East Coast Still Unprepared For The Sixth Seal (Revelation 6:12)

East Coast Earthquake Preparedness
Posted: 08/25/2011 8:43 am EDT
WASHINGTON — There were cracks in the Washington Monument and broken capstones at the National Cathedral. In the District of Columbia suburbs, some people stayed in shelters because of structural concerns at their apartment buildings.
A day after the East Coast’s strongest earthquake in 67 years, inspectors assessed the damage and found that most problems were minor. But the shaking raised questions about whether this part of the country, with its older architecture and inexperience with seismic activity, is prepared for a truly powerful quake.
The 5.8 magnitude quake felt from Georgia north to Canada prompted swift inspections of many structures Wednesday, including bridges and nuclear plants. An accurate damage estimate could take weeks, if not longer. And many people will not be covered by insurance.
In a small Virginia city near the epicenter, the entire downtown business district was closed. School was canceled for two weeks to give engineers time to check out cracks in several buildings.
At the 555-foot Washington Monument, inspectors found several cracks in the pyramidion – the section at the top of the obelisk where it begins narrowing to a point.
A 4-foot crack was discovered Tuesday during a visual inspection by helicopter. It cannot be seen from the ground. Late Wednesday, the National Park Service announced that structural engineers had found several additional cracks inside the top of the monument.
Carol Johnson, a park service spokeswoman, could not say how many cracks were found but said three or four of them were “significant.” Two structural engineering firms that specialize in assessing earthquake damage were being brought in to conduct a more thorough inspection on Thursday.
The monument, by far the tallest structure in the nation’s capital, was to remain closed indefinitely, and Johnson said the additional cracks mean repairs are likely to take longer. It has never been damaged by a natural disaster, including earthquakes in Virginia in 1897 and New York in 1944.
Tourists arrived at the monument Wednesday morning only to find out they couldn’t get near it. A temporary fence was erected in a wide circle about 120 feet from the flags that surround its base. Walkways were blocked by metal barriers manned by security guards.
“Is it really closed?” a man asked the clerk at the site’s bookstore.
“It’s really closed,” said the clerk, Erin Nolan. Advance tickets were available for purchase, but she cautioned against buying them because it’s not clear when the monument will open.
“This is pretty much all I’m going to be doing today,” Nolan said.
Tuesday’s quake was centered about 40 miles northwest of Richmond, 90 miles south of Washington and 3.7 miles underground. In the nearby town of Mineral, Va., Michael Leman knew his Main Street Plumbing & Electrical Supply business would need – at best – serious and expensive repairs.
At worst, it could be condemned. The facade had become detached from the rest of the building, and daylight was visible through a 4- to 6-inch gap that opened between the front wall and ceiling.
“We’re definitely going to open back up,” Leman said. “I’ve got people’s jobs to look out for.”
Leman said he is insured, but some property owners might not be so lucky.
The Insurance Information Institute said earthquakes are not covered under standard U.S. homeowners or business insurance policies, although supplemental coverage is usually available.
The institute says coverage for other damage that may result from earthquakes, such as fire and water damage from burst gas or water pipes, is provided by standard homeowners and business insurance policies in most states. Cars and other vehicles with comprehensive insurance would also be protected.
The U.S. Geological Survey classified the quake as Alert Level Orange, the second-most serious category on its four-level scale. Earthquakes in that range lead to estimated losses between $100 million and $1 billion.
In Culpeper, Va., about 35 miles from the epicenter, walls had buckled at the old sanctuary at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, which was constructed in 1821 and drew worshippers including Confederate Gens. Robert E. Lee and J.E.B. Stuart. Heavy stone ornaments atop a pillar at the gate were shaken to the ground. A chimney from the old Culpeper Baptist Church built in 1894 also tumbled down.
At the Washington National Cathedral, spokesman Richard Weinberg said the building’s overall structure remains sound and damage was limited to “decorative elements.”
Massive stones atop three of the four spires on the building’s central tower broke off, crashing onto the roof. At least one of the spires is teetering badly, and cracks have appeared in some flying buttresses.
Repairs were expected to cost millions of dollars – an expense not covered by insurance.
“Every single portion of the exterior is carved by hand, so everything broken off is a piece of art,” Weinberg said. “It’s not just the labor, but the artistry of replicating what was once there.”
The building will remain closed as a precaution. Services to dedicate the memorial honoring Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. were moved.
Other major cities along the East Coast that felt the shaking tried to gauge the risk from another quake.
A few hours after briefly evacuating New York City Hall, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the city’s newer buildings could withstand a more serious earthquake. But, he added, questions remain about the older buildings that are common in a metropolis founded hundreds of years ago.
“We think that the design standards of today are sufficient against any eventuality,” he said. But “there are questions always about some very old buildings. … Fortunately those tend to be low buildings, so there’s not great danger.”
An earthquake similar to the one in Virginia could do billions of dollars of damage if it were centered in New York, said Barbara Nadel, an architect who specializes in securing buildings against natural disasters and terrorism.
The city’s 49-page seismic code requires builders to prepare for significant shifting of the earth. High-rises must be built with certain kinds of bracing, and they must be able to safely sway at least somewhat to accommodate for wind and even shaking from the ground, Nadel said.
Buildings constructed in Boston in recent decades had to follow stringent codes comparable to anything in California, said Vernon Woodworth, an architect and faculty member at the Boston Architectural College. New construction on older structures also must meet tough standards to withstand severe tremors, he said.
It’s a different story with the city’s older buildings. The 18th- and 19th-century structures in Boston’s Back Bay, for instance, were often built on fill, which can liquefy in a strong quake, Woodworth said. Still, there just aren’t many strong quakes in New England.
The last time the Boston area saw a quake as powerful as the one that hit Virginia on Tuesday was in 1755, off Cape Ann, to the north. A repeat of that quake would likely cause deaths, Woodworth said. Still, the quakes are so infrequent that it’s difficult to weigh the risks versus the costs of enacting tougher building standards regionally, he said.
People in several of the affected states won’t have much time to reflect before confronting another potential emergency. Hurricane Irene is approaching the East Coast and could skirt the Mid-Atlantic region by the weekend and make landfall in New England after that.
In North Carolina, officials were inspecting an aging bridge that is a vital evacuation route for people escaping the coastal barrier islands as the storm approaches.
Speaking at an earthquake briefing Wednesday, Washington Mayor Vincent Gray inadvertently mixed up his disasters.
“Everyone knows, obviously, that we had a hurricane,” he said before realizing his mistake.
“Hurricane,” he repeated sheepishly as reporters and staffers burst into laughter. “I’m getting ahead of myself!”
Associated Press writers Sam Hananel in Washington; Alex Dominguez in Baltimore; Bob Lewis in Mineral, Va.; Samantha Gross in New York City; and Jay Lindsay in Boston contributed to this report.

The Antichrist is doling out aid in Baghdad

Moqtada al-Sadr delivers a speech after Friday prayers at the Great Mosque of Kufa in the city of Najaf in November 2022.
Moqtada al-Sadr delivers a speech after Friday prayers at the Great Mosque of Kufa in the city of Najaf in November 2022. Photograph: Qassem Al-Kaabi/AFP/Getty Images

Guns, cash, and frozen chicken: the militia boss doling out aid in Baghdad

Former Shia fighter who had murderous reputation during civil war now offers help to city’s widows and orphans

Ghaith Abdul-Ahad in Baghdad

Mon 20 Mar 2023 01.00 EDT

On a recent warm afternoon, a white, American-made SUV drove down the streets of the eastern Baghdad district of Sadr City. In the passenger seat sat an older militia boss, and behind him were two bodyguards, his five-year-old son, and a Kalashnikov. Their first stop was a small grocery shop, where a young man with a mop of ginger hair was busy serving customers.

One of the bodyguards beckoned to the young man, who came hurriedly and stood a respectful distance from the car. The militia boss stopped toying with his automatic pistol, pulled out a brown envelope from a large stash on the dashboard, and gave it to the young man, while one of the bodyguards handed him a small plastic bag from the back of the car.

“Go, my son,” said the boss in a husky voice. “This is your salary for this month, and a frozen chicken for your lunch.”

The young man accepted the largesse, bowed his head, and mumbled a few words of gratitude. A look of boredom flickered across the militiaman’s face, as he listened to a couple of old men who had gathered around the car, cheering, saluting, and calling upon Allah to bless the benefactor.

The car sped away, and the militia boss went back to toying with his gun. He told his bodyguards, who were stuffing money in more brown envelopes, that the young man’s father, who used to roam the streets selling sweets from a pushcart, was killed in 2015 when protesters tried to storm the Iraqi capital’s fortified Green Zone, which had been set up by the Americans after the invasion of 2003. “He is an orphan and he works in the shop to support his mother and sisters,” he said.

“May Allah curse all those people in the Green Zone,” replied one of the bodyguards.

Throughout the day, the car trudged through the crowded streets, sometimes driving down narrow alleys or across a flat dusty landscape dotted with concrete shacks, where children sifted through mounds of rubbish looking for plastic bottles and cans to resell. At one point the car drove along the bank of a 10-metre-wide canal flowing with green oily sewage. They made more than a dozen stops at houses that were no bigger than a small brick room with tiny holes for windows, some with corrugated metal sheets for roofs, and floors of bare earth.

Lakes of sewage waters and refuse on the outskirts of Sadr City.
Lakes of sewage waters and refuse on the outskirts of Sadr City. Photograph: Ghaith Abdul-Ahad

At each stop the scene was repeated: the militia boss passed a brown envelope stuffed with cash, a bodyguard gave a frozen chicken, and cheers and calls for blessings came from the recipients, who were invariably either widowed women or orphaned children whose menfolk had died in the cycles of violence that have engulfed Iraq since the US-led invasion in 2003.

One elderly woman, after receiving her envelope and frozen chicken, complained to the militia boss that her four mentally unwell boys were beating her up. She pointed at a young man, who stood naked but for a loose shirt, chained to an electricity poll next to a grocery shop, and said she didn’t know what else to do. The young man stood humming to himself while passersby ignored him.

“Look around you – there is so much misery in this city,” said the militia boss. “Whatever I can do to help, I do, and with my own money, because no one is here to help those people.” He added: “People come to me constantly seeking aid, but we only give to widows and orphans who don’t receive a state pension.”

He said that he found the people who were really in need using the same spy network he had used to track his enemies during the brutal, sectarian civil war fought between 2004 and 2008 as the country fell apart. “We send our intelligence teams to investigate them and vouch for them.”

But that day, as he was making his rounds, he did make an exception. A shop owner pointed to a house and said the man who lived there, a tea seller, could barely walk and the family were very poor. One of the bodyguards went to the door and called on the father to come out. A few minutes later a frail barefoot man came out, dragging his right leg behind him, with his right arm visibly shaking. They gave him an envelope, and the boss told his men to add the family to their list.

Iraqi soldiers in Baghdad in May 2006
Iraqi soldiers in Baghdad in May 2006. Photograph: Ghaith Abdul-Ahad

A militia boss turned philanthropist

The militia boss was in his mid-50s, and walked with a dignified gait, making religious references as he spoke. Illness and two decades of war had left their mark: stooping shoulders, deep wrinkles around his eyes, and scars from multiple injuries. He wore a black tracksuit, with a black keffiyeh draped loosely over his bald head. His trimmed moustache and beard were dyed jet black. His men called him “Boya”, a diminutive of father in Arabic. “We were children when we first started to fight under his command,” said one.

Before he became a philanthropist concerned with the wellbeing of Sadr City’s poorest people, his name struck fear into the heart of Baghdadis, as he and his men had committed some of the worst atrocities during the civil war.

Before that, he was a special forces NCO in the Iraqi army. He described that period as “the age of ignorance” before he found the “right path” and became a disciple of the charismatic Shia cleric Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr, whose sermons had channelled the anguish of the impoverished masses in Baghdad and the southern provinces during the years of sanctions between 1990 and 2003. The cleric’s charisma and popularity probably contributed to his assassination along with his two eldest sons in 1999.

Al Sadr’s youngest son, Moqtada al-Sadr, inherited not only his father’s network of clerics and his masses of devotees, but also his anti-American stance, which soon led to clashes between his followers – the Mahdi Army – and the Americans in the years after the US invasion. The militia boss now distributing frozen chickens was one of the hundreds who picked up arms and fought the Americans in the streets of Baghdad, Najaf and other Shia cities.

“We were poor and we fought with the scarcity of the weapons we had. People sold their furniture, their wives’ gold, to buy ammunition, but we had God and the banner of Imam Ali on our sides,” he said.

He told the driver of the SUV to take a detour and go down a wide two-lane thoroughfare, crowded on that afternoon with taxis, pickup trucks and motor-rickshaws. “This was our hunting ground,” he said. “We attacked the Americans every time they passed down this street. No one dared leave their house after sunset. Death was certain.

“Not everyone knew how to fight street battles, but I was in the special forces in Saddam’s army, and they used to drop us by helicopter into Kurdish villages to hunt for the guerrillas: the trick is to attack and withdraw.”

Of course in these glorious street battles, neither he and his men, nor the Americans, paid any attention to the civilians amid whom they were fighting. Twenty years later, some houses are still pockmarked with bullet holes.

The militia leader said his four eldest sons and his two brothers were captured by the Americans, but they never managed to get to him, because he never spent two nights in the same place and never owned a mobile phone. “These are spy devices invented by the Israelis to enslave us,” he said, pointing at a smartphone.

‘They killed people, we went after them’

By 2004 the war had shifted. Jihadis keen to start a civil war began targeting Shia neighbourhoods with car bombs, kidnapping and slaughtering Shia men. “Our fight became against two enemies, the Americans and the Takfiris,” he said, using a term for Sunni extremists.

US Marines arrive to help Iraqi civilians pull down a statue of Saddam Hussein, Baghdad, Iraq

And here is where the militia leader’s murderous reputation began spreading. Driven by a desire to avenge the killing of Shias, he and his men started raiding Sunni neighbourhoods, allegedly to kill “terrorists” but in reality kidnapping any men they found there.

Using ambulances, police trucks or black Opel sedans used by senior officials, they drove through police and army checkpoints unmolested. Sometimes their raids were conducted in coordination with the ministry of interior special forces, another infamous organisation that emerged during the civil war.

The militia chief’s name became a franchise for a multitude of gangs and militias that kidnapped, maimed and killed thousands. “They killed a lot of our people with their car bombs, but we went after them. I made the people of [the Baghdad neighbourhood] Adhamiya scared like chickens.”

He quickly rectified his comment, saying: “I swear by Allah we never killed in vain. We brought them here [to Sadr City], we interrogated them. And after they confessed to murder, a Shia cleric would issue us a fatwa. And only then would we execute them.”

Avenging the Shia became a lucrative business, he confessed, although he said it was “other commanders” who would extort ransom money for the “terrorists” they captured.

The bodies of those murdered by the Shia militia were dumped in mass graves, not far from where he was distributing aid that day.

As he spoke, his youngest son, squeezed between his father’s loyal bodyguards, fiddled with the barrel of a Kalashnikov taller than him.

The crowded streets of Sadr City

Sadr City has always been an overcrowded place, inhabited by poor people. The large working-class suburb that once sat on the eastern flanks of Baghdad is now an integrated part of the city after its urban expansion in recent decades. It was first devised in 1959, to house mostly peasants who had migrated from the south to escape the brutal feudal lords and lived in reed huts on the outskirts of Baghdad.https://interactive.guim.co.uk/uploader/embed/2023/03/baghdad-sadrcity/giv-134253KrFBaMR9dqN/

Originally named Thawra [Revolution] City, it was a hastily and cheaply constructed housing project, built on a grid pattern, and divided into sectors each containing 1,100 identical two-storey brick houses. In 1982 new residential blocks were added – along with eventually unsuccessful attempts to solve chronic sewage problems – and it was renamed Saddam City.

After the invasion it became the stronghold of Moqtada al-Sadr and his followers, and acquired its current name. But it’s most commonly known as al-Madia, The City. A place home to a large number of writers, musicians and artists – and a place where weapons are traded, documents are forged and military deserters have always found shelter.

In the 20 years since the invasion, its population has tripled. The crowded houses have been divided into smaller and smaller units, and Sadr City’s boundaries have expanded further to the east to accommodate waves of even poorer migrants from the south.

New houses built on the outskirts of Sadr City by migrants from the countryside.
New houses built on the outskirts of Sadr City by migrants from the countryside. Photograph: Ghaith Abdul-Ahad

Even Sadr City is beyond the reach of some. Many newcomers have settled on parched agricultural lands on outskirts that have been bulldozed and parcelled into tiny plots of land. New suburbs of cinder-block hovels have risen in recent years, forming slums behind the slums. Cars slowly negotiate the dirt roads with their gaping potholes. Dogs roam in fields of rubbish, where children collect plastic bottles and cans and sell them for recycling. Jungles of electrical wires are rigged between houses, siphoning electricity for the city’s main grid, and raw sewage is discharged into open canals, from where cat-size rats swarm into homes. Drinking water is sold from plastic tanks slung from the back of motorcycle rickshaws. These are the territories where the militia boss distributes his charity.

Sajad is short and stocky and dressed in a cream-coloured dishdasha and a long checkered keffiyeh. Like most residents of this wretched neighbourhood, he came to the Iraqi capital from the impoverished southern province of Ammara.

“At least here in Baghdad, you can work three or four days a week as a porter in the market, a day labourer, or open a stall selling tomatoes and vegetables and make 10k dinars ($6) a day. In the south, there is nothing but hunger,” he said

He held out his hands towards the dirt lane in front of his small house: “Before each election, politicians come and promise to pave the roads, bring us electricity and running water, and then they disappear.”

A torn Iraqi flag fluttered from the neighbourhood school, “The Rising Dawn”. It was built in 2014, with prefabricated containers, but the roofs sagged and were covered in corrugated metal sheets and the walls are rusty and cracked. In the summer it is stifling hot, and in the winter it drips with rain, but because of a shortage of local schools it is attended by four shifts of students each day.

On a recent afternoon, dozens of girls filled the dirt lane outside the school, jostling between the dozens of TukTuks parked outside, their pink headscarves bobbing up and down, as another group of girls trudged in the opposite direction, heading to class.

Schoolgirls finishing their classes in the outskirts of Sadr City.
Schoolgirls finishing their classes in the outskirts of Sadr City. Photograph: Ghaith Abdul-Ahad

“Although summer is very hot without electricity, it’s more merciful on us than winter,” Sajad said. “Because when it rains, the streets turn into swamps and sometimes schools close because the children sink up to their knees in mud.”

Farther to the east, beyond a small lake where tankers discharge the city’s sewage, where a carcass of a dead cow floated between plastic bottles and trash, lay an area known as Sadda, which means a dam in Arabic. Once part of the city’s flood defences along a river that has long since dried up, it became a dumping ground for Sunni victims of the civil war. Locals would bury their bodies under a thin layer of dirt, marking each grave with a piece of scrap metal or any other random object.

But what in 2009 was a mass grave is now a densely populated neighbourhood, as the city spread. “People often find bones and human skulls when they dig latrines,” said one local.

In the sectarian narrative of post-2003 Iraq, the Shia – who make up most of the population – were promised a place at the top of the new social order. Instead, for two decades, they became cannon fodder, while a small elite of politicians, warlords, militia commanders and their cronies have become billionaires. This deep social divide has allowed men like the militia boss to rebrand themselves as philanthropists.

“Don’t ask me why the state does not care for those people,” he said. “Ask me why the Shia clergy abandoned those people, why they invest in private hospitals, universities and factories – are those Shia more worthy of that wealth? Why do the ‘Big Turbans’ travel to London and Iran for medical help while these people – Shia like them – are living in these hovels?”

A makeshift cemetery for victims of sectarian killing on the eastern outskirts of Sadr City in 2008.
A makeshift cemetery for victims of sectarian killing on the eastern outskirts of Sadr City in 2008. Photograph: Ghaith Abdul-Ahad

‘Here I am among my people’

At one point during the civil war, the militia boss – like Moqtada al-Sadr himself, and many other Shia commanders – fled to Iran. While he was there, he says, the Revolutionary Guards (IGRC) encouraged him to form his own militia, splitting from the Mahdi Army. He says he refused. “My loyalty was and always will remain to Moqtada, he is my leader. Only a whore would change her allegiance for money.”

A few years later, he returned to Iraq, and found a comfortable place for himself in the fat margins of the corrupt Iraqi state, benefiting from government contracts and other deals. Twenty years after the invasion that ignited a civil war and granted power to men like him, there has been no accountability for those who stoked the conflict or murdered civilians.

Many of his fellow commanders, who fought in the same streets, have since become political leaders, fielding candidates in parliamentary elections, and controlling economic empires that siphon billions of dollars from the state budget. Twenty years on, he is still essentially a local militia boss, a glorified neighbourhood thug.

“I am happy here in this neighbourhood,” he said. “I can go live anywhere in Baghdad, but here I am among my people, they are my true protection.”

As he finished making his payments, he told the driver to go into a sidestreet, not far from where he fought the Americans. The car turned into an alley, and entered a large yard. Inside were a dozen or so armoured pickup trucks that had once belonged to the Iraqi army.

“These are all mine – and I have men and a lot of ammunition, too,” he said. “I keep them ready in case I ever need to use them again.”

The Iraq invasion: 20 years on, with Ghaith Abdul-Ahad

Join Ghaith Abdul-Ahad who will be talking to Devika Bhat in a livestreamed event on his powerful new book: A Stranger In Your Own City on Monday 27 March 2023, 8pm–9pm BST. Book tickets at theguardian.com/guardianlive

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Meet the Antichrist: Moqtada al-Sadr

Cleric who fought US troops is winning Iraq’s election: Meet Moqtada al Sadr

Natasha Turak | @NatashaTurak

Published 11:45 AM ET Mon, 14 May 2018 Updated 9:54 AM ET Tue, 15 May 2018 CNBC.com


Iraqi Shiite cleric and leader Moqtada al-Sadr (C-L) shows his ink-stained index finger and holds a national flag while surrounded by people outside a polling station in the central holy city of Najaf on May 12, 2018 as the country votes in the first parliamentary election since declaring victory over the Islamic State (IS) group.

More than 91 percent of Iraq’s votes have been tallied after polls closed over the weekend in Iraq’s first election since defeating the Islamic State (ISIS) late last year.
And they reveal a shock win for firebrand Iraqi cleric Moqtada al Sadr, who wasn’t even running for prime minister, along with his coalition allies, the Iraqi Communist Party.
He was followed by Iran-backed Shia militia leader Hadi Al Amiri, while incumbent Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi, initially predicted to win re-election, trailed in third. Voter turnout was a low 44.5 percent, indicating widespread voter apathy and pessimism, observers said.

Reports show that Sadr’s “Sairoon” alliance won more than 1.3 million votes, translating to 54 seats in the country’s 329-seat parliament, taking the greatest share among a broad and fractured array of parties.

Who is Moqtada al Sadr?

A win for Sadr, the populist Shia leader known for his anti-American campaigns and his populist appeal to Iraq’s young and poor, could dramatically change Iraq’s political landscape and its relationship with external powers like the U.S. and Iran.
In addition to pushing for the removal of U.S. troops from Iraq, Sadr is avidly opposed to Iranian influence in his country. That influence has grown significantly thanks to the pivotal role played by Iran-backed militias in driving out ISIS.
The influential cleric, who has millions of religious followers, cannot become prime minister as he did not run for the position himself — but his electoral success means he will likely have a key role in deciding who does.

Powerful charisma

Sadr has spearheaded a number of political movements in Iraq, gaining infamy for directing attacks on U.S. troops in the wake of the 2003 Iraq invasion. His charismatic sermons have drawn hundreds of thousands into the streets over a range of causes. More recently, he’s led campaigns and protests against corruption within the Shia-led government as well as against Iranian influence, and pledged to overcome sectarianism by leading a secular coalition that includes Iraq’s communists.
Sadr in 2003 created the Mahdi Army, which executed the first major armed confrontation against U.S. forces in Iraq led by the Shia community — and it posed such a threat that U.S. forces were instructed to kill or capture him. The group, which numbered up to 10,000, was also accused of carrying out atrocities against Iraq’s Sunnis. It was disbanded in 2008, but re-mobilized in 2014 to fight ISIS.
The cleric owes much of his religious following to the legacy of his father, an influential Iraqi ayatollah murdered in the 1990s for opposing former President Saddam Hussein, and has spent much of his career championing Shia causes.

AHMAD AL-RUBAYE | AFP | Getty Images

But in the last year, he’s undergone something of a reinvention: he has reached out to Sunni Gulf neighbors, most notably in 2017 visits to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, where he met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) powers typically shunned Iraq’s Shia, but are now making headway in the country through investment and economic aid, seen partially as an attempt to counter arch-rival Iran’s entrenched influence in the country.
Ahead of the election, Sadr pledged a commitment to abandon sectarianism by forming a coalition with secular Sunnis and Iraq’s Communist Party, who have as a result seen their best election performance ever.
Sadr‘s strong showing suggests that he maintains a relatively loyal following and that his nationalist, cross-sectarian platform was effective at mobilizing voters in challenging conditions,” said Ryan Turner, a senior risk analyst at London-based PGI Group.
He has also stopped advocating violence, said Renad Mansour, an Iraq researcher and fellow at U.K. policy institute Chatham House. “He passed the use of violence for his political agenda,” Mansour said. “But say if the U.S. come back and occupy Iraq, I imagine that this would change.”

Possible kingmaker

Because of the fractured nature of Iraqi politics, no candidate or bloc has won an outright majority. The winners of the most seats must negotiate a coalition government within 90 days, during which a long complex process of compromise will have to unfold. Winning the greatest share of votes does not directly translate to leading the government.
“Depending on the final tallies and political jockeying, Sadr may find himself in a position to play kingmaker, which could see Abadi reappointed prime minister,” Turner said, referring to the current prime minister, who was widely praised for leading the fight against ISIS and for balancing relationships across sects and external powers.
But to do so, Sadr would likely have to outmaneuver Iran, which would prefer to see Amiri — the candidate who finished second place — assume the premiership. Tehran wields much of its influence by pushing its preferred policies through Iranian-backed candidates and political players like Amiri. A major objective of Iran’s is to push the U.S. out of Iraq, where some 5,000 troops still remain.

U.S. Army paratroopers assigned to Bravo Troop, 5th Squadron, 73rd Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division, maneuver through a hallway as part of squad level training at Camp Taji, Iraq.

Department of Defense photo

U.S. Army paratroopers assigned to Bravo Troop, 5th Squadron, 73rd Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division, maneuver through a hallway as part of squad level training at Camp Taji, Iraq.

The extent to which the reforms Sadr has championed can take place will be determined by these fractured politics, said Mansour. “So far Sadr has been a very vocal voice demanding change — the question becomes whether he’ll actually be able to maneuver around the system that Iraq is, which is one where power is so diffuse among different entities that it’s hard for one group to have complete control. But I think he certainly will try and be more dramatic about it.”
Labeled one of the most corrupt countries in the world by Transparency International, Iraq is still mired in poverty and dysfunction following its bloody, three-year battle against ISIS.
Officials estimate they’ll need at least $100 billion to rebuild the country’s destroyed homes, businesses and infrastructure, and improvised explosive devices and landmines remain scattered throughout the country. The composition of the new government will be crucial in determining how Iraq moves forward.
“It’s not clear that Sadr‘s rising political influence will undermine Iraq’s recent progress,” Turner said, noting that despite the cleric’s past, he has cooperated with Abadi and backed changes intended to reduce corruption. “Much will depend on what happens next, and whether Sadr is able to quickly form a governing coalition or Iraq enters a period of prolonged deadlock as after the 2010 election.”Natasha TurakCorrespondent, CNBC

The Threat of the Australian Nuclear Horn: Daniel 7

Australian Defence Minister Richard Marles speaks at a press conference in front of the USS Asheville, a Los Angeles-class nuclear-powered fast-attack submarine, during a tour of HMAS Stirling in Perth. The prospect of Australia acquiring nuclear submarines via the Aukus agreement has raised concerns around regional stability and global non-proliferation efforts. Photo: AAP / dpa

Why Australia’s Aukus submarine deal is a clear threat to nuclear non-proliferation

The way the submarine deal is structured sets a bad precedent of supplying a non-nuclear weapon state and NPT member with weapons-grade fuelIf the Aukus partners want to set good standards for non-proliferation, they should expand IAEA safeguards or abandon using nuclear submarine technology

Riaz Khokhar

Australian Defence Minister Richard Marles speaks at a press conference in front of the USS Asheville, a Los Angeles-class nuclear-powered fast-attack submarine, during a tour of HMAS Stirling in Perth. The prospect of Australia acquiring nuclear submarines via the Aukus agreement has raised concerns around regional stability and global non-proliferation efforts. Photo: AAP / dpa

The recently announced Aukus submarine deal between Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States faces two major challenges.

First, the supply of a conventionally armed nuclear submarine to a non-nuclear weapon state and member of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) is not only unprecedented but threatens the international non-proliferation regime.

Second, the trilateral deal could deepen geopolitical tensions in the region, setting the Australian navy against Chinese maritime forces in ways that would increase the nuclearisation of the Indian Ocean region and could violate Australia’s own pledge of a nuclear weapons-free zone.

The Aukus partners have said their trilateral partnership to provide Australia with a conventionally armed nuclear submarine would set “the highest possible non-proliferation standards” in ways that “strengthen the global non-proliferation regime”. To ensure this, the US and the UK would provide Australia with complete, welded power units, from which “removal or diversion of any nuclear material would be extremely difficult”.

Additionally, the nuclear material would not be in a form to produce nuclear weapons directly and instead would need further processing in nuclear facilities that Canberra does not have.

On top of that, Australia has been negotiating with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to develop a “suitable verification arrangement” against the diversion of nuclear fuel.

China warns Aukus against going down ‘dangerous road’ over nuclear-powered submarine pact


China warns Aukus against going down ‘dangerous road’ over nuclear-powered submarine pact

China warns Aukus against going down ‘dangerous road’ over nuclear-powered submarine pact

But nuclear experts have warned that instead of the highest possible non-proliferation standard, the US was on its way to setting a bad precedent of supplying a non-nuclear weapon state and a member of the NPT with weapons-grade fuel. The nuclear material could remain outside IAEA safeguards for as long as the nuclear submarine remains on patrol.

During that period, it would be impossible for the IAEA to ensure the nuclear material is not removed or diverted for military applications. Some members of the IAEA such as China and Indonesia have argued that the Aukus partners have been less transparent and kept their negotiations with the IAEA private.

Some experts have said the IAEA needs to involve interested member states in these negotiations to reach uniform, non-discriminatory principles regarding the application of safeguards on nuclear submarines.

Another problem is that the IAEA is bound by its statutory obligations to ensure its assistance “is not used in such a way as to further any military purpose”, but the definition of “non-proscribed military activity” or “non-peaceful activities” is unclear. The Aukus partners cannot themselves assume the connotations of these terms and privately negotiate the application of safeguards without the input of other interested IAEA members.

Indonesian political and military officials see the Australian nuclear submarine capability as meant for war and the Aukus pact as a smaller Nato. Since a nuclear submarine could use weapons-grade fissile material, they suggest its use of Indonesian sea lanes could be blocked as it could violate the Asean nuclear-free zone.

What to know about Australia’s Aukus subs and why it’s causing anxiety in Asia16 Mar 2023

The US is expected to provide three of its Virginia class fast-attack nuclear submarines to Australia by the early 2030s. One of the pillars of the Aukus agreement is to provide Australia with a range of defence capabilities, including hypersonic and counter-hypersonic weapons systems to increase interoperability among the US allies.

It would be the first time the US provided a conventionally armed nuclear submarine to a non-nuclear member state of the NPT. Worse, in terms of damaging the global non-proliferation regime, Washington would follow an earlier precedent of Russia’s provision of nuclear submarines to India.

These plans appear to show that Australia could provide US forces with a “protective screen” to attack Chinese targets in the event of conflict and reinforce the US Navy’s strategy to deter Chinese nuclear capability in the region.

For a non-nuclear weapon state and member of the NPT, acquiring or developing an armed nuclear submarine is not the right way to go about doing that. China is not the only country with nuclear submarine capability in the Indo-Pacific. The US and India also operate submarines in the region.

Two Chinese nuclear-powered Type 094A Jin-class ballistic missile submarines are seen during a military display in the South China Sea on April 12, 2018. Photo: Reuters

While China and the US are NPT member states and nuclear powers, India is a non-NPT state. This would be the first time a non-nuclear weapon state and a member of the NPT would operate a nuclear submarine utilising what have been called “grey areas” around IAEA safeguards.

In addition, the US is planning to deploy its B-52 bombers capable of carrying nuclear weapons on a rotational basis at the Royal Australian Air Force base at Tindal in the Northern Territory. There are concerns this move could have severe implications for the Treaty of Rarotonga that establishes the South Pacific nuclear-free zone.

Australia faces tough task soothing Asia anxieties over Aukus subs: analysts17 Mar 2023

If the Aukus partners want to set the best standards for the global non-proliferation regime, they would be better served to extend the IAEA safeguards to any submarines on patrol to ensure that the agency’s oversight does not stray from the nuclear material at any point. Alternatively, they could shelve the nuclear submarine technology and explore other options with similar military capabilities and features.

The IAEA would also have to address these issues and ensure the transparency and participation of all member states in these negotiations.

The concerned member states would do well to provide solutions to these problems in general terms, not just those specific to Australia, and sideline geopolitics to set a uniform, non-discriminatory criteria for all non-nuclear weapon states and members of the NPT.

Riaz Khokhar is a research associate at the Center for International Strategic Studies (CISS) and a former Asia Studies visiting fellow at the East-West Centre in Washington

Danger of the Russian Nuclear Horn: Daniel 7

The Dangers Of Unchecked Power: Putin And The Potential Use Of WMDs

By Eurasianet – Mar 19, 2023, 12:00 PM CDT

  • The West is re-evaluating the use of nuclear weapons in an era of increasing illiberalism, sparked by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
  • Technological advances such as social media and AI could enable illiberalism, increasing the risk of a nuclear war.
  • Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s nuclear saber-rattling and refusal to ratify the New START Treaty has heightened concerns about WMDs being used in Ukraine.

Western arms control experts are asking whether old taboos on the use of nuclear weapons are still valid in an age of ascendant illiberalism, underscored by Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. During the Cold War, it was generally assumed that reason would prevail, thus preventing either the Soviet Union or the United States from going nuclear. But many specialists and scholars these days believe the only certainty concerning the potential future use of weapons of mass destruction is uncertainty.

“Nuclear weapons are back … once again central to international politics, along with renewed Great Power competition,” said Cynthia Roberts, a professor at Hunter College in New York and a leading expert on international security. She added that Russian aggression in Ukraine has brought the “prospect of nuclear war back into the realm of possibility.”

Roberts moderated a recent panel discussion, organized by Columbia University’s Saltzman Institute for War and Peace Studies, that surveyed the shifting WMD landscape. She cited the Biden administration’s recent nuclear posture review, which cautioned that the United States is entering an “unprecedented era” when it faces two “potential [nuclear] adversaries” – Russia and China – as opposed to the Cold War, during which Washington just had to contend with the Soviet Union.

China’s rise is just one factor altering the nuclear-weapons-use calculus. Some panelists also pointed to 21st century technological innovations – especially the advent of social media and rapid advances in artificial intelligence – as potential enablers of illiberalism. The ebb of rationality, they add, heightens the risk of a nuclear button being pressed, or some other weapon of mass destruction being used.

“The liars are taking over the world,” said one panelist, Stephen Van Evera, a political scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “The Enlightenment is in danger because of the new media and the fact that we no longer have vetted information that controls how the public sees things.”’

Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s nuclear saber-rattling, combined with Russia’s withdrawal in early 2023 from the New START Treaty, has raised fears that Russia could resort to using tactical nuclear weapons in Ukraine. What Putin and his generals had expected to be a walkover has turned into a quagmire, exposing the Russian military as poorly led and ineffectual. While experts at the Saltzman Institute event considered the possibility to be slim at present, no one dismissed as impossible the idea of a nuclear device being detonated.

Scott Sagan, a Stanford political scientist, said he believes Putin is keeping his options open. “What we know about leaders in crises, what we know about leaders who sometimes try to gamble for resurrection, suggests when you’re losing, you might take very rash decisions,” he said.

Sagan added that the Soviet-era constraint of collective decision-making seems to have eroded in Putin’s Russia. “Dictators surround themselves with yes-men,” he noted. “If you don’t have a rational actor at the top, you need checks and balances down below.”

Charles Glaser, a professor at The George Washington University, said a variety of scenarios could result in the use a nuclear weapon in Ukraine. “We need to keep in mind that there could also be rational uses of nuclear weapons. They would be very dangerous, but very dangerous isn’t necessarily irrational,” Glaser said. For example, he continued, if Putin feels that Russia is on the verge of experiencing a major setback, such as the loss of Crimea, he might be tempted to employ tactical nuclear weapons as a bargaining chip to force a peace settlement that forestalls a disaster that might threaten his grip on power.

Van Evera voiced fear about the potential for nuclear escalation in Ukraine, saying the “balance of resolve” there is tilting against the United States. “This is the first time the U.S. has gotten itself into a conflict … with another nuclear power that … believes it cares more about the stakes at issue than the U.S. does,” he said. “One of the sort of rules of nuclear statecraft, in my view, is don’t get into a face-to-face confrontation on issues where the other side cares as much as you do, or cares more.” Such a showdown will be decided by the balance of resolve.

The panelists wrestled with the vexing question of what the United States should do if Russia uses a nuclear weapon. The expert consensus appeared to lean toward massive U.S. conventional retaliation because such a response would minimize the risk of escalation.

Glaser noted that although Russia has experienced lots of battlefield reverses, “Putin hasn’t lost badly yet,” and thus hasn’t really faced a situation in which he would be tempted to order a nuclear strike. “If he uses nuclear weapons, we don’t quite know what happens next,” he added. “His limited use could lead to a really bigger nuclear war.”

Any forceful U.S. response to the potential Russian use of a nuclear weapon in Ukraine would certainly entail risks, but inaction could be even riskier, one panelist asserted. “We don’t have the luxury or doing nothing in the face of aggression,” said Etel Solingen, a political scientist at the University of California, Irvine. “Doing nothing is sometimes equivalent to raising the risk of catastrophe. This is the lesson of 2014.”

Solingen was referring to the tepid U.S. and European Union response to Russia’s armed takeover of the Crimean Peninsula in 2014, as well as Kremlin-backed separatists in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas Region who invaded shortly after Crimea’s occupation. “It was Putin’s perception of [Western] inaction [in 2014] … that could have well led to [Russia’s attack on Ukraine in] 2022,” Solingen said.

The Iran-led ‘axis of resistance’ is gearing up outside the Temple Walls: Revelation 11

The Iran-led ‘axis of resistance’ is gearing up for a Ramadan terror offensive

Israel, too, is seriously preparing for a scenario exceeding in scope the military conflict with Gaza in May 2021.

(March 19, 2023 / JNS) Sometime on March 11 or 12, a terrorist infiltrated in Israel from Lebanon, and planted a sophisticated bomb near the Megiddo Junction, some 37 miles south of the Israel-Lebanon border. The bomb detonated on March 13, seriously wounding Israeli Arab Shareef ad-Din, 21, as he drove along Highway 65.

The incident marks major intelligence and operational failures on the part of the Israel Defense Forces. The political echelon should have ordered a military response; its failure to do so further erodes Israel’s deterrence.

It is believed that the terrorist was a Palestinian member of Hamas in southern Lebanon who was trained by Hezbollah to operate the shaped charge. Hamas recruits in the Tyre and Sidon refugee camps.

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah knew about and approved the joint operation with Hamas, which left no fingerprints and for which neither organizations has taken responsibility.

According to intelligence data from various sources, Israeli security officials believe that in the runup to Ramadan there will be an unprecedented conflict with the Palestinian terrorist factions on several fronts, that may deteriorate into a military conflict more acute than the conflict in the Gaza Strip in May 2021.

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Visible signs also testify to this: The Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad organizations have increased the incitement against Israel in recent weeks, and launched a campaign of psychological warfare to weaken Israel morale.

Saleh al-Arouri, the vice chairman of the Hamas movement and head of its military wing in the West Bank, the man who coordinates in Beirut the activity with Hezbollah, said in an interview by the official Hamas website on March 14, 2023, that the events to come will be very difficult for the “occupation and its settlers.” The “resistance” in the West Bank is in a state of escalation, and it is diversifying its weapons.

Marwan Issa, the shadowy deputy commander of Hamas’s military wing in the Gaza Strip, hinted at the possibility of massive rocket fire from the Gaza Strip towards Israel. He told the Al-Aqsa channel on March 15, 2023, that the “political project in the West Bank has ended; the enemy brought the Oslo Accords to an end; and the coming days will be eventful.”

Issa continued: A political solution in the West Bank “is a thing of the past…. Any escalation in the Al-Aqsa Mosque area will result in a reaction in the Gaza Strip; Hamas in Gaza will not [just] be an observer to events in Jerusalem.”

“The desire to commit suicide among the [Muslim] residents of the West Bank is unprecedented, and the state of resistance in the West Bank is excellent. So is the state of national unity in the face of the occupation,” the Hamas official claimed.

A spokesman for the military wing of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad threatened Israel with a new intifada and an unprecedented conflict.

The accumulation of these statements by the heads of terrorist organizations in the media, in combination with intelligence information, indicate an impending escalation. The security summit in Aqaba on Feb. 26 initiated by the United States has failed, and the fate of the next meeting, scheduled to take place in Sinai on March 19, is uncertain. It is very doubtful whether Israel will be able to stop the approaching tsunami of terrorism, since this is a strategic decision by the terrorist organizations in coordination with Iran.

The terrorist cells are showing an increased use of explosive devices in Judea and Samaria, and are attempting to activate them within Israel proper as well. The Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet) has recently foiled several attempted bombings by Palestinians from Judea and Samaria who were recruited by Hamas from the Gaza Strip through social networks.

According to Hamas officials, the attack on Dizengoff Street in Tel Aviv on March 9, 2023 marks the organization’s decision to resume attacks within the Green Line.

According to security sources, Hezbollah Secretary-General Nasrallah increased his coordination meetings in Beirut’s al-Dahiya neighborhood with PIJ secretary general Ziad al-Nakhala and Hamas military chief Saleh al-Arouri, toward the beginning of Ramadan. An agreement was reportedly reached between Hezbollah, Hamas, PIJ00 and the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to step up terrorist activities in the coming days.

Nasrallah said last week that Israel would collapse even before it marks the 80th year of its founding. The internal dispute in Israel and the wave of protests over the government’s judicial reform have increased the feeling among the terrorist organizations that Israel is on the verge of disintegration and that this is the time to increase the pressure.

Despite the hoopla at the time, the agreement regarding the division of Lebanon’s economic territorial waters designed by the United States, signed on October 27, 2022, did not reduce Hezbollah’s motivation for terrorism against Israel. Moreover, it allows Hamas to strengthen its military infrastructure in southern Lebanon and in the refugee camps in Tyre and Sidon.

Hamas officials say that the attacks on Israel in the coming days will be from all directions according to the doctrine of unification of the fronts, including rocket fire from southern Lebanon and infiltration operations from southern Lebanon into Israeli territory.

According to security officials in Israel, behind all this malevolent activity is Iran, which in the past year has smuggled arms and funds through Jordan to the northern West Bank into the hands of the terrorist organizations.

The axis of resistance led by Iran is preparing for a major escalation in the month of Ramadan. Israel is also seriously preparing for a scenario that may be bigger than the military conflict that took place in May 2021.

Yoni Ben Menachem, a veteran Arab affairs and diplomatic commentator for Israeli radio and television, is a senior Middle East analyst at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. He served as director general and chief editor of the Israel Broadcasting Authority.

Originally published by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.

It is too late to stop Iran from getting the bomb: Daniel 8

Is it too late to stop Iran from getting the bomb?

An EMET Webinar with Rich Goldberg


(March 20, 2023 / JNS)

The world woke up last Friday to the surprise announcement that Beijing has brokered stronger ties between Riyadh and Tehran, radically upending the U.S.-led world order. This has reverberated in capitals all over the world. How does this change the calculus of Iran’s development of nuclear capability, of Israel’s ability to attack Iran through Saudi airspace? What does it say about America’s role in the world, China’s intentions and Saudi Arabia as a long-term ally of the United States?

According to the International Atomic Energy Administration (IAEA), Iran will have very shortly, if it does not have already, enough highly enriched uranium for at least three nuclear bombs. The IAEA has detected traces of uranium at the Fordow Enrichment Facility enriched to 83.7 percent, just a few days’ glide to the 90 percent level necessary for a nuclear bomb.

The IAEA also has said that it can no longer reestablish any certainty regarding Iran’s activities under a revived JCPOA, such as the production of advanced centrifuges and heavy water, due to Iran’s decision in February 2021 to deny the IAEA access to data from key JCPOA-related monitoring and surveillance equipment and because of Iran’s decision in June 2022 to remove all such equipment, including video cameras and online enrichment monitoring devices.

Yet, on Saturday, March 4, IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi met with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and other top officials in Tehran and gave vague assurances that these concerns would be addressed.

The questions remain: Can we trust the IAEA? And can Iran be stopped from developing a nuclear bomb before it is too late?

Here to answer these questions and more is Rich Goldberg.

Goldberg is a senior adviser at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. From 2019-2020, he served as the director for Countering Iranian Weapons of Mass Destruction for the White House National Security Council. He previously served as chief of staff for Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner and deputy chief of staff and senior foreign policy adviser to former U.S. Senator Mark Kirk of Illinois in both the U.S. House and Senate.