the country; a commitment to scale back its nuclear programs significantly for 10 to 15 years and to accept intense international inspections; a willingness to limit enrichment of uranium at its Natanz facility to a level needed only for civilian purposes; to cut back installed centrifuges by about two-thirds, while converting Fordow into a center for peaceful research and foregoing enriching uranium there for at least 15 years; as well as modifying its Arak heavy-water reactor to render it incapable of producing plutonium for a bomb.
Limits on when, where, why and how Iran would replace centrifuges during a breakout time would be crucial to preventing Iran from developing more efficient centrifuges for use immediately after an agreement expires. Iran believes it can continue to use the Fordow underground uranium enrichment plant for developing centrifuges, while the U.S. says no enrichment could take place there for 15 years.
The United States should stand by its original demands to shut down the facility altogether with the purpose of limiting total output of Iran’s enrichment facilities to its current capability. That would prevent it from cutting breakout times with the flip of a switch if it chooses to renege on the deal. The next few months will be nothing less than a supreme test of our skill and our resolve and give the Obama administration the opportunity to manage a fundamental change that improperly handled would threaten American allies and the United States itself.
What was the role of President Obama in the Iran Nuclear Deal? What was the deal and how did it happen?
The Iran Nuclear Deal was when multiple countries, including the U.S., imposed sanctions on Iran in order to stop them from developing nuclear weapons. President Obama lead the negotiations with Iran, Russia, and China.
Read more about President Obama, the Iran Nuclear Deal, and what it meant for the U.S. and the world.
Iran, in particular, posed a unique challenge to the U.S. There had long been tensions between the two nations dating back to the CIA-backed overthrow of Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh in 1953. Following that, the U.S. had supported the oppressive and unpopular rule of the Shah until his overthrow in the 1979 Iranian Revolution, which saw hardline Shia clerics take control of the country and establish an Islamic republic. In the 1980s under President Ronald Reagan, the U.S. had backed Iraq’s Saddam Hussein in his long and brutal war against Iran, further deteriorating U.S.-Iran relations.
The failed war in Iraq had only made matters worse. By toppling Saddam’s government, the Bush administration had neutralized the one power in the region that was capable of checking Iranian aggression. With Iraq now a weakened state run by a Shi’ite-dominated government susceptible to Iranian influence, Iran was in its strongest position in decades.
The international community had good reason to be concerned. Over the past decade, Iran had greatly expanded its reserve of uranium-enrichment centrifuges, which could be used to convert low-enriched uranium (used for peaceful civilian purposes) into high-enriched uranium (weapons-grade material).
From 2003 to 2009, experts judged that Iran’s centrifuges skyrocketed from 100 to roughly 5,000. This meant that Iran’s “breakout time”—the amount of time the country would need in order to produce sufficient material for one nuclear weapon—may have been reduced to little more than a few months. The goal for the U.S. and the international community was clear: Obama needed to build a coalition to put diplomatic and economic pressure on Iran to force Iran to the negotiating table and cease its nuclear program. If Obama failed, he risked allowing a nuclear Iran to set off an arms race in the most volatile region in the world. For Obama, the Iran Nuclear Deal was essential.
A Breakthrough on Iran Sanctions
Slowly, Obama’s diplomatic entreaties to the Russians and the Chinese began to bear fruit. For Obama, this would lead to the Iran Nuclear Deal. At the United Nations General Assembly, the Obama administration’s arms control team engineered a proposal by which Iran would ship its low-enriched uranium to Russia, where it would be converted to high-enriched, but not weapons-grade uranium.
Although the proposal would not have done anything to reduce Iran’s nuclear infrastructure or capacity to enrich future uranium, it would deplete its existing stockpile, setting back Iran’s breakout time. The proposal also brought Russia into the denuclearization process in a serious and constructive way (was even named the “Russia proposal,” perhaps to cater to Putin’s ego).
The Iranians, however, rejected the offer out of hand. After the General Assembly summit, Obama spoke to President Medvedev, who expressed his anger and disappointment at the Iranian regime’s unreliability and unwillingness to compromise. Iran had—perhaps—erred in spurning Russia, one of its few remaining defenders.
Also, the Chinese government slowly began to revalue its currency. This was an important economic policy victory for the United States, making the American exports more competitive and bringing China more closely in line with international trading rules.
But the ultimate breakthrough came in June 2010, when the UN Security Council (including Russia and China) voted to impose sweeping new financial sanctions on the Iranian regime, including a ban on weapons sales. Sure enough, the Russian government soon followed up with a cancellation of a planned $800 million weapons sale to Iran.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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JANUARY 19, 2023, 4:30 PM
Welcome to Foreign Policy’s South Asia Brief.
The highlights this week: A new poll shows that Indians largely see China as the country’s greatest military threat, Pakistani opposition figure Imran Khan’s party dissolves two provincial parliaments in a push for early national elections, and a top U.S. official visits Bangladesh.
India Sees China as Greatest Threat
China’s rise in recent years has provoked a change in India’s strategic threat calculations—a shift now reflected in public sentiment. This week, a Morning Consult poll revealed that Indians see China as India’s “greatest military threat.” Forty-three percent of respondents named China, while only 13 percent cited Pakistan, India’s long-standing rival. Strikingly, 22 percent of respondents said the United States was India’s greatest threat.
The survey, based on interviews with 1,000 Indian adults last October, reflects a shift in Indian perspectives—including among Indian officials—on the country’s long-term strategic challenges. Since its independence, India has fought three full-scale conflicts and one limited war with Pakistan, and bilateral relations remain tense. But growing threats from China, coupled with recent Indian foreign-policy moves, show that New Delhi’s focus has shifted toward Beijing.
The shift underscores the opportunities for India to deepen partnership with the United States and its Asian treaty allies, along with the balancing act that New Delhi must maintain with Moscow, which has drawn closer to Beijing amid the war in Ukraine.
India has also insisted on continuing to do business with longtime friend Russia; the Morning Consult survey finds that Indian public opinion toward Russia soured after the Ukraine invasion, but it picked up again soon thereafter. Moscow is close with Beijing, but it also provides New Delhi with military equipment, such as the S-400 missile defense system, which can strengthen its deterrence capacity.
Sharpening U.S.-China competition is a dominant storyline in global geopolitics. But New Delhi’s intensifying strategic tussle with Beijing is also taking center stage, and it is poised to shape the next century.
What We’re Following
Two provincial assemblies dissolved in Pakistan. In recent weeks, former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan has pushed to dissolve the local assemblies in the two provinces controlled by his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. He finally succeeded last weekend. Khan was ousted last April; he hopes the expense of holding separate provincial elections now will prompt the federal government to opt for early national polls, which currently must take place by Oct. 12.
This is a boost for Khan, who has suffered recent setbacks. His earlier tactics to pressure the government to agree to early elections failed, and the PTI finished in a disappointing third place in local elections in Karachi last weekend. Still, the move to dissolve the two assemblies is a gamble. Islamabad has every right to stay the course and hold national polls on schedule.
Furthermore, with the political environment so polarized, the government has little will to give in to Khan’s chief demand. And the government’s unpopularity means it’s in no hurry to put itself before the electorate before it’s required to.
Top U.S. South Asia official visits Bangladesh. At the end of 2021, the White House sanctioned a top Bangladesh security force, citing human rights violations. But the move hasn’t prevented the relationship between the two countries from moving forward. Last month, a senior U.S. official called Bangladesh a “truly important strategic partner”—words the United States more commonly uses to describe India.
Last weekend, Donald Lu, the deputy assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian affairs, visited Dhaka. Lu has been involved in controversy in Pakistan, where Khan accused him—without evidence—of helping to orchestrate his ouster; and in Nepal, where he reportedly threatened to review U.S. relations with the country if it did not ratify a Millennium Challenge Corporation infrastructure package. But he offered effusive praise of Bangladesh during his trip and pledged future cooperation on several fronts.
U.S.-Bangladesh relations still face challenges, including Dhaka’s human rights record. As a nonaligned state, Bangladesh has concerns about getting embroiled in great-power competition. That Lu stopped in India en route likely didn’t sit well with Bangladesh, which doesn’t like to be put in a club with India.
Deadly plane crash in Nepal. Last Sunday, a Yeti Airlines flight crashed near Pokhara, Nepal’s second-most-populous city, killing all 72 people on board. Investigators are still trying to determine the cause of the crash, which is the third-deadliest in Nepal’s history. Air safety has long been a major concern in the country. Just last May, 22 people died when a plane crashed into a mountain after taking off from Pokhara.
Experts cite several factors that elevate the risks of air travel in Nepal, from volatile weather and difficult topography to the poor upkeep of aging aircraft. Kathmandu has prioritized improving air safety, especially given that tourism is a key contributor to Nepal’s economy.
Under the Radar
India isn’t the only South Asian country with a long-standing border dispute with China. There are also contested areas along China’s nearly 300-mile border with Bhutan, which has no formal relations with Beijing. Last week brought some encouraging news as the two sides announced a “positive consensus” around the implementation of a 2021 roadmap intended to expedite border negotiations.
The details of the framework are not public, but a joint statement released after the latest round of talks last week noted that in a “frank, cordial and constructive atmosphere,” the two sides exchanged views on the roadmap. In a region rife with intractable border disputes, any progress is notable.
India, which borders both China and Bhutan, will certainly watch these developments carefully. In 2017, India had a long border standoff with China in Doklam, a region that Bhutan and India view as Bhutanese territory located in the so-called trijunction of the three countries.