The blowing of the dam at the Kakhovka Hydroelectric Power Plant (KHPP) by the Russian state is, quite simply, an act of terror by this terrorist state. With his army failing, his air force stuck in its hangars, it would appear Putin is prepared to do almost anything to cling on to the Russian occupied areas of Ukraine and his throne in the Kremlin. This is another war crime to add to the growing list, a list that includes the unlawful deportation of children – something that led to the International Criminal Court to issue a warrant for his arrest.
The Russian military motivation behind the blast is clear and not unexpected. The vast area to the west of the dam is a ‘tank’ highway to Crimea, and Putin knows his demoralised forces are likely to collapse in the face of Challenger and Leopard tanks charging towards them. The flooding will likely block this axis for many weeks. The ecological and agricultural damage alone will be legion, and with no power coming out of KHPP or Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant (ZNPP), Ukraine is going to be short on electricity for a while.
This type of terrorism is not new and is to be predicted from the tyrant. I had the honour to be one of the Peshmerga’s chemical weapons advisors in the fight with another terror state: IS. In 2017, as the Islamic State was falling in Iraq, they blew up the Al Mishraq sulphur mine south of Mosul. From a tactical perspective this had the same effect as blowing the dam at KHPP. The 400,000 tonnes of very toxic sulphur dioxide went across the route of the advancing Iraqi army’s direct approach to Mosul and delayed them for several days, allowing IS to dig deeper into the city. At one point the toxic cloud was heading to the Kurdistan capital Erbil, with over one million people in mortal danger. Thankfully the ‘gods’ intervened, and the poison dissipated in the high atmosphere. When you have no limits or concern for civilian casualties like IS and Putin, sadly virtually nothing is off limits.
But the Ukrainians are canny, very canny. No doubt the Ukrainian high command will have planned for such an eventuality and will have numerous lines and methods of attacks to rid themselves of this evil scourge. At the early stages it also looks as though the Russian plan may have backfired, with Russian troops defending this sector scrabbling for high ground and the water needed for Crimea disappearing into the Black Sea.
Kyiv’s forces have started their long-awaited counteroffensive to recapture occupied territory, according to Russian sources on social and state media.
Andrey Rudenko, a correspondent for Russian state television channel Rossiya 24, said that Ukraine had launched a tank offensive in the direction of Zaporozhzhia that was repelled by Russian troops. He added that Ukraine had “many seriously wounded troops lying on the battlefield.”
Vladimir Rogov, an official in the Russia-backed administration of the partly occupied oblast, told the Solovyov Live programme: “In my opinion, there has been an attempt at a full-scale offensive for three days, even four” in the Zaporizhzhia region.
He said that overnight on Wednesday Ukrainian forces had probably used U.S-supplied HIMARS systems to open fire on the city Tokmak, the Tass news agency reported.
Russian sources on Telegram also noted there had been an increase in fire and assault positions in the Zaporizhzhia direction, with Ukrainian tanks attacking Moscow’s positions and reports of non-stop shelling, according to the Twitter account of War Translated.
Another milblogger said: “We can already talk about the beginning of the offensive announced by Ukraine for so long.”
Russian state media war correspondent Alexander Sladkov wrote on Telegram on Thursday that it was difficult for Ukrainian soldiers to accept the signal to attack “with the knowledge that there are mines ahead, impregnable trenches” as well as Russian soldiers “who are not going to retreat.”
The Russian Storm Z unit with the call sign Ali told Tass that Ukrainian forces had tried an advance on the village of Lobkove with at least at least 20 military vehicles and 100 infantry, but were “driven back” and suffered losses.
Newsweek has contacted the Ukrainian defense ministry about the Russian claims. On Wednesday, Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of Ukraine’s national security and defense council, said Moscow’s claims that the counteroffensive had started were “not true.”
Danilov said Russian officials had mistaken Ukrainian advances in some frontline areas for the start of the larger operation and that when Ukraine does launch its push, “everyone will know about it.”
Former Australian army general Mick Ryan said in a Substack post on Thursday that the Ukrainian operations being undertaken around Bakhmut and in southern Ukraine “appear to confirm that H-Hour for the 2023 Ukrainian offensive has probably arrived.”
In comments emailed to Newsweek, Atlantic Council fellow and a former Ukrainian defense minister, Andriy Zagorodnyuk, said early actions by Ukrainian forces have centred on Bakhmut, which Russia has claimed control over.
Zagorodnyuk said that Ukraine encircling the Donetsk city would “deny the Russians an opportunity to use any benefits of capturing the territory, and set themselves up to eventually recapture it.”
When Kyiv’s counteroffensive starts, Zagorodnyuk said: “We will see a full use of the brigades trained and equipped for that operation and, of course, the magnitude of the operational activities will be much higher.”
The global nuclear order has so far proven resilient in the face of Russia’s war on Ukraine. European engagement through the EU and NATO can help shore up this uneasy equilibrium
Russia’s war against Ukraine is intimately tied to the global nuclear order. The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, has issued countless nuclear threats since February 2022: among other things, warning those who might consider coming to Ukraine’s defence of consequences “never seen in your entire history”; placing Russia’s nuclear forces on “enhanced combat duty”; and preparing to deploy Russian nuclear warheads in neighbouring Belarus.
The Kremlin has also conditioned arms control talks with the United States on Ukraine, stating that such discussions “cannot be isolated from geopolitical realities” in an attempt to blackmail Washington into giving up on Kyiv. Indeed, the very fact of Russia’s war could break the international non-proliferation regime – as countries facing threats to their security may be more likely to seek the bomb, and those that already have it will never give it up.
Yet, the global nuclear order has proven resilient to Putin’s challenge. The norms, practices, and institutions of the nuclear age – no matter how unjust – remain largely as they were before the war. Russia’s nuclear weapons may dissuade NATO countries from sending troops to fight alongside those of Ukraine. But the alliance’s nuclear weapons also deter Russia from attacking the supply hubs in Poland and elsewhere that facilitate Ukraine’s self-defence. The nuclear non-use norm remains unbroken, and no new countries have acquired nuclear weapons since Russia’s landgrab of Crimea in 2014. Multilateral engagement by Europeans through the EU and NATO can help to shore up this uneasy equilibrium.
EU member states are deeply divided on nuclear matters. One EU country – France – commands a nuclear arsenal of its own. Most others benefit from the United States’ nuclear umbrella as members of NATO. Belgium, Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands even host US nuclear weapons on their soil through the alliance’s nuclear sharing arrangements. Austria and Ireland, meanwhile, were instrumental in the drafting and adoption at the United Nations of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) in 2017, which seeks to comprehensively ban nuclear weapons; Malta signed up too. Finland and Sweden, which were militarily non-aligned throughout the cold war and after, have now joined NATO, or, in the latter’s case, will do so imminently.
EU member states thus represent the full continuum of views towards nuclear weapons. Consequently, the EU’s position on nuclear weapons and how to address their risks, threats, and benefits reflects the three pillars of the 1968 Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) as the lowest common denominator: nuclear non-proliferation, access to civilian nuclear energy, and negotiated disarmament. NATO upholds that it will remain a nuclear alliance for as long as nuclear weapons exist. In private, some European leaders might even subscribe to the late British prime minister Margaret Thatcher’s view: “I want a war-free Europe. A nuclear-free Europe I do not believe would be a war-free Europe.” Their ranks might have swelled since February 2022. But this diversity of views across the EU also allows member state governments to credibly engage different global constituencies, as views around the world are no less diverse.
Nuclear treaty proliferation
From 2010 onwards, the “humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons” began to receive increasing attention in international discussions. Austria and others championed a “Humanitarian Initiative” and pledged to close the legal gap on prohibition that the NPT left open. Ban treaty sympathisers among EU member states have since tried to shift the bloc’s default position. Within the EU, this led to a crystallisation of two subgroups, which, according to one EU official, brought “the worst” out of supporters and opponents alike whenever the TPNW was on the agenda. The result has been an agreement to disagree among EU members, to avoid the elephant in the room and permit progress on other parts of the union’s common security and defence policy agenda.
The TPNW has neither had quite the effect its proponents hoped for, nor that its opponents feared. Critics of the ban treaty had argued that it would undermine the NPT regime. But since its entry into force in 2021, no signatory of the TPNW has withdrawn from the 1968 treaty. To the contrary, many government statements have stressed the two treaties’ complementarity, as did the final declaration of the first meeting of parties to the TPNW in June 2022.
Where the meeting fell short was in condemning Russia’s nuclear-backed invasion of Ukraine. For all their emphasis on humanitarian principles, ban treaty members’ solidarity with the attacked should have come almost naturally. After all, Ukraine is one of only four countries globally to have relinquished nuclear weapons (the others being Belarus, Kazakhstan, and South Africa). Yet, most delegations refrained from calling out Russia – albeit not all – and the final declaration effectively resorted to nuclear whataboutism, castigating “any and all” nuclear threats. This could turn out to be as much of a roadblock to expanding membership as the rejection of the ban treaty by the countries who would actually do the disarming. Compared to the TPNW, the participation of the US, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union in the NPT considerably boosted buy-in from other UN members.
The non-outcome of last year’s NPT review conference illustrates another way in which Russia’s war has affected consensus-based forums. Whereas the ban treaty meeting avoided taking a stand on the invasion to achieve consensus, a Russian veto on the final day of the NPT conference prevented a joint declaration and with it explicit condemnation of Russia’s occupationof the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. Some delegates reported frustration that the war crowded out discussions on other critical issues, such as emerging and disruptive technologies and their effects on nuclear risks and stability.Others were disappointed that language on disarmament in the draft did not go far enough. But most considered the conference a success – and none (bar Russia) threatened to block the final statement.
China has been notoriously unwilling to engage in discussions of its nuclear arsenal and doctrine
“Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here!”
Diplomatic discipline has allowed EU members and their partners to push for farther-reaching condemnation in majoritarian forums such as the International Atomic Energy Agency’s board of governors, which adopted three resolutions in 2022 against Russian opposition. European diplomats need to be mindful of the decision-making mechanisms of the forums in which they operate, and acknowledge that the perception of their initiatives by countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America could evolve as Russia’s war drags on. If Europeans push the envelope too far, it could come at the cost of progress on other issues of importance to these countries. In some cases, assembling a coalition for a side statement may be more effective than insisting on specific language for a consensus document. This can also serve to put reluctant countries on the spot. China, for example, has been notoriously unwilling to engage in discussions of its nuclear arsenal and doctrine.
EU member states and NATO allies can adopt other measures to reduce nuclear risks. US-Russian arms control is now on life support, and China’s nuclear build-up is accelerating unchecked. Short of formal arms control agreements, the international community is rediscovering risk-reduction, transparency, and confidence-building measures as ways to close off the riskiest pathways for inadvertent and accidental escalation between the nuclear powers. Military-to-military communication channels, for example, can help to de-conflict activities and prevent misunderstandings. NATO allies have also demonstrated unilateral restraint in refraining from mirroring Russia’s nuclear bluster, to avoid normalising it.
But, even in an area as seemingly uncontroversial as nuclear risk reduction, not every conceivable measure actually enhances security. And, given Russia’s record of deliberate risk manipulation, some might even put Europeans at a distinct military disadvantage. Arguably, Russia has had a little too much confidence about what NATO countries would not do in support of Ukraine. Nevertheless, as NATO allies and their partners seek to promote a distinction between responsible and irresponsible – or to some: less and more irresponsible – nuclear behaviour, some risks associated with unilateral steps could still be worth accepting to gain broader international support in the narrative confrontation with Russia (and China).
Europeans should prepare for an era of intense nuclear competition. In addition to Russia’s heightened propensity for risk manipulation, there are also growing reasons to doubt Moscow’s commitment to non-proliferation: Russia’s plan to deploy nuclear warheads to Belarus turns on its head the Kremlin’s previous criticism of NATO nuclear sharing arrangements. The Kremlin might also come to believe that selective proliferation – or tacit support for others’ nuclear hedging – would create a bigger headache and distraction for the West than for itself. Already, Russia’s dependence on Iranian drones for strikes against Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure has led to a shift in Moscow’s position on negotiations to curb Teheran’s nuclear ambitions. Far from the post-cold war era of cooperative threat reduction, Russia is becoming a nuclear rogue.
It is crucial to condemn Russia’s behaviour in the broadest possible terms. However, it is the Kremlin’s disregard for humanitarian norms and violent rejection of the post-cold war European security architecture that requires Europeans and NATO allies to be able to deter, and if necessary, defeat Russian aggression. Beyond the requirements for effective conventional defence and deterrence, a competitive armaments strategywould give Russia a reason to take seriously Europeans as counterparts in arms control. This would also support the EU’s non-proliferation objectives by allowing Washington to shift resources and attention towards the assurance of allies in other regions – given that US nuclear backed security guarantees have long contributed to limiting the spread of nuclear weapons.
The US will in all likelihood follow through on its ‘Indo-Pacific pivot’ over the coming years, or be forced to do so suddenly in response to Chinese actions. In that scenario, it will only become more imperative for Europeans to present Russia with risks and challenges it would wish to negotiate away – rather than plead in vain for the Kremlin to come to its senses.
Ottawa (AFP) – A shed on a hillside on the outskirts of Canada’s capital hides a Cold War bunker that has been fielding a surge of queries since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, asking if it is operational.
Issued on: 22/02/2023
It’s now a museum, so the answer of course is no.
Inside, past displays of atomic bombs, a blast tunnel opens up to decontamination showers. There’s also a medical clinic, a vault for gold bullion, a radio studio, and a sparse chamber for the prime minister.
Gravel packed around the structure was meant to mitigate shocks from a nuclear strike, while everything inside is secured, including toilets mounted on rubber.
Tour guide Graham Wheatley, 67, vividly recalls fearing nuclear annihilation in his youth.
“There was always a lot of nuclear saber-rattling back in the 60s with (Nikita) Khrushchev and his shoe banging at the UN and ‘We will bury you’ speech, and then the Cuban Missile Crisis,” he says.
“There was a general anxiety,” adds visitor Janet Fisher.
That dread has returned, as Moscow steps up its nuclear threats.
“When Russia invaded Ukraine, we had a lot of public inquiries about whether this museum still functions as a fallout shelter,” Christine McGuire, its executive director, told AFP.
And the daily barrage of calls has persisted, she said. “That fear is still very real. Anxieties are coming back. We’re seeing remnants of the Cold War with the global tensions.”
In light of war in Ukraine’s impacts — as well as the growing climate crisis — the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists in late January moved their symbolic “Doomsday Clock” to just 90 seconds to midnight -– its closest approach ever to humanity’s “self-annihilation.”
And on Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced his country would suspend its participation in the New START nuclear arms treaty with the United States — though Moscow’s foreign ministry later said it still planned to abide by its regulations.
After 30 days, when radiation was expected to drop to safer levels, “some lucky person would be chosen to go above ground to see what our post-apocalyptic world looked like and how we were going to rebuild the country,” McGuire said.
The top secret outpost, commissioned by then-prime minister John Diefenbaker, was officially called the Central Emergency Government Headquarters or CEGHQ Carp, after the town in which it’s located.
Decommissioned in 1991 at the end of the Cold War, it reopened as a museum in 1998 and welcomes close to 70,000 visitors a year.
Speaking in what was the war cabinet room deep inside the four-level facility, McGuire said it remains “an important reminder of how close we all came to global annihilation during the Cold War.”
Fallout from US
Some 2,000 government and private bunkers in back yards or basements were built across Canada at the onset of the Cold War, far fewer than in the United States or Europe, estimates Andrew Burtch, a Cold War historian at the Canadian War Museum.
“The Cold War brought with it the spectre of nuclear annihilation. And so governments around the world had to think about the best ways in which to prepare for a nuclear attack and how to coordinate the response to it after the fact,” he recounted.
Canada planned to deal with radioactive fallout, but was less concerned about threats of direct strikes on its cities.
“The idea was that the Russians would not waste their bombs or missiles on Canada but rather target them at the United States,” Burtch explained.
There were several scares between 1947 and 1991. “Nuclear weapons were everywhere during the Cold War, and the threat to use those weapons was periodic and tended to come during periods of high tension,” he said.
“Now we find ourself back in the position where we were,” he lamented. “So it’s quite a disconcerting time.”
After Dam Bursts, IAEA Says Zaporizhzhia’s Cooling Pond Must Be Protected
FILE PHOTO: A view shows the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant in the course of Russia-Ukraine conflict outside Enerhodar in the Zaporizhzhia region, Russian-controlled Ukraine, March 29, 2023. REUTERS/Alexander ErmochenkoREUTERS
VIENNA (Reuters) – The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant should have enough water to cool its reactors for “some months” from a pond located above the reservoir of a nearby dam that has broken, the U.N. atomic watchdog said on Tuesday, calling for the pond to be spared.
The dam’s reservoir provided water used for the essential cooling of the six reactors at Europe’s biggest nuclear power plant as well as of spent fuel and emergency diesel generators that have had to be used repeatedly when external power fails.
“There are a number of alternative sources of water. A main one is the large cooling pond next to the site that by design is kept above the height of the reservoir,” International Atomic Energy Agency chief Rafael Grossi said in a statement issued in response to the breach of the Kakhovka dam.
Water from the pond should provide enough cooling water for “some months”, Grossi said, adding that his agency would confirm that “very shortly”.
An Iraqi Shia scholar, militia leader and the founder of the most powerful political faction in the country right now, Muqtada al-Sadr rose to prominence after the overthrow of the Saddam Hussein government.
The Iraqi parliament Wednesday was stormed by hundreds of protesters chanting anti-Iranian slogans. The demonstration was against the announcement of the prime ministerial nominee, Mohammed al-Sudani, selected by the Coordination Framework bloc, a coalition led by Iran-backed Shiite parties and their allies.
The majority of the protesters, who breached Baghdad’s Parliament, were followers of influential populist cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. Al-Sadr, a shia himself, is fighting against former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s plans to reinstate his Iran-affiliated leaders at the elite posts in the government.Supporters of Iraqi Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr protest against corruption inside the parliament building in Baghdad, Iraq July 27, 2022. (Reuters Photo: Thaier Al-Sudani)
So, who is Muqtada al-Sadr, the founder of the Sadrist movement and the master of mass mobilisation in the current Iraqi political system?
Muqtada al-Sadr and the Sadrist movement
An Iraqi Shia scholar, militia leader and the founder of the most powerful political faction in the country right now, Muqtada al-Sadr rose to prominence after the overthrow of the Saddam Hussein government.
In the recent incident, after his followers occupied parliament, al-Sadr put out a statement on Twitter telling them their message had been received, and “to return safely to your homes”. After which, the protesters began to move out of the Parliament building with the help of security forces. His ability to mobilise and control his large grassroot followers gives him a strong advantage over his political rivals.
Back in 2016, in a similar manner, al-Sadr’s followers stormed the Green Zone and entered the country’s Parliament building demanding political reform. The US worries Iranian dominance in the country because its influence can alienate the Sunni communities. Although al-Sadr right now looks like the only viable option to have in power in Iraq for the US, back in the day, he was enemy number one after the fall of Saddam.
Back in 2004, The Guardian quoted Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez saying, “The mission of US forces is to kill or capture Muqtada al-Sadr.” The Sadrist and the affiliated militia (Mahdi army) started a resistance against the US troops following the country’s invasion in 2003. These militias under al-Sadr are now called the “peace companies”.
However, the growing influence of al-Sadr could cause problems for both the US and Iran. He has demanded for the departure of the remaining American troops and has told the Iranian theocracy that he will “not let his country go in its grip”.
The Sadrist movement, which is at its strongest right now in Iraq, was founded by al-Sadr. A nationalist movement by origin, the Sadrist draws support from the poor people of the Shiite community across the country.
News agency Reuters in a report claimed that over the past two years, members of the Sadrist Movement have taken senior jobs within the interior, defence and communications ministries. They have had their picks appointed to state oil, electricity and transport bodies, to state-owned banks and even to Iraq’s central bank, according to more than a dozen government officials and lawmakers.
Iraq’s political turmoil
Iraq has been unable to form a new government nearly 10 months after the last elections, this is the longest period the political order has been in tatters since the US invasion. The deadlock at the centre of Iraqi politics is largely driven by personal vendettas of elites. The storming of the Parliament Wednesday was just a message to al-Sadr’s opponents that he cannot be ignored while trying to form a new government.
The fight, majorly between the Shia leaders al-Sadr and al-Maliki, is due to the nationalist agenda. Al-Sadr, challenges Iranians authority over Iraq while the former PM derives great help from the country.
Having great religious influence, al-Sadr’s alliance won the most seats in October’s Parliamentary election, but political parties failed to reach the two-thirds majority needed to pick a president. After the negotiations to form the new government fell apart, al-Sadr withdrew his bloc from Parliament and announced he was exiting further talks. Expectations of street protests have prevailed in Baghdad since he quit the talks.Followers of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr chant slogans during an open-air Friday prayers in Sadr City, Baghdad, Iraq, Friday, July 15, 2022. (AP/PTI Photo)
On the other hand, Al-Maliki, al-Sadr’s arch rival heads the Coordination Framework alliance, a group led by Shiite Iran-backed parties. With al-Sadr’s withdrawal, the Framework replaced his resigned MPs from the Iraqi Parliament. Although the move was within the law, it was also provocative, and provided the Framework with the majority needed in Parliament.
Iraq’s former labour and social affairs minister, Mohammed al-Sudani’s announcement as the PM nominee, is seen by al-Sadr loyalists as a figure through whom al-Maliki can exert control. The former PM Al-Maliki wanted the premiership for himself, but audio recordings were leaked in which he purportedly was heard cursing and criticising al-Sadr and even his own Shiite allies.
At the moment, neither the al-Sadr nor the al-Maliki factions can afford to be cut-off from the political process, because both have much to lose. Both the rivals have civil servants installed in Iraq’s institutions, deployed to do their bidding when circumstances require by halting decision-making and creating bureaucratic obstructions.
The Islamic Republic of Iran shares a 1,599 km-long border with Iraq, which provides the former with a clear added advantage over the war-torn country. After the fall of Hussein, the border helped Iran to send militias to take power and resist the US forces, as the result right now, the country’s top ruling elite are Shiites, fighting among themselves for power.
Iran currently is trying to work behind the scenes, just like Lebanon, to stitch together a fragmented Shiite Muslim elite. The nomination of al-Sudani is evidence of Iranian efforts to bring together the Shiite parties in the alliance. However, the electoral failure of the Iranian-backed parties in the recent elections has marked a dramatic turnaround.
According to a report by the Associated Press, Esmail Ghaani, commander of Iran’s paramilitary Quds Force, has made numerous trips to Baghdad in recent months. The Quds Force is a part of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, which is answerable only to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Working on the already established network of his predecessor, Qasem Soleimani, Ghanni is trying to help the parties in Iraq to stay united and agree on a PM candidate.
The Russian invaders have blocked the transmission of information from the Automated Radiation Monitoring System (ARMS) of the Zaporizhia Nuclear Power Plant they have occupied, the State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate of Ukraine reports.
“The Ukrainian regulator informed the IAEA about this case, which threatens the safety at the Zaporizhia NPP, but did not receive notifications about possible planned measures from the Agency to resolve this situation,” Oleh Korikov, head of the nuclear regulator, is quoted in a message on the regulator’s Facebook page in Friday.
As the regulator described the situation, in particular, due to the dismantling or theft by Russian invaders of important elements of systems, the disabling of part of computer equipment, significant efforts and resources are required for the restoration of the plant’s physical protection system. The occupiers have almost completely degraded the system of emergency preparedness and response at the ZNPP, the regulator added.
“In order to restore nuclear and radiation safety, it is necessary to immediately withdraw the Russian military and Russian personnel, in accordance with the resolutions of the IAEA Board of Governors GOV/2022/17, GOV/2022/58, GOV/2022/71,” the inspectorate said in the statement.
“Some of the members of this group are approaching a point where they may decide on whether or not to move to the next stage of their CBDC work,” the paper said. “This may include deeper investment in design decisions relating to technology, end user preferences and business models, while leaving open the decision on whether to issue CBDC.”
“Legislators and authorities will need to remain engaged as work on CBDC progresses. The development of solutions to some of the outstanding legal issues related to CBDC will largely be a matter of national law and will tend to be highly dependent on policy choices and the design of a CBDC,” the paper said.
Although countries are not currently ready to plan out the implementation, central banks are actively strategizing the potential use cases and design aspects of CBDCs.
“The central banks contributing to this report anticipate that any CBDC ecosystem would involve both the public and private sector,” the report wrote. “There are a variety of potential CBDC business models, and central banks may need to understand potential benefits to stakeholders and the public in each model, including incentives to participants and value added to end users.”
The banks also noted that blockchain technology “remains a possibility, though it is currently not deemed essential to the functioning of a potential CBDC system.”
Since the appointment of Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani in October 2022, Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), an umbrella organization of mostly Shiite militia groups that is accorded a formal status as an auxiliary branch of the Iraqi security forces, is making a comeback. Despite many challenges and serious setbacks since 2018, the PMF has shown a marked ability to bounce back from weakened leadership and internal fractures, a significant electoral defeat, and the loss of political capital with large segments of the Iraqi public. It has survived pressures resulting from the January 2020 U.S. assassinations of its former commander, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, and his Iranian sponsor, Qassem Soleimani, the former head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Quds Force, and from measures undertakenby the former prime minister, Mustafa al-Kadhimi. Not only has the PMF proved resilient, but it also retains political and military advantages that are likely to make it a force to be reckoned with for decades to come.
Yet the PMF also faces challenges, and its malign activities, which include human rights abuses, may yet be curtailed, especially if the West and its regional allies can work with moderate actors in Iraq or those that fear the organization’s monopolization of power. The most significant of the PMF’s difficulties comes in the form of Iraq’s intra-Shiite political rivalries. Both the PMF’s power and vulnerabilities were manifest last August when Iraq was pushed to the brink of civil war following political tensions and violent confrontations between the PMF and its political allies, known as the Shiite Coordination Framework, and their rival, Muqtada al-Sadr. Sadr heads Iraq’s most powerful sociopolitical movement, the Sadrist movement, and one of the country’s most powerful militia groups, Saraya al-Salam. Although his withdrawal from politics is likely temporary, Sadr will remain a significant challenge for the PMF in future religious leadership succession contests, economic turf battles, and day-to-day politicking. This intra-Shiite contestation as well as external pressures will not only threaten the PMF but can also reignite more violence, even another civil war.
Iraq’s Shiite militia network is underpinned by an array of informal sociopolitical, cultural, and security structures. Some emerged in the post-invasion tumult, others developed during the years of Baathist rule. The 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War forged friendships, kinships, and revolutionary camaraderie among the main factions and their leaders.
The network is also undergirded by Iran. As head of the PMF and Kataib Hezbollah and Soleimani’s right-hand man, Muhandis had played a critical role in enhancing Iran’s influence over the Iraqi political system. As a result, Iran had been able to outsource some of its local security requirements to Muhandis in recent years, just as it had done with Badr Brigade leader Hadi al-Amiri during the 1990s and after the U.S. invasion in 2003.
In Iraq’s 2018 parliamentary elections, the political parties linked to the PMF came in second. That impressive outcome solidified the PMF’s status as a formidable political actor. But the January 2020 assassinations of Muhandis and Soleimani widened internal fractures. The PMF’s new leadership has lacked their authority and strategic acumen. Instead, key PMF groups such as the Badr Brigade and Asaib Ahl al-Haq have pivoted toward Nouri al-Maliki of the Islamic Dawa Party, whose tenure as prime minister (2006-14) hastened the PMF’s ascension.
Moreover, in March 2020, several PMF factions aligned with Iraq’s Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani withdrew from the PMF and placed themselves directly under the authority of the Iraqi Armed Forces. These militia groups had previously resisted Iran’s influence but operated within the ambit of the PMF during the war against ISIS. This split significantly weakened the PMF, which had drawn significant religious legitimacy and political influence under the cover of Iraqi nationalism and patriotism from al-Sistani’s blessing in 2014. However, the PMF’s legitimacy had already been undermined by its actions in 2018, when its Iran-backed factions systematically repressed civilians during the Tishreen protests, which challenged Iraq’s ruling elite and its misgovernance as well as Iran’s influence in the country.
In the subsequent months, Sadr attempted to form a coalition majority in the Iraqi parliament at the expense of the PMF and the Shiite Coordination Framework, whose poor electoral performance presented him with an opportunity to exclude them from the government. However, Sadr’s decision departed from the power-sharing consensus that had underscored relations between Iraq’s most powerful parties and its fiercest rivals. This intensified the intra-Shiite rivalries, which finally exploded in the August 2022 violence that claimed casualties on both sides. Consequently, Sadr decided to give up his hopes of forming a majority and (perhaps temporarily) withdrew from Iraq’s political fray. The miscalculation paved the way for Mohamed Shia al-Sudani, a Maliki proxy and Dawa stalwart, to be appointed prime minister in October.
This political outcome has been a boon for the PMF. The organization has further entrenched itself in the Iraqi state, widening its economic capabilities, diversifying its revenue streams, and expanding its patronage network. In November 2022, Sudani approved the creation of a PMF trading company called Al-Muhandis (after the slain PMF commander of the same name), a state-sanctioned body with an operating budget of at least $67 million.
But challenges also lie ahead for the PMF.
Despite his withdrawal from Iraqi politics, Sadr is not going anywhere. As the heir to the political and religious leadership of his father, Mohammed Mohammed Sadeq al-Sadr, who was controversially appointed as a marja’ (source of emulation) in the 1990s, Sadr the younger still sees himself as the rightful leader of Iraq’s political and religious Shiite community. Sadr’s limited religious credentials do not give him enough religious credibility to succeed Sistani, but his following of 2 million to 3 million Iraqi Shiites gives him a sufficient sociopolitical basis on which to contest the post-Sistani political order in Iraq. This coming religious succession struggle will escalate the rivalries between Sadr and the PMF and its political allies such as the Islamic Dawa Party.
Apart from intra-Shiite political rivalries, Iraq is also beset by wider regional enmities that could violently play out on its territory. They include tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran as the latter grapples with its ongoing uprising. Since the unrest unfolded, Iran has launched attacks on alleged Iranian opposition group bases in Iraqi Kurdistan and has struck targets in the north and south as part of its shadow war with Israel and the United States. If tensions escalate further, Iraq could be caught in a regional conflagration, which Sadr and the PMF may exploit. Domestically, Iraqis’ socioeconomic grievances remain vast, and Sudani will struggle to address them. Any revived Tishreen protests could again be weaponized by Sadr and the PMF and retrigger clashes between them.
Thus, the calm since Sudani’s appointment is likely deceptive. If Iraq is again gripped by violence, the PMF is likely to come out on top. Moreover, the fact that the PMF is so deeply embedded within the Iraqi state makes it difficult to manage and leaves Western conventional state-building practices ill-suited to addressing its multifaceted challenge. The West and its allies must instead bank on empowering Iraqi political actors who want to address the PMF’s human rights abuses and its efforts to monopolize power with the guidance and support of Iran. To collectively push back against the PMF, they must first address their own internal divisions over Iraq’s future and reconcile their differences over how to share power and manage the country’s wealth.