How vulnerable are NYC’s underwater subway tunnels to flooding?Ashley Fetters New York City is full of peculiar phenomena—rickety fire escapes; 100-year-old subway tunnels; air conditioners propped perilously into window frames—that can strike fear into the heart of even the toughest city denizen. But should they? Every month, writer Ashley Fetters will be exploring—and debunking—these New York-specific fears, letting you know what you should actually worry about, and what anxieties you can simply let slip away. The 25-minute subway commute from Crown Heights to the Financial District on the 2/3 line is, in my experience, a surprisingly peaceful start to the workday—save for one 3,100-foot stretch between the Clark Street and Wall Street stations, where for three minutes I sit wondering what the probability is that I will soon die a torturous, claustrophobic drowning death right here in this subway car. The Clark Street Tunnel, opened in 1916, is one of approximately a dozen tunnels that escort MTA passengers from one borough to the next underwater—and just about all of them, with the exception of the 1989 addition of the 63rd Street F train tunnel, were constructed between 1900 and 1936. Each day, thousands of New Yorkers venture across the East River and back again through these tubes buried deep in the riverbed, some of which are nearing or even past their 100th birthdays. Are they wrong to ponder their own mortality while picturing one of these watery catacombs suddenly springing a leak? Mostly yes, they are, says Michael Horodniceanu, the former president of MTA Capital Construction and current principal of Urban Advisory Group. First, it’s important to remember that the subway tunnel is built under the riverbed, not just in the river—so what immediately surrounds the tunnel isn’t water but some 25 feet of soil. “There’s a lot of dirt on top of it,” Horodniceanu says. “It’s well into the bed of the bottom of the channel.” And second, as Angus Kress Gillespie, author of Crossing Under the Hudson: The Story of the Holland and Lincoln Tunnels, points out, New York’s underwater subway tunnels are designed to withstand some leaking. And withstand it they do: Pumps placed below the floor of the tunnel, he says, are always running, always diverting water seepage into the sewers. (Horodniceanu says the amount of water these pumps divert into the sewer system each day numbers in the thousands of gallons.) Additionally, MTA crews routinely repair the grouting and caulking, and often inject a substance into the walls that creates a waterproof membrane outside the tunnel—which keeps water out of the tunnel and relieves any water pressure acting on its walls. New tunnels, Horodniceanu points out, are even built with an outside waterproofing membrane that works like an umbrella: Water goes around it, it falls to the sides, and then it gets channeled into a pumping station and pumped out. Of course, the classic New York nightmare scenario isn’t just a cute little trickle finding its way in. The anxiety daydream usually involves something sinister, or seismic. The good news, however, is that while an earthquake or explosion would indeed be bad for many reasons, it likely wouldn’t result in the frantic flooding horror scene that plays out in some commuters’ imaginations. The Montague Tube, which sustained severe damage during Hurricane Sandy. MTA New York City Transit / Marc A. Hermann Horodniceanu assures me that tunnels built more recently are “built to withstand a seismic event.” The older tunnels, however—like, um, the Clark Street Tunnel—“were not seismically retrofitted, let me put it that way,” Horodniceanu says. “But the way they were built is in such a way that I do not believe an earthquake would affect them.” They aren’t deep enough in the ground, anyway, he says, to be too intensely affected by a seismic event. (The MTA did not respond to a request for comment.) One of the only real threats to tunnel infrastructure, Horodniceanu adds, is extreme weather. Hurricane Sandy, for example, caused flooding in the tunnels, which “created problems with the infrastructure.” He continues, “The tunnels have to be rebuilt as a result of saltwater corroding the infrastructure.” Still, he points out, hurricanes don’t exactly happen with no warning. So while Hurricane Sandy did cause major trauma to the tunnels, train traffic could be stopped with ample time to keep passengers out of harm’s way. In 2012, Governor Andrew Cuomo directed all the MTA’s mass transit services to shut down at 7 p.m. the night before Hurricane Sandy was expected to hit New York City. And Gillespie, for his part, doubts even an explosion would result in sudden, dangerous flooding. A subway tunnel is not a closed system, he points out; it’s like a pipe that’s open at both ends. “The force of a blast would go forwards and backwards out the exit,” he says. So the subway-train version of that terrifying Holland Tunnel flood scene in Sylvester Stallone’s Daylight is … unrealistic, right? “Yeah,” Gillespie laughs. “Yeah. It is.” Got a weird New York anxiety that you want explored? E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, and we may include it in a future column.
A contingent of military officials is quietly pushing the Pentagon to approve sending F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine to help the country defend itself from Russian missile and drone attacks, according to three people with knowledge of the discussions.
Ukraine has kept American-made F-16s on its weapons wish list since the Russian invasion last year. But Washington and Kyiv have viewed artillery, armor and ground-based air defense systems as more urgent needs as Ukraine seeks to protect civilian infrastructure and claw back ground occupied by Russian forces.
As Ukraine prepares to launch a new offensive to retake territory in the spring, the campaign inside the Defense Department for fighter jets is gaining momentum, according to a DoD official and two other people involved in the discussions. Those people, along with others interviewed for this story, asked not to be named in order to discuss internal matters.
Spurred in part by the rapid approval of tanks and Patriot air defense systems — which not long ago were off-limits for export to Ukraine — there is renewed optimism in Kyiv that U.S. jets could be next up.
Biden announces U.S. will send Abrams tanks to UkraineShare
“I don’t think we are opposed,” said a senior DoD official about the F-16s, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive debate. The person stressed that there has been no final decision.
However, Ukraine has yet to declare that fighter jets are its top priority, the official stressed, noting that the Pentagon is focused on sending Kyiv the capabilities it needs for the immediate fight.
But fighter jets may be moving to the top spot soon. Kyiv has renewed its request for modern fighters in recent days, with a top adviser to the country’s defense minister telling media outlets that officials will push for jets from the U.S. and European countries.
One adviser to the Ukrainian government said the subject has been raised with Washington, but there has been “nothing too serious” on the table yet. Another person familiar with the conversations between Washington and Kyiv said it could take “weeks” for the U.S. to make a decision on shipments of its own jets and approve the re-export of the F-16s from other countries.
“If we get them, the advantages on the battlefield will be just immense. … It’s not just F-16s: fourth generation aircraft, this is what we want,” Yuriy Sak, who advises Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov, told Reuters.
A White House spokesperson declined to comment for this story, but pointed to remarks by deputy national security adviser Jon Finer. He said the U.S. would be discussing fighter jets “very carefully” with Kyiv and its allies.
“We have not ruled in or out any specific systems,” Finer said on MSNBC Thursday.
“We have nothing to announce regarding F-16s,” said a DOD spokesperson. “As always, we’ll continue to consult closely with the Ukrainians and our international Allies and partners on Ukraine’s security assistance needs to enable them to defend their country.”
Ukraine wants modern fighters — U.S. Air Force F-16s or F-15s, or their European equivalents the German Tornado or Swedish Gripen — to replace its fleet of Soviet-era jets. Dozens of the more modern planes will become available over the next year as countries such as Finland, Germany and the Netherlands upgrade to U.S. F-35 fighters.
Despite the age of Ukraine’s jets, Kyiv’s integrated air defenses have kept Russia from dominating its skies since the Feb. 24 invasion.
But now, officials are concerned that Ukraine is running out of missiles to protect its skies. Once its arsenal is depleted, Russia’s advanced fighter jets will be able to move in and Kyiv “will not be able to compete,” said the DoD official involved in the discussions.
Modern fighter jets could be one solution to this problem, argues a group of military officials in the Pentagon and elsewhere. F-16s carry air-to-air missiles that can shoot down incoming missiles and drones. And unlike the Patriots and National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile Systems the West is currently sending, fighter jets can move around an area quickly to protect different targets.
“If they get [F-16] Vipers and they have an active air-to-air missile with the radar the F-16 currently has with some electronic protection, now it’s an even game,” the DoD official said.
Even if the U.S. decided not to send the Air Force’s F-16s, other Western nations have American-made fighters they could supply. For example, Dutch Foreign Affairs Minister Wopke Hoekstra told the Dutch parliament last week that his Cabinet would look at supplying F-16s, if Kyiv requests them. But the U.S. must approve the transfer.
Senior Pentagon officials acknowledge that Ukraine needs new aircraft for the long term. But for now, some argue that Ukraine has a greater need for more traditional air defenses, such as the Patriots and NASAMs that the U.S. and other countries are supplying, because jets may take months to arrive.
Sending Ukraine F-16s “does not solve the cruise missile or drone problem right now,” the senior DoD official said.
Big push for training
Others say the need for fighter jets is more urgent. Ukraine has identified a list of up to 50 pilots who are ready now to start training on the F-16, according to a DoD official and a Ukrainian official, as well as three other people familiar with the discussions. These seasoned pilots speak English and have thousands of combat missions under their belts, and could be trained in as little as three months, the people said.
Many of them have already trained with the U.S. military in major exercises before the invasion. In 2011 and 2018, Americans and Ukrainians participated in military drills in the skies over Ukraine. In 2011, the Americans brought over their F-16s and taught the Ukrainian pilots, in their MiG-29s and Su-27s, how to protect a stadium in preparation for the 2012 Euro Cup.
After Russia illegally annexed Crimea in 2014, the U.S. and Ukraine held a second joint 2018 exercise aimed at teaching Ukrainian pilots homeland defense tactics and controlling the skies. The American pilots used their F-15s to replicate Russian fighter tactics.
Ukraine is pushing the U.S. to start training its fighter pilots on the F-16s now, before President Joe Biden approves supplying the jets, according to the Ukrainian official and one of the people familiar. But there is no appetite in the Pentagon for this proposal, U.S. officials said. One alternative under discussion at lower levels is to start training Ukrainian pilots on introductory fighter tactics in trainer jets.
Ukraine has also considered contracting with private companies in the U.S. to begin training pilots, according to one of the people familiar with the matter.
It’s likely U.S. military training would not start without a presidential decision to supply American fighters. One concern for the Biden administration all along is that sending advanced weapons could be seen by Russia as an escalation, prompting Vladimir Putin to use nuclear weapons.
But officials point out that the F-16 was first built in the 1980s, and the Air Force is already retiring parts of the fleet. While sending Ukraine the stealthy American F-22s or F-35s would be considered escalatory, sending F-16s would not, they said.
“Let’s face it, a nuclear war isn’t going to happen over F-16s,” the DoD official said.
One European official agreed, saying F-16s “cannot be considered escalatory.”
“It’s simply part of the toolkit of having conventional weapons,” the person said.
Yet F-16s are complex systems that also require massive infrastructure and highly skilled technicians to operate and maintain. Training Ukrainian maintainers would likely take longer than training the pilots, and the U.S. may need to bring in contractors to do some of that instruction.
Providing F-16s is likely to win some support on Capitol Hill, where Democrats and Republicans alike have chided the administration for not moving quickly enough or for withholding certain capabilities, such as longer-range artillery. Sending Russian-made MiG fighters to Ukraine, via Eastern European countries that still fly them, won bipartisan support, though a weapons swap ultimately never came to fruition.
Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.), who co-chairs the Congressional Ukrainian Caucus, said he’s “not against” providing F-16s to Kyiv, but broadly favors providing Ukraine with “whatever works.”
“You can’t half-ass a war. Putin’s not. You’ve got to meet Putin armor for armor, weapon for weapon, because there’s already an extraordinary disadvantage in number of troops,” Quigley said. “Whatever works, whatever they need, send to them.
“My message when I first started talking about this is what were once vices are now habits,” he said. “Everything we ever proposed was seen as escalatory.”
But the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Adam Smith (Wash.), cast doubt on the need to send F-16s into the conflict, where fighters haven’t proved pivotal.
“I’m not opposed to it,” Smith said. “It’s just not at the top of the list of anybody’s priorities who’s focused on what [weapons] the fight really needs right now.”
He noted that F-16s, much like older MiG jets debated last year, would be vulnerable to Russian air defenses and fifth-generation fighters. Instead, Smith underscored the need to supply ammunition for air defense batteries, longer-range missiles, tanks and armored vehicles.
“What we really need to be focused on is air defense, number one,” he said. “And number two, artillery.”
The decision to move the hand forward resulted from the progressive interconnected threats of nuclear war, climate change, and global pandemics coupled with the current war in Ukraine.
The risk of nuclear war — either by accident, intent, or miscalculation — is ever heightened in today’s world. Each of the nuclear nations is modernizing their nuclear arsenals, erroneously thinking that these weapons will make them safer or that there can be a winner in a nuclear war.
The non-nuclear nations of the world are refusing to be held hostage, bullied by the nuclear nations, and are moving forward to abolish these weapons by ratifying the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. This treaty makes it illegal to use, stockpile, build, transfer, or threaten to use nuclear weapons — and just this past Sunday celebrated its second anniversary since entering into force. Currently 92 nations have signed the Treaty with 68 nations having ratified it. These countries understand the growing danger of these interrelated issues and the reality that there is no adequate medical or humanitarian response to even a limited use of nuclear weapons.
By contrast, the legal obligation to work in good faith to abolish nuclear weapons under Article VI of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of nuclear weapons, (NPT) has been ignored by the nuclear nations. Our national elected officials lacking the courage to take the bold initiatives necessary to reverse the arms race, and funded by the very manufacturers of these weapons, have made little progress, if any, toward reducing the nuclear threat.
Ultimately, it is up to the people to build the political will — and provide the political cover — for our elected officials to take these necessary steps.
While most reasonable people understand the need to abolish these weapons, few officials have been willing to suggest elimination as a first step. Fortunately, there is a voice of reason in a growing grassroots coalition in the United States, endorsed by 426 organizations, 66 cities and 7 state legislative bodies along with 329 local, state and federal elected officials. This Back from the Brink movement supports the elimination of nuclear weapons through a negotiated, verifiable time-bound process with the common sense precautionary measures necessary during the process to prevent nuclear war. It calls on the U.S. to lead a global effort to prevent nuclear war by:
1. Actively pursuing a verifiable agreement among nuclear armed states to eliminate their arsenals; 2. Renouncing the option of using nuclear weapons first; 3. Ending the sole, unchecked authority of any U.S. President to launch a nuclear attack; 4. Taking U.S. nuclear weapons off hair-trigger alert; 5. Cancelling the plan to replace the entire U.S. nuclear arsenal with enhanced weapons.
Back from the Brink can be endorsed by all persons and will be reintroduced into our national legislative process in the weeks to come.
Each of us has a role to play in the final outcome.
Remaining silent implies consent with the status quo. We must demand that our elected officials endorse these bills and work together for our future with the complete elimination of nuclear weapons. It’s 90 seconds till midnight.
Robert Dodge, M.D., is a family physician practicing in Ventura, Calif. He is the President of Physicians for Social Responsibility Los Angeles (www.psr-la.org), and sits on the National Board serving as the Co-Chair of the Committee to Abolish Nuclear Weapons of National Physicians for Social Responsibility (www.psr.org). Physicians for Social Responsibility received the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize and is a partner organization of ICAN, recipient of the 2017 Nobel Peace Price. Dodge also sits on the Steering Committee of Back from the Brink.
On Jan. 24, history was again made when the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’ organization moved the seconds hand of the Doomsday Clock closer to midnight. It is now at ‘90 seconds to midnight,’ the closest it has ever been to the symbolic midnight hour of global catastrophe.
The announcement, made during a news conference held in Washington D.C., was delivered in English, Ukrainian and Russian. The released statement described our current moment in history as “a time of unprecedented danger.”https://www.youtube.com/embed/KxB9dM0u4mU?wmode=transparent&start=0The virtual news conference hosted by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists for the Doomsday Clock Announcement.
In the late 1940s, the new threat of atomic weapons cast a dark cloud over the world. The Doomsday Clock was meant to be a warning to humanity about the dangers of nuclear weapons; later in the 20th century it was expanded to consider other human-made threats.
Nuclear weapons prompt a special existential anxiety, as weapons of mass destruction have the potential to eradicate entire cultures, lands, languages and lives. In the case of a nuclear attack, the future would be altered in a way that becomes inconceivable for us to process.
The significance of the Doomsday Clock as a metaphorical time-keeping exercise serves as a graphic symbol of human-made multiplying perils. As the time to midnight has drawn closer, the urgency of the threat is intensified.
“Russia’s nuclear doctrine allows the use of such munitions if weapons of mass destruction are used against it or if the Russian state faces an existential threat from conventional weapons. We will certainly make use of all weapon systems available to us. This is not a bluff,” Putin warned.
The above statement is an operative excerpt from what Russian President Putin said. The term “existential threat” directly implies that if ‘red lines’ defined by Russia are likely to be crossed, Russia reserves the right to use nuclear weapons.
The latest decision of Germany and the US to send their most modern tanks in substantial numbers to Ukraine might be the proverbial ‘red line,’ which Western nations are about to cross.
The Russia-Ukraine war will be 365 days old on February 24, 2023. A considerable quantity of arms and ammunition has already been sent to Ukraine by western nations led by the USA. The latest platform to be sent to Ukraine will likely be Leopard tanks from Germany and its allies and US-made Abrams tanks.
Leopard tanks of German origin might reach Ukraine in a matter of days from dispatch from Germany and Poland. However, US Abrams tanks will take a little longer to reach Ukraine.
The most relevant operational issue is whether Russia will wait for supplies of Leopard and Abrams tanks to reach Ukraine. The possibility of Air Interdiction by the Russian Air Force on supply from Germany/Poland by land route cannot be ruled out.
Although it would imply the Russian Air Force is striking well within the territory of NATO member nation Germany. Likewise, interdiction of US ships carrying Abrams tanks on high seas might also be an option.
Russia is unlikely to allow the bolstering of Ukraine’s land forces by nearly 60 plus Leopard and Abram tanks. Russian options, therefore, are limited to either preventing the supplies en route to Ukraine or escalating the war by issuing a direct threat of the use of nukes if USA/Germany/Poland do not retract from their decision to send tanks to Ukraine.
Western nations’ decision to continue and escalate the war in Ukraine by providing major weapon platforms viz HIMARS Rocket system and now tanks will almost certainly push Russia in the corner, leaving no option but to retaliate.
Retaliation could almost certainly be in the form of low yield/low air burst Tactical Nuclear Weapon over Germany.
Self-proclaimed ‘peacekeeper’ of the world, the USA has sent nearly USD 48 Billion as aid to Ukraine to fight Russia. Weapons, equipment, and security aid amount to almost USD 23 billion. Direct financial and humanitarian assistance amounts to USD 25 Billion. In addition to the USA, nearly 40 countries have provided direct military aid to Ukraine.
Weapons supplied by the USA to Ukraine range from infantry weapons, air defense systems, air-to-ground missiles, explosive and surveillance drones, manned aircraft (20 Mi-17s), artillery pieces, tanks and armored carriers, ground support vehicles (1000 Humvees), satellite communication terminals, radars of various kinds, communication facilities, ECM/ECCM equipment to name a few.
What an outstanding example of international diplomacy wherein an ‘innocent’ friend thousands of miles from US shores might suffer the fate of Hiroshima and Nagasaki but not at the hands of the proclaimed nuclear offenders but by its (mis)deeds forcing another nation Russia to use nukes.
Gp Cpt TP Srivastava (Retd) is an ex-NDA who flew MiG-21 and 29. He is a qualified flying instructor. He commanded the MiG-21 squadron. He is a directing staff at DSSC Wellington and chief instructor at the College of Air Warfare.
TEL AVIV – U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is visiting Israel and the West Bank on Monday and Tuesday, about a month into Israel’s new ultra-right-wing, religiously conservative government led by returning Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The top U.S. diplomat’s trip coincides with a flare-up in Israeli-Palestinian violence. But it was long planned, and follows a visit to Egypt. Blinken is in the region to take stock ofthreats new and old — new threats to checks and balances on Israel’s democracy, often described as “the only democracy in the Middle East,” and familiar threats from Iran.
Israel-Palestinian violence: What happened? Why this new uptick?
Israel routinely raids Palestinian areas to arrest suspected militants and round up weapons. Nine Palestinians were killed on Thursday when Israel’s army raided a refugee camp in Jenin, in the West Bank. Seven of those killed were militants, three of whom belonged to the Islamic Jihad group. One of the civilians who died was a 61-year-old woman. The death toll was one of the highest for a single raid in years.
The next day, a Palestinian militant killed seven Israelis outside a synagogue in an Israeli settlement neighborhood of Jerusalem. That too was one of the deadliest single Palestinian attacks against Israelis for some time. On Saturday, a 13-year-old Palestinian boy shot and wounded two Israelis.
Netanyahu has vowed a “strong, fast and accurate” response to the killings of Israelis. He said he will, for example, speed up access to gun licenses for civilians.
Sami Hijjawi, mayor of Nablus, a Palestinian city in the West Bank, blames the escalating violence on the Israeli army and its military operations in cities like Jenin and Nablus. “There is no hope among the youth so they don’t fear anything. They are ready to resist and take up arms,” he said.
What’s behind the recent protests in Israel against Netanyahu?
Tens of thousands of Israelis have taken to the streets four weeks in a row to demonstrate against the Netanyahu government’s plans to reform Israel’s judicial system. The reforms will significantly weaken the powers held by Israel’s Supreme Court, making it impossible for the court to strike down laws passed in parliament. The government also wants to be in control of appointing Supreme Court judges.
“Israel’s democracy is under attack from within by a government that is trying to make it into a Hungary-like regime,” said Roee Neuman, one of the organizers of the weekly protests, referring to that country’s prime minister, Viktor Orban, who has gutted Hungary’s democratic institutions. “This is a real threat for the Israeli economy, to women, the LGBTQ community and every minority that won’t have any defense from the state. We’ll continue to protest and use any tool in our arsenal to save the Israeli democracy,” said Neuman, who works in communications.
Israel and Iran: a dangerous nuclear stalemate
Attempts to revive a nuclear deal between Iran and world powers had stalled even before Tehran last year started a violent crackdown on human rights demonstrations, initially sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini at the hands of Iran’s so-called morality police. Netanyahu bitterly opposes the accord, known as the JCPOA. During his previous two stints as prime minister, he intensified Israel’s military attacks inside Iran as part of a vow not to let Iran reach a stage where it can make a nuclear weapon.
Over the weekend, Israel carried out a drone attack inside Iran that struck a defense facility in Isfahan, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing U.S. officials, in what appears to be the first such strike Netanyahu has authorized since returning to power.
Israel has not commented on the attack and Iranian state media claimed the facility sustained only “minor damage.” It is unclear whether the facility that was hit is involved in making drones supplied to Russia used in its campaign against Ukraine, though a senior aide to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy linked the incident directly to the war there. “Explosive night in Iran,” Mykhailo Podolyak tweeted Sunday. “Did warn you.”
Netanyahu’s stance on the JCPOA played well with the Trump administration, which pulled the U.S. out of the agreement. But it strained relations with the Obama administration which devised the nuclear agreement and threatens to do that again under Biden’s.
Still, Yaakov Peri, the former head of Israel’s Shin Bet security agency, said in a private WhatsApp message that he didn’t think there would be “any disagreements” between the U.S. and Israel over Iran.
“About the political situation in Israel, Blinken will be worried, and as always (Netanyahu) will not say the truth and will try to calm him, and say that he will not allow Israel’s democracy to be damaged. I hope that Blinken will not believe him.”
The politically powerful Shia cleric has stood up to Iran and his volatile persona continues to mesmerise his Iraqi compatriots
Sat Jan 28 2023 – 05:00
Ask any Iraqi about politics and talk will soon turn to Muqtada al-Sadr. Widely known by the mononym “Muqtada”, he wields unparalleled clout as Shia cleric, militia boss and political leader. Often described as mercurial, his sudden shifts of mood and changes of mind have the country gripped.
He’s lying low right now, licking his wounds after a failed attempt to change the political system that involved some serious tussles with Iran – which views Iraq as its “near abroad”. Having been a permanent fixture in Iraqi politics since the 2003 US invasion, Iraqis are watching for his next move.
“Even Muqtada does not know what Muqtada wants,” comes the answer.
Sadr was long the bad boy of Iraqi politics. The Pentagon dubbed his Mahdi Army Iraq’s biggest security threat. This was back when his militiamen would attack US and British troops with Iranian bombs, later specialising in ultra-violence against Sunnis and mafia-style criminality. Anticipating a US troop surge, Sadr fled to Iran for four years.
By 2011, he was back. His militiamen, rebranded as Saraya al-Saram, fought Islamic State under the umbrella of the Hashd al-Shaabi, a group of mainly Shia militias backed by Iran. But, over the years, Sadr was playing it his way, competing with Iran’s proxies to embed his own people in key ministries, signing up to the ruling class while positioning himself as an outlaw reformist at the centre of successive protest movements.
It’s a strategy that gave him financial firepower and political leverage, turning his Sadrist movement into a major political force. But working against the dysfunctional system while being at the heart of that same system has led to some strange contortions.
Take the 2019 Tishreen protests, in which young Iraqis sought to overturn the system, blaming Iranian meddling for high unemployment, rampant corruption and abysmal services. Recognising a battle for the nation’s soul was under way, Sadr got involved, sending his “blue hats” on to protest sites to help defend the protesters against security forces and militias, who were shooting to kill. By the end of November 2019, protesters had brought down the government.
But the US assassination of Iranian general Qasem Soleimani and Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis changed everything. Soon, Sadr was off to the Iranian holy city of Qom, breaking bread with the very Iran-backed factions the protesters were demonstrating against, agreeing to form an anti-US resistance front and selecting a new prime minister.
Feeling betrayed, protesters ignored Sadr’s calls to march against US presence in Iraq. They also denounced the new prime minister-designate, who would swiftly withdraw his candidacy, as an establishment stooge. In Qom, Sadr had also offered to neutralise the protests, pitching himself as a leader who could fill the power vacuum left by the US strike. Once he’d withdrawn his support, his “blue hats” switched from protectors to killers, torching sites, using blades and firearms to disperse protesters.
Having sacrificed protesters on the altar of his opportunism, Sadr’s bid to be Iran’s number one in Iraq failed. “The Iranians never went for it,” says Ben Robin-D’Cruz, a specialist in Shia movements at Aarhus University. “They don’t trust Sadr. They know that if they empowered him, he would become a weapon that could be dangerous to them. They prefer to keep things fragmented.”
But Sadr’s anti-establishment streak does run deep. This is the son of Ayatollah Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr, a hero among Iraqi Shia, a champion of the poor. Repeatedly locked up by Saddam Hussein’s regime, he was assassinated by regime forces in 1999 while driving his two sons home in the holy city of Najaf – a revered martyr.
Sadr the son inherited his father’s massive support base. In good times and bad, he can count on the devotion of millions of Iraq’s Shia poor, people from places like the slums of Sadr City in Baghdad and southeastern Maysan province, who have been marginalised from politics, who will always keep the faith.
“It’s not like the other militias where people join for jobs and money,” says activist Hatem Tome. “Sadr’s people love him. His power is in his people, his millions of followers. He has the money and the guns and the most control over people.”
Sadr does not have the religious authority of his father, partly because he hasn’t finished his religious studies. But, ever the populist, he has cultivated a messianic persona, using a walking stick reminiscent of his father’s staff, turning up to meetings in Najaf in an old Mitsubishi Gallant, the same car his father was driving when he was shot. His cred is further burnished by his marriage to the daughter of Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr, another Shia giant, martyred in 1980.
All of this lends him a certain mystique. Some of his most fervent followers swear he is Imam al-Mahdi himself, the last of the 12 Shia imams, who will reappear in end times as the world’s last saviour, says Muhtada al-Quraishi, an Iraq-based political blogger. His family in the city of Wasit have been devoted Sadrists for decades.
But magical thinking will only get you so far in the ruthless world of politics. Emerging victorious in the 2021 election, Sadr tried to outmanoeuvre Iran, working to exclude its Shia proxies from power, joining forces with parliament’s Sunni and Kurdish blocs to form an alliance called “Save the Homeland”. US think tanks lauded him as a poster boy for Iraqi nationalism, a leader capable of extracting the country from Iranian influence, bringing it closer to its Arab neighbours.
Panicked, Tehran sent top general Esmail Ghaani, Soleimani’s successor as head of Iran’s foreign ops, to Sadr’s house in Najaf. According to a Reuters investigation, Ghaani told Sadr that if he included Iran’s allies in a coalition, Tehran would recognise him as Iraq’s main Shia political figure. Sadr reportedly replied: “What does Iraqi politics have to do with you?”
Last August, as Sadr struggled to form a government, Tehran went for the jugular, leaning on his Iran-based mentor, Ayatollah Kadhim al-Haeri, to denounce him in his resignation speech. Haeri accused Sadr of dividing the Shia, calling on Sadrists to seek guidance from Iran’s leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. It was a low blow – Haeri had been anointed as the movement’s spiritual adviser by Sadr’s father.
Sadr reacted by tweeting his retirement from politics, inciting his followers to breach Baghdad’s high-security Green Zone, where they clashed with Iran’s proxies in a bloody battle that left dozens dead. Less than 24 hours later, he was on the airwaves, restoring calm. Sadr had shown he was a force to be reckoned with, but he’d brought the country to the brink of a Shia-on-Shia war in the process.
“There is a logic to how violence is used in the system,” says Renad Mansour, of London-based think tank Chatham House. “Sadr uses it within the confines of the system.”
The ship of state has since sailed on, with Tehran’s parties at the helm. It seems unlikely that there will be any changes before 2025, which leaves Sadr’s foes enough time to remove his allies from top government jobs and tinker with electoral law. Having recently announced his return to politics, it’s thought he will emerge as a protest leader.
“They will want to up the pressure gradually,” says Sajad Jiyad, an Iraq-based analyst. “One method would be to support protests, seizing on any government scandals or failures as a trigger. This could be about the cost of living, the decline in the dinar exchange rate, or something else that makes people angry…”
However, his betrayal of anti-government protesters has not been forgotten. Quraishi, who took part in the protests, thinks Sadr has blown it. “He lost the support of the people. They thought he would bring justice to Iraq. But he didn’t stand with Tishreen,” he says.
For many critics, Sadr is just a militia boss who can whip up a mob at whim. August’s battle in the Green Zone could have ended in more bloodshed, had it not been for Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, leader of Iraq’s Shia. Sistani told Sadr to order a stop to the violence, threatening to make a rare public intervention. In a system where clerics hold the real power, Sistani is arguably the most powerful man in Iraq.
At Baghdad’s al-Kadhimiya mosque, Shia pilgrims mill around on a long stretch of road, the gold domes of Imam Kazim’s shrine gleaming in the distance. Amid the stalls selling sweets and jewellery, Sadr’s portrait sits in a hall of fame of the Shia clergy, given equal billing to Sistani and his father. But one punter is not convinced. “The true leader of Iraq Shia is Sistani,” he says. “Even in Sadr City they look to him. Muqtada takes from the people, but he doesn’t give back.”
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Palestinian terrorists fired a barrage of rockets from the Gaza Strip at Israeli communities overnight Thursday, prompting retaliatory strikes by the IDF against Hamas assets.
The exchange came after nine Palestinians were killed during heavy clashes between Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Israeli troops in Jenin in northern Samaria Thursday morning.
At midnight, two rockets were fired from Gaza towards the southern city of Ashkelon, with both being intercepted by the Iron Dome air defense system.
A few hours later, three more rockets were fired towards Israeli communities located along the border with Gaza. One of the rockets was intercepted by Iron Dome, a second struck in an open area and the third fell short in the Strip, according to the IDF.
The military conducted retaliatory strikes on targets that included a military camp belonging to Hamas in northern Gaza that served as one of the terror organization’s most important focal points of activity.
The IDF said that it had caused “significant” damage to Hamas’s efforts to arm and strengthen itself, and reiterated Israel’s policy of holding the largest Gaza-based terrorist group responsible for any attacks emanating from the enclave it controls.
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said on Friday that he had instructed the defense establishment to “prepare for action with a range of offensive measures aimed at high-quality targets, in case it is necessary to continue to act—until peace is restored to the citizens of Israel.”
That plot, according to security sources, involved a Palestinian Islamic Jihad attack against Israelis to be carried out in the immediate future.
An Israel Defense Forces spokesman noted that most security operations in Judea and Samaria, commonly known as the West Bank, take place at night, to reduce what the military describes as “friction”—meaning reducing the chances of gun battles and clashes with gunmen and residents.
Yet this time, the IDF, Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet) and Border Police’s Counter-Terrorism Unit moved into the crowded Jenin area in broad daylight, employing techniques to maneuver in an urban sprawl that is a hub for heavily armed terrorists.
The daytime timing helps explain the high number of Palestinian casualties, most of them PIJ gunmen.
Israeli forces remain engaged in a counter-terrorism offensive, primarily in Judea and Samaria, in response to a series of Palestinian attacks that killed 31 people in 2022.