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Brace Yourselves for the Sixth Seal (Revelation 6)

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Brace Yourselves, New Yorkers, You’re Due for a Major Quake

A couple of hundred thousand years ago, an M 7.2 earthquake shook what is now New Hampshire. Just a few thousand years ago, an M 7.5 quake ruptured just off the coast of Massachusetts. And then there’s New York.

Since the first western settlers arrived there, the state has witnessed 200 quakes of magnitude 2.0 or greater, making it the third most seismically active state east of the Mississippi (Tennessee and South Carolina are ranked numbers one and two, respectively). About once a century, New York has also experienced an M 5.0 quake capable of doing real damage.

The most recent one near New York City occurred in August of 1884. Centered off Long Island’s Rockaway Beach, it was felt over 70,000 square miles. It also opened enormous crevices near the Brooklyn reservoir and knocked down chimneys and cracked walls in Pennsylvania and Connecticut. Police on the Brooklyn Bridge said it swayed “as if struck by a hurricane” and worried the bridge’s towers would collapse. Meanwhile, residents throughout New York and New Jersey reported sounds that varied from explosions to loud rumblings, sometimes to comic effect. At the funeral of Lewis Ingler, a small group of mourners were watching as the priest began to pray. The quake cracked an enormous mirror behind the casket and knocked off a display of flowers that had been resting on top of it. When it began to shake the casket’s silver handles, the mourners decided the unholy return of Lewis Ingler was more than they could take and began flinging themselves out windows and doors.

Not all stories were so light. Two people died during the quake, both allegedly of fright. Out at sea, the captain of the brig Alice felt a heavy lurch that threw him and his crew, followed by a shaking that lasted nearly a minute. He was certain he had hit a wreck and was taking on water.

A day after the quake, the editors of The New York Times sought to allay readers’ fear. The quake, they said, was an unexpected fluke never to be repeated and not worth anyone’s attention: “History and the researches of scientific men indicate that great seismic disturbances occur only within geographical limits that are now well defined,” they wrote in an editorial. “The northeastern portion of the United States . . . is not within those limits.” The editors then went on to scoff at the histrionics displayed by New York residents when confronted by the quake: “They do not stop to reason or to recall the fact that earthquakes here are harmless phenomena. They only know that the solid earth, to whose immovability they have always turned with confidence when everything else seemed transitory, uncertain, and deceptive, is trembling and in motion, and the tremor ceases long before their disturbed minds become tranquil.”
That’s the kind of thing that drives Columbia’s Heather Savage nuts.

New York, she says, is positively vivisected by faults. Most of them fall into two groups—those running northeast and those running northwest. Combined they create a brittle grid underlying much of Manhattan.

Across town, Charles Merguerian has been studying these faults the old‐fashioned way: by getting down and dirty underground. He’s spent the past forty years sloshing through some of the city’s muckiest places: basements and foundations, sewers and tunnels, sometimes as deep as 750 feet belowground. His tools down there consist primarily of a pair of muck boots, a bright blue hard hat, and a pickax. In public presentations, he claims he is also ably abetted by an assistant hamster named Hammie, who maintains his own website, which includes, among other things, photos of the rodent taking down Godzilla.

That’s just one example why, if you were going to cast a sitcom starring two geophysicists, you’d want Savage and Merguerian to play the leading roles. Merguerian is as eccentric and flamboyant as Savage is earnest and understated. In his press materials, the former promises to arrive at lectures “fully clothed.” Photos of his “lab” depict a dingy porta‐john in an abandoned subway tunnel. He actively maintains an archive of vintage Chinese fireworks labels at least as extensive as his list of publications, and his professional website includes a discography of blues tunes particularly suitable for earthquakes. He calls female science writers “sweetheart” and somehow manages to do so in a way that kind of makes them like it (although they remain nevertheless somewhat embarrassed to admit it).

It’s Merguerian’s boots‐on‐the‐ground approach that has provided much of the information we need to understand just what’s going on underneath Gotham. By his count, Merguerian has walked the entire island of Manhattan: every street, every alley. He’s been in most of the tunnels there, too. His favorite one by far is the newest water tunnel in western Queens. Over the course of 150 days, Merguerian mapped all five miles of it. And that mapping has done much to inform what we know about seismicity in New York.

Most importantly, he says, it provided the first definitive proof of just how many faults really lie below the surface there. And as the city continues to excavate its subterranean limits, Merguerian is committed to following closely behind. It’s a messy business.

Down below the city, Merguerian encounters muck of every flavor and variety. He power‐washes what he can and relies upon a diver’s halogen flashlight and a digital camera with a very, very good flash to make up the difference. And through this process, Merguerian has found thousands of faults, some of which were big enough to alter the course of the Bronx River after the last ice age.
His is a tricky kind of detective work. The center of a fault is primarily pulverized rock. For these New York faults, that gouge was the very first thing to be swept away by passing glaciers. To do his work, then, he’s primarily looking for what geologists call “offsets”—places where the types of rock don’t line up with one another. That kind of irregularity shows signs of movement over time—clear evidence of a fault.

Merguerian has found a lot of them underneath New York City.

These faults, he says, do a lot to explain the geological history of Manhattan and the surrounding area. They were created millions of years ago, when what is now the East Coast was the site of a violent subduction zone not unlike those present now in the Pacific’s Ring of Fire.

Each time that occurred, the land currently known as the Mid‐Atlantic underwent an accordion effect as it was violently folded into itself again and again. The process created immense mountains that have eroded over time and been further scoured by glaciers. What remains is a hodgepodge of geological conditions ranging from solid bedrock to glacial till to brittle rock still bearing the cracks of the collision. And, says Merguerian, any one of them could cause an earthquake.

You don’t have to follow him belowground to find these fractures. Even with all the development in our most built‐up metropolis, evidence of these faults can be found everywhere—from 42nd Street to Greenwich Village. But if you want the starkest example of all, hop the 1 train at Times Square and head uptown to Harlem. Not far from where the Columbia University bus collects people for the trip to the Lamont‐Doherty Earth Observatory, the subway tracks seem to pop out of the ground onto a trestle bridge before dropping back down to earth. That, however, is just an illusion. What actually happens there is that the ground drops out below the train at the site of one of New York’s largest faults. It’s known by geologists in the region as the Manhattanville or 125th Street Fault, and it runs all the way across the top of Central Park and, eventually, underneath Long Island City. Geologists have known about the fault since 1939, when the city undertook a massive subway mapping project, but it wasn’t until recently that they confirmed its potential for a significant quake.

In our lifetimes, a series of small earthquakes have been recorded on the Manhattanville Fault including, most recently, one on October 27, 2001. Its epicenter was located around 55th and 8th—directly beneath the original Original Soupman restaurant, owned by restaurateur Ali Yeganeh, the inspiration for Seinfeld’s Soup Nazi. That fact delighted sitcom fans across the country, though few Manhattanites were in any mood to appreciate it.

The October 2001 quake itself was small—about M 2.6—but the effect on residents there was significant. Just six weeks prior, the city had been rocked by the 9/11 terrorist attacks that brought down the World Trade Center towers. The team at Lamont‐Doherty has maintained a seismic network in the region since the ’70s. They registered the collapse of the first tower at M 2.1. Half an hour later, the second tower crumbled with even more force and registered M 2.3. In a city still shocked by that catastrophe, the early‐morning October quake—several times greater than the collapse of either tower—jolted millions of residents awake with both reminders of the tragedy and fear of yet another attack. 9‐1‐1 calls overwhelmed dispatchers and first responders with reports of shaking buildings and questions about safety in the city. For seismologists, though, that little quake was less about foreign threats to our soil and more about the possibility of larger tremors to come.

Remember: The Big Apple has experienced an M 5.0 quake about every hundred years. The last one was that 1884 event. And that, says Merguerian, means the city is overdue. Just how overdue?

“Gee whiz!” He laughs when I pose this question. “That’s the holy grail of seismicity, isn’t it?”

He says all we can do to answer that question is “take the pulse of what’s gone on in recorded history.” To really have an answer, we’d need to have about ten times as much data as we do today. But from what he’s seen, the faults below New York are very much alive.

“These guys are loaded,” he tells me.

He says he is also concerned about new studies of a previously unknown fault zone known as the Ramapo that runs not far from the city. Savage shares his concerns. They both think it’s capable of an M 6.0 quake or even higher—maybe even a 7.0. If and when, though, is really anybody’s guess.

“We literally have no idea what’s happening in our backyard,” says Savage.

What we do know is that these quakes have the potential to do more damage than similar ones out West, mostly because they are occurring on far harder rock capable of propagating waves much farther. And because these quakes occur in places with higher population densities, these eastern events can affect a lot more people. Take the 2011 Virginia quake: Although it was only a moderate one, more Americans felt it than any other one in our nation’s history.

That’s the thing about the East Coast: Its earthquake hazard may be lower than that of the West Coast, but the total effect of any given quake is much higher. Disaster specialists talk about this in terms of risk, and they make sense of it with an equation that multiplies the potential hazard of an event by the cost of damage and the number of people harmed. When you take all of those factors into account, the earthquake risk in New York is much greater than, say, that in Alaska or Hawaii or even a lot of the area around the San Andreas Fault.

Merguerian has been sounding the alarm about earthquake risk in the city since the ’90s. He admits he hasn’t gotten much of a response. He says that when he first proposed the idea of seismic risk in New York City, his fellow scientists “booed and threw vegetables” at him. He volunteered his services to the city’s Office of Emergency Management but says his original offer also fell on deaf ears.

“So I backed away gently and went back to academia.”

Today, he says, the city isn’t much more responsive, but he’s getting a much better response from his peers.

He’s glad for that, he says, but it’s not enough. If anything, the events of 9/11, along with the devastation caused in 2012 by Superstorm Sandy, should tell us just how bad it could be there.

He and Savage agree that what makes the risk most troubling is just how little we know about it. When it comes right down to it, intraplate faults are the least understood. Some scientists think they might be caused by mantle flow deep below the earth’s crust. Others think they might be related to gravitational energy. Still others think quakes occurring there might be caused by the force of the Atlantic ridge as it pushes outward. Then again, it could be because the land is springing back after being compressed thousands of years ago by glaciers (a phenomenon geologists refer to as seismic rebound).

“We just have no consciousness towards earthquakes in the eastern United States,” says Merguerian. “And that’s a big mistake.”

Adapted from Quakeland: On the Road to America’s Next Devastating Earthquake by Kathryn Miles, published by Dutton, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC. Copyright © 2017 by Kathryn Miles.

The Australian Nuclear Horn (Daniel 8:9)

US could ask Australia to host nuclear missiles | The Strategist

US could ask Australia to host nuclear missiles

What would we say if Washington asked to base nuclear-armed missiles, aimed at China, on Australian territory? It’s not an entirely hypothetical question. Amid all the talk of a new cold war with China, the strategic logic of America’s plans to withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty plainly suggests that such a request is a real possibility.

If the request comes—and it could come quite soon—Australia would face a truly momentous choice. If we agreed, our relations with China would face a crisis far, far worse than the recent chill from which the government has been working so hard to extract us. To refuse would be to abandon our ally in what everyone in Washington now sees as the decisive strategic contest of our time. Either way, Canberra’s fragile effort to avoid taking sides in the epic contest over the future of Asia would be smashed.

To see why this possibility looms, we have to go back to the INF Treaty and America’s reasons to withdraw. China wasn’t a party to the bilateral agreement reached in 1987 between the Soviet Union and America to ban missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometres. But it has been clear that the US decision to withdraw is as much or more about China as about Russia.

Moscow has violated the treaty by building new missiles that contravene its terms, but Beijing has never been constrained from building such weapons, and it now has thousands. Thanks to the treaty, America has none, but now, as the contest with China becomes America’s primary strategic focus, Washington wants to be able to match Beijing’s intermediate-range missiles with equivalent forces of its own. That’s a key reason why it wants to scrap the treaty.

Matching Beijing’s intermediate-range missiles with similar forces is seen to be important to Washington because of a fear that China’s intermediate-range forces will undermine the credibility of America’s nuclear deterrent in the Western Pacific. It’s the same fear that drove America to deploy intermediate-range nuclear missiles to Europe in the 1970s and 1980s, to counter the Soviet SS-20 missiles that threatened Western Europe.

The worry then was that the Soviet SS-20s could threaten Western Europe with impunity if Washington didn’t have similar systems, and had to rely instead on US-based intercontinental-range missiles to counter them. It was feared that Washington would be deterred from using those forces because that would provoke a massive Soviet counterattack on the US homeland. So, to deter the Soviets and reassure its European allies, America based intermediate-range nuclear missiles in Europe until, as the Cold War wound down, US President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev agreed to ban such forces altogether.

Now that Washington’s strategists recognise that the US is in a new cold war with Beijing, they want to base intermediate-range nuclear forces in the Western Pacific for the same reasons. They are starting to take China more seriously as a nuclear adversary, and they worry that the possibility of a Chinese counterattack on America itself might undermine the deterrent credibility of their intercontinental-range forces. They worry both that China will be less convinced than they have long assumed of America’s nuclear advantage, and that that will lead Asian allies to doubt America’s commitment to defend them from Chinese nuclear threats.

Those worries are not without some foundation. In South Korea, there’s an active debate about the need to develop an independent nuclear capability. Japan’s doubts about America’s reliability as an ally are real and growing. And conversations with US policymakers and analysts suggest that some in Washington have been surprised and somewhat alarmed by the way that doubts about America’s reliability have sparked a debate here on The Strategist and elsewhere about whether Australia needs to consider nuclear options, suggesting that we too are losing faith in America.

This is bad news for Washington as it gears up to contest China’s bid for regional hegemony in Asia. America will need these allies, and that means they need to be convinced that the US is a credible and reliable nuclear ally. And many in Washington seem to have decided that deploying intermediate-range nuclear forces to the territories of its Asian allies is the best way to do that.

It’s far from clear that this is true. The whole INF issue deals only with land-based missiles, and America has plenty of options to deploy sea-based nuclear forces to Asia—just as it had in Europe in the 1970s and 1980s. The land-based INF deployment to Europe was a political gesture aimed at reassuring nervous Europeans, and made little real difference to the nuclear balance in Europe—as many Americans recognised at the time.

But more importantly, deploying intermediate-range nuclear forces—whether land or sea based—would not fix the underlying weakness in America’s nuclear posture in Asia. That’s because the problem with that posture is not a lack of intermediate-range weapons but a lack of clear resolve to accept the risks to America itself of using them to attack China.

Those risks are very real. Unlike the old Soviet Union, China has no major military assets beyond its own territory, so the only targets worth hitting with nuclear forces would be in China itself. Any nuclear attack on Chinese territory—whether launched from within Asia or from the US—would carry a serious danger of Chinese nuclear retaliation against American territory.

Some strategists in the US assume that Beijing could be deterred from such retaliation by fear of a full-scale American counterstrike, but that can’t be taken for granted. And no one in Washington seems ready to argue that America’s desire to remain the primary power in Asia is worth the million American lives that might be lost in a Chinese nuclear attack on the US. That is one key difference between the old Cold War and the new one. There was little doubt that America was willing to suffer a nuclear attack to contain the Soviets, but no one has made that case about China.

Even so, the push to build and deploy land-based intermediate-range nuclear forces to Asia is now gaining momentum in Washington, and raises the question of where they would be based. The only US territory in the region is Guam, which is already highly vulnerable. The whole logic on INF deployment suggests that Washington will be looking to locate these forces with its allies in the Western Pacific.

That means before too long we can expect a preliminary approach about whether we would be willing to host some of them here. It would make a kind of military sense. Missiles at the upper end of the intermediate-range band based in northern Australia would be able to reach most of China, and would be much more secure from Chinese preemptive attack than missiles based in South Korea or Japan.

But to many in Washington, the real point of putting this request to Canberra would be political rather than strategic. It would not just be about reassuring Australia of America’s reliability as an ally, but also about testing Australia’s commitment to stand by America in the new cold war with China.

It cannot have gone unnoticed in Washington that Canberra has so far failed to endorse America’s new tough line on China, and is still trying desperately to avoid choosing sides between our major ally and our primary trading partner. That is not what Washington wants or expects. It wants us to choose sides unambiguously, and what better way to force that choice than to ask us to host nuclear missiles aimed at China?

The risk for the US, of course, is that we might not make the choice it wants. We might say no.

Hugh White is professor of strategic studies at the Australian National University. Image courtesy of the US National Archives.

The Antichrist is the Crucible for the New Iraq Government

Summer is Coming: The Crucible for the New Iraqi Government

In Baghdad this month, the mood is generally positive. A new government has been formed and higher oil prices (the recent decline notwithstanding) have given Iraq a stake of cash with which to address its problems. Despite continuing insecurity in the mixed areas between Baghdad and Mosul, levels of violence remain low. While most Westerners — constrained by the terms of their insurance policies or governments — retreat to convoys of SUVs, those unburdened by such restraints walk freely, are driven by friends, and take cabs or use “Uber-like” services. Nightlife continues to flourish in Baghdad as its youthful population brings a new mood to the city. And while the “opening” of the so-called “Green Zone” was a bit overhyped (it’s only open at night), it nonetheless shows the confidence of the Iraqi government to allow access to its own government center (after clearing numerous checkpoints). By any objective standard, things in Iraq are as good as they have ever been. True, the rest of the country lags behind the relative functionality of Baghdad, but the example set by the capital is important.

The Status of the Government

The shadow of the Basra protests of July and August still looms over the polity. The protests in Basra shook the state to the core, for several reasons. First, they occurred in the heart of the power base of most of the major parties. Major Shi’a parties such as Dawa, Fadhila, Hikma, Asa’ib al Haq (AAH) and Badr were all caught up in the conflagration, their offices burned by the protestors, making clear the lack of satisfaction with politics as usual. Second, Basra province is a critical, even existential, interest of the Iraqi state. As the last few years have demonstrated, Sunni-majority cities like Fallujah, Ramadi, and even Mosul can be lost, and Iraq can win them back, albeit at too high a cost. The fate of these regions does not threaten the (Shi’a-majority) state itself, at least not in the short term. But Basra is the heart, and — for now — virtually the sum total, of the Iraqi economy. Absent Basra’s oil revenues, activity in Baghdad — and the other provinces — grinds to a halt. Finally, these protests involved an important, if controversial, sector of Iraqi society — those who fought against ISIL, as well as the families of those who died or were heavily wounded during the fight. The failure of the state to provide essential services for the demobilized Hashd fighters and their families is of deep embarrassment.

Out of these protests — and the lack of a clear electoral mandate — has emerged this new Iraqi government. Prior to the protests, the political leaders were caught up in discussions about the “largest bloc” of new parliamentarians — from the eleven major coalitions — to select the new government. Then came the protests, which seem to have driven the largest two vote-gaining (though opposing) parties from the 2018 electoral cycle — the Sadrists and the Hashd-aligned “Fatah” party — to forge a very informal deal to move forward on a government, bypassing that key and stabilizing step. After the somewhat surprising election of Dr. Barham Saleh as President (Dr. Barham, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan(PUK) candidate, won over the  Kuridish Democratic Party (KDP) candidate Fuad Hussein, despite the KDP’s backroom dealings with the other major parties), the familiar figure of Adel Abdul-Mahdi, a 76 year-old former vice president, oil minister, and finance minister, was selected as the prime minister-designate.

On October 25, the parliament approved a majority of the nominated ministers (14 of 22), making Abdul-Mahdi the prime minister (three more were approved on December 18, then another two on December 24). Iraq-watchers immediately split on whether this was a glass half-full, or half-empty. The half-empty camp noted the absence of both security ministers, Interior and Defense, as well as the controversy surrounding three of the 14 approved ministers being plausibly accused of affiliation with extremist groups — two male ministers being accused of Baathist and al-Qaeda in Iraq ties, and, in late breaking news, the female education minister (the only female minister to date) was embroiled in a scandal regarding her brother’s alleged role as a high-level ISIL figure in Mosul. It now appears she was not sworn into office, leaving four ministries empty.  It was, in this sense, a less than auspicious start.

The half-full camp also has reason for cheer, however. In the key economic and service ministries, the promise to nominate respected technocrats seems to have been honored. Thamir Ghadaban, a British trained petroleum engineer and the oil minister during the interim government of 2004 to 2005, accepted the oil ministry post. He is closely partnered with the new electricity minister, Luay al Khateeb, the founder of the Iraq Energy Association and a well-known infrastructure and resources expert in British and U.S. think tank circles. The health minister, Alaa al-Alwani, has served in senior positions at the World Health Organization, while the new foreign minister, Mohammad al-Hakim, was until recently the Iraqi ambassador to the United Nations. These are all respected and relatively apolitical Iraqi figures with impressive resumes.

The failure to fill the Defense and Interior slots is, first, driven by internal tensions within Iraq’s ethno-sectarian communities, and not between them. Everyone agrees that the defense minister will be a Sunni — it’s just that the Sunni can’t decide internally who he or she should be. Internal to the Shi’a parties, at issue is the nomination of a new interior minister, with the Fatah block of Hadi al-Ameri (Population Mobilization Units/Hashd affiliated) putting forward former National Security Advisor Felah Fayahd as their nominee. This nomination has been strenuously opposed by the Sairoon party of Muqtada al-Sadr. It is widely believed that the inability of the parliament to confirm Fayahd during their session on December 11 means that a new nominee will have to emerge (though this has yet to occur). This is interpreted by Sadr and his allies as a “brushback” of the Iranian strategy of Qassim Soleimani.

Further, in Iraq’s highly pragmatic democracy, it is worth recalling that during the entirety of the second Maliki administration of 2010 to 2014, the parliament confirmed neither Interior nor Defense ministers. Not that this is a model to be followed, but a lapse of a few weeks or months is hardly a crisis.

Even for those who accept the quality of the ministers, there is deep concern about the lack of an underlying coalition. As noted earlier, the key step of forming a “largest bloc” was skipped over by the major parties, leaving it unclear who is supporting the newly formed government. Once again, there are two interpretations about the lack of an underlying coalition. One reading is that this new government is essentially ungrounded, without a reliable block in parliament on which is can fall back. In this interpretation the entire government is walking a daily knife-edge of a “no confidence” vote, and therefore it will be unable, or at least highly unlikely, to take any difficult or controversial positions. Given that resolute action on (hopefully non-corrupt) infrastructure spending is the key issue, an inability to confront contentious issues would put the government in a difficult spot indeed.

The second interpretation notes that the various factions have somewhat bravely moved forward. In the absence of a resounding mandate from the voters, familiar elites have stepped into the void, though limited by the new parliament with a majority of fresh faces. This reading of Baghdad politics maintains that since no new coalition is likely to be formed should a “no confidence” vote occur, that such a vote is politically impossible to generate (as witnessed in the unsuccessful attempts to generate a no confidence vote on Nouri al Maliki in 2013). In this reading, the new government, though again constrained by the parliament, is taking its real cues from the demonstrators (or the people more widely), and the religious authorities in Najaf, both of which are strong voices for reform and action. To introduce a very non-Arabic influence, they seem to be appealing to an almost Rousseauian “General Will” that includes the interests of the citizenry without concern for the interests of the political elites.

New Political Alignments

The parliament is now effectively divided into two opposing blocks. The first, al-Islah, consists of the Sadrists, al Hikma, Abadi’s “Victory,” and the traditional Sunni parties of former Prime Minister Allawi and Saleh Mutlaq, plus a few smaller parties, including the Turkomen Front and the Kurdish New Generation Movement (NGM) (just announced January 15). Opposed to them, in the Bina coalition are arrayed the Fatah party (discussed above), former Prime Minister Maliki’s “State of Law,” and the National Axis party of Khamis Khanjar and Jamal al-Dari. While the Kurds (NGM excepted) keep some distance from this arrangement, in general the KDP is loosely aligned with Bina, and the PUK and smaller parties (Gorran,Kurdish Islamists) aligned with al-Islah. It is extremely important to note the emergence of cross-sectarian coalitions in Iraq.  Whatever one thinks of these two coalitions, their mere existence is a huge step forward in Iraqi politics.  The dispute between these two blocs is not about blood, race, or religion, but genuine policy differences.  This also brings us the phenomenon of one Shi’a majority party being the agent calling out the abuses of another Shi’a majority party from the opposing faction.

With regard to policy, as a convenient shorthand, one can look at al-Islah as the coalition of those parties whose priority is building the capacity of the Iraqi government, while the Bina coalition has an interest in keeping Baghdad weak so that their extra-governmental interests (be that their militia, Iranian interests, rejection of the post-2003 order, or an independent KRG) become more viable. What is at first look an odd array of allies in Bina takes on a clear logic when viewed through this lens. Some analysts have posited that the phenomenon of the KDP working closely with Maliki and the PMU-aligned parties (with whom they otherwise have long-standing disputes) can be explained only by heavy Iranian influence. But when their shared interest in a weak Baghdad is considered, the coalition makes much more sense and can be considered a natural. And just as US interests naturally align it with al-Islah, so also Iran’s interests in a weak Iraq align it with Bina.  Again, having two cross-sectarian and ethnically diverse political “blocs” is a major development and should be applauded. But note that the government draws its primary support from a major actor on each side (Sadrists from al-Islah, Fatah from Bina), so this has not yet evolved into a more traditional bloc in power and bloc in opposition. The quota, or muhasasa,  system—in which all parties get a share, leaving the government without a clear program—has once again survived another round of Iraqi elections, though weaker.

Challenges

I find a vague, though cautious, optimism in well-informed Iraqi circles. Having well-known and internationally respected figures in the presidency (especially) and the prime ministry, as well as technocrats in the service ministries, gives a great deal of hope.

But there is a general awareness that the next crisis is looming, all revolving around infrastructure and services. Iraq’s sweltering temperatures create a huge demand for electricity in the summer, primarily for air conditioning. Summer demand peaks at 23 gigawatts, with the Iraqi grid averaging just over 12 gigawatts of power (peaking at 16 to 17) — enough for winter demand, but with its inadequacies and inefficiencies clearly on display during the blistering summer heat. It is this lack of electrical capacity (despite growing almost 300 percent since 2003), combined with similar deficiencies in clean water — for drinking, agriculture, and fisheries — and a general lack of economic opportunity that have most galvanized the Iraqi public. While the last government dealt with ISIL and the budget crisis, this government will be judged by services and the economy.

In a sentence, this government must find the “low hanging fruit” in services improvement, aggressively pursue these easy (or at least easier) solutions, and then move forward on the longer-term fixes. In the electrical sector, this means finding another source for a gigawatt or two of power, repairing the grid to reduce losses in transmission, and finding ways to move forward on actually having Iraqis pay for their government power, so that demand is kept at more reasonable levels. Once these steps are taken, Iraqis should then be able to see serious movement on longer-term solutions, as GE and/or Siemens begin to construct large-scale power generation plants to really address the demand issues of summer air conditioning.

Water projects need similar focus. Short-term local filtering efforts may be needed to address crisis situations, while longer-term projects are developed to deal with the underlying issues of poor urban sewage treatment throughout Iraq, and poor water management within all the river systems. State-of-the-art irrigation systems will be necessary to regenerate Iraq’s agricultural sector, as it is clear that there will not be sufficient water in Iraq’s future to allow for flood-style irrigation techniques now common. Further, the Turks will soon begin filling the reservoir behind Ilisu Dam, putting more pressure on the Iraqi water system already challenged by climate change, as considerably fewer gallons make their way downstream. This reduced flow both gives less water in absolute terms and increases the proportion of toxins in the water that does continue down the Tigris to the sea.

The domestic oil and gas sector has been making incremental improvements for years, but a more aggressive approach, in conjunction with assistance from international oil and gas and service companies, may be required. There are already very promising moves towards investment projects involving gas capture. Having these come to full maturity with both a working project and a viable business model would do a great deal to ease suspicions on both sides. Increasing the crude oil export capacity is a key requirement. The new Iraqi pipeline going north to Turkey is a good sign, but the lag in putting the long-discussed pipeline through Jordan to the Port of Aqaba should be addressed soonest, in addition to infrastructure improvements at and around the Basra ports. Finally, Iraq should move fully forward on the development of its gas fields, not only those associated with the oil fields in Basra and Kirkuk, but also those in Anbar and Sulimaniya. Full engagement of Iraq’s gas sector would not only allow for independent fueling of its own electrical plants, but an export commodity that would promote more economic interdependence with Turkey.

Finally on the jobs front, simply getting the first of these “shovel ready” projects underway should result in a number of jobs, both directly in construction, and secondarily in the contracts providing services to the companies and workers on the direct contracts. While many of the highly skilled jobs will have to go to expats — whether Turkish, Korean, or American — there will be significant numbers of Iraqis put to work. Of course, the business climate is sufficiently hostile that the number put to work will almost certainly be significantly less than it might otherwise be. But still, more jobs are better, even if the total is artificially deflated.

The crisis of infrastructure and services in the south is echoed in the north, though with a slightly different accent. The north had — in general — superior infrastructure to the south, but it has suffered a great deal of damage in the liberation from ISIL. Iraqi cities — Fallujah, Ramadi, Tikrit, Mosul — suffered anywhere from significant to devastating damage from airpower, artillery, truck bombs, and hand-to-hand fighting. But in general one can say that the infrastructure in the north is suffering only a few years of neglect (since the arrival of ISIL), rather than the 15 years of neglect in Basra.

But the situation in the north is complicated by at least four other issues — the tensions between Baghdad and Irbil, the lack of security in many of the rural areas in the north, the problems related to the various minority groups (Turkomen, Christians, Yezidi, Shabak), and the issues of re-integrating those who participated, to whatever degree, in the ISIL project. Each of these issues is a full project unto itself, and it is not clear that Baghdad has the capacity — or the focus, given the issues in the south — to deal with all, or any, of these issues.

But while the north has a host of challenges, Baghdad’s primary focus will remain on the south. While the north’s problems are very real, the problems in the south are existential to the state. It is therefore by solving the problems in the south that the state will be judged. From the perspective of state survival, the south is existential, while Baghdad has demonstrated that it can lose the north, then recover it. Baghdad must make serious progress in infrastructure throughout the country, but particularly make amends with Basra, the generator of the entirety of the Iraqi financial system.  This will make for an interesting tension with the international community, which is far more focused on the liberated areas and Iraqi minorities.

The United States has a key role to play in providing technical expertise, helping Iraq where it can. The United States should resist the temptation to be transactional in its dealings with Iraq at this moment. The United States is deeply vested in a fully functioning Iraq (which, de facto, essentially aligns its interests with al-Islah) and in the longer term, its relationship with Iraq will be deeper and more beneficial for having helped in this key moment. There is a significant role for U.S. business to play in Iraq (despite, again, the very difficult business climate), but it should be on the basis of free and open competition. Finally, the United States should work very closely with at least the president and the prime minister. Both President Barham Saleh and Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi are known quantities to the U.S. , particularly Dr. Barham, who lived in the United States for over a decade (making the political accusations of his being some type of Iranian proxy, or even the Iranian candidate, simply risible). This is not to say that the United States is or should be opposed to the parliamentary speaker, Mohammad al-Halbousi; it’s simply that we don’t yet have the same long history with him.

Iraq’s infrastructure problem is the crucible that will test the next government. In short, the debate between the optimists and pessimists, whether on the government or the stability of the coalition underlying it, will be resolved next summer. It is not unthinkable that this government could fail.  The government must show significant progress by next summer. Electrical generation must show at least incremental improvement, with the promise of significant change in evidence. While Iraq’s water problem probably cannot be changed at all in the next year, the government must be able to show that ground has been broken — or at the very least contracts awarded — on projects that international experts agree will address the myriad of water issues. New jobs must be in evidence, both in construction on all the items above, plus private-public partnerships with the State-Owned Enterprises and reduced regulation for the nascent entrepreneurial sector. And finally, there must be both an improved revenue flow — from oil sales in the near term — and better management of finances and contracts.

Summer is coming. And patience — both in the “street” and in Najaf — has worn thin. This government is sitting on a powder keg. Baghdad must show serious progress, or else the absence of power and water might overthrow the government in a way that ISIL could not.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article erroneously referred to the Hashd-aligned “Faith” party. The correct name is the Fatah party.

Douglas Ollivant, a former NSC Director for Iraq during the Bush and Obama administrations, is an ASU Senior Fellow in the Future of War project at New America. He is a managing partner of Mantid International, a strategic consulting firm with offices in Washington, Beirut and Baghdad, and a senior editor at War on the Rocks. Mantid International advises clients working in Federal Iraq.

Russia Prepares for the Nuclear Apocalypse (Revelation 17)

Russia Says It Will Soon Have More Than 30 Nuclear Apocalypse Torpedoes: Report

Kyle MizokamiToday 10:25am

Russian state news media is reporting that the country’s armed forces will receive more than thirty, long-range nuclear-tipped super-torpedoes. Named Poseidon, the super-torpedoes will be armed with thermonuclear warheads designed to obliterate coastal cities and other targets and spread lethal radioactive fallout. The fast-moving, nuclear armed torpedo would be difficult for U.S. and allied forces to stop, and failure to do so would guarantee the deaths of millions.

Poseidon, originally known as Kanyon or Status 6, was originally revealed in in November 2015 when the weapon’s name and a picture were “accidentally” leaked by Russian state television. The leaked information included a range of 6,200 miles, maximum submergence depth of 3,280 feet and a top speed of 56 knots, which works out to 64 miles an hour on land. The name was changed to Poseidon in 2018, and full scale tests are anticipated to begin this year.

Now, TASS media agency is reporting Moscow will procure 32 Poseidon torpedoes, with sixteen based with the country’s Northern Fleet and sixteen based with the country’s Pacific Fleet. Poseidon missiles based with the Northern Fleet could attack targets in Europe, Canada, and the East Coast of the United States, while Pacific Fleet torpedoes could attack Japan, China, Canada and the West Coast of the U.S.

Poseidon will be the largest torpedo designed by any country, with a diameter of 6.5 feet and a length of 65 feet. It will be nuclear powered, giving it the ability to cross the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans solo. It will be inertially guided, allowing it to avoid the need to surface to get a GPS fix on its position. The warhead was previously claimed to be up to 200 megatons but is now reported at 2 megatons. While not as horribly over the top as a 200 megaton weapon, it’s still worth keeping in mind that 2 megatons = 2,000 kilotons—and the Hiroshima nuclear blast was a mere 16 kilotons.

Poseidon is designed to be carried two at a time by a mothership submarine, including the submarines Sarov and Khabarovsk, then launched at their targets at extreme ranges. Poseidon won’t be difficult to detect but it will be hard to stop—traveling at 56 knots it will outrun both the U.S. Navy’s nuclear-powered attack submarines and Mk. 48 heavyweight guided torpedoes. Here’s a video made by Russia’s Ministry of Defense to help explain how Poseidon might affect you.

Thirty two Poseidon missiles with multi-megaton warheads would cause terrible damage to U.S. and NATO cities. An attack on San Francisco, with the torpedo detonating under the Golden Gate Bridge, would kill or injure more than half a million people and spread airborne radiation as far north as Nevada. A Poseidon torpedo swimming up to the Statue of Liberty in New York harbor would kill half a million outright and injure another two million, contaminating territory as far north as Portland, Maine. Such devastating attacks would be repeated over and over again against coastal targets on both coasts and abroad, generating tsunamis full of radioactive debris designed to spread fallout inland. The exact target list would only be known to Moscow, but two places for sure on the list are Kitsap, Washington and Kings Bay, Georgia, the east and west coast bases that support America’s ballistic missile submarines. Without those bases in a nuclear war those submarines could not return to reload their missile tubes.

As frightening as Poseidon is, the new weapon is worthless as a first-strike weapon. Poseidon will not suddenly kill you in your sleep with zero warning. Unlike intercontinental ballistic missiles that can reach the United States in minutes, Poseidon needs hours or even days to reach its targets. That’s plenty of time to retaliate and destroy Russia. Instead, Poseidon is designed as a second-strike weapon, dissuading enemies from attacking Russia lest it unleash the nuclear apocalypse torpedo. As long as nuclear war doesn’t break out Poseidon stays in the nuclear bullpen.

Why is Russia developing such a nightmarish weapon? Moscow is worried that America’s ballistic missile defenses, as small as they are, could eventually be scaled up to protect it from Russian missile attacks. Expanding U.S. defenses to do so would involve a thousand-fold increase in interceptors, but it is a theoretical possibility—at least from Russia’s perspective. Unless Russia has retaliatory weapons that can sneak around those defenses, Russia’s nuclear deterrent could be rendered worthless.

Can anyone—or anything stop Poseidon’s deployment? Yes. Poseidon is expensive, and Russia’s economy is smaller than that of Texas or California’s while maintaining a huge arsenal of conventional or nuclear weapons. Poseidon could become unaffordable, or Russia could decide to fund other types of weapons. An arms control agreement between the United States and Russia could outlaw such weapons, but such agreements generally rely on good relations, and the United States would need to give up something on its end—for a weapon that might end up being cancelled anyway. The entire point of developing Poseidon may be to use as a bargaining chip.

Poseidon is the first new type of nuclear weapon in decades. As numbed as the general public is to threat of nuclear war, Poseidon with its radioactive tsunamis feels like a fresh outrage. Will Russia eventually field this new terror weapon? We’ll just have to see.

East Coast Expecting The Sixth Seal (Revelation 6:12)

United States Fault Lines Map – Earthquakes could also happen in Cites

Submitted by Nicole Wilson on January 22, 2010 – 3:07pm.

[BestSyndication News] Earthquakes are always a concern out in Alaska and in California, as it is full of fault lines that are continually shifting. There are some fault lines that are overdue to shift, especially the California San Andres fault line that runs through the mountain ranges and close to Wrightwood. But did you know there is a United States Fault Lines Map that illustrates great potentials for earthquakes outside of our state?

New Madrid Fault Line

The New Madrid Fault Line has records of over 4000 earthquake reports since 1974. This fault line is also called the New Madrid Seismic Zone and has potential to devastate the states of Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Arkansas, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Mississippi. The biggest part of the New Madrid Fault Line sits in Missouri.

We often forget that this Midwestern fault line is there, but in 1811-1812 there was a series of earthquakes that shook with estimated magnitudes of 8.1 – 8.3, with several aftershocks of 6.0 magnitudes. Since those big ones, the largest earthquake that this fault line produced was in a 6.6-magnitude quake that happened on October 31, 1895. It’s epicenter was in Charleston, Missouri.The damage from these earthquakes were extensive, and there has been recent speculation by the scientific community that believe that this fault line might be shutting down and moving elsewhere. In an issue of Nature, scientist believe the current seismic activity at the New Madrid Fault line is only aftershocks from the earthquake back in 1811 and 1812.

Ramapo Fault Line

The Ramapo Fault Line spans 300 kilometers and affects the states of New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. These faults run between the Appalachian Mountains and Piedmont areas to the east.

This fault remains relatively inactive, but scientists believe that it could produce some serious earthquakes. There was a study completed in 2008 that believes a 6 – 7 magnitude earthquake will very likely occur from this fault line. The last time this fault was the most active was believed to be 200 million years ago.

San Andreas Fault Line

The last few years Southern California has been preparing for the next big one with government sponsored Earthquake Drills. Scientist are predicting that the next big one with a magnitude of a 7.0 or higher for this fault line will happen any time, it could be now or 10 years from now. They believe the areas that are going to be hit the hardest are going to be Palm Springs and a number of other cities in San Bernardino, Riverside and Imperial counties in California, and Mexicali municipality in Baja California.

To learn more about earthquakes you can visit http://earthquake.usgs.gov/learn/

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

East Coast Earthquake Preparedness

By By BEN NUCKOLS

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.

Bolton gets more fuel for the fire

Bolton endorses report accusing Iran of hiding nuclear facilities

By Victor Morton – The Washington Times – Monday, January 14, 2019

National Security Adviser John Boltonretweeted, with apparent approving comment, a report that accused Iran of fudging its reports to nuclear-disarmament watchdogs.

Specifically, the report published by the Institute for Science and International Security accused Iran, based on satellite imagery and documents seized last year by Israeli intelligence, of not-identifying a former nuclear weapons site under Project 110 of the Amad Plan.

That project “was charged with the development and production of nuclear warheads,” most specifically uranium metallurgy and weapons components, the report said

“Report: Iran’s secret nuclear archive ‘provides substantial evidence that Iran’s declarations to IAEA are incomplete & deliberately false,’” Mr. Bolton tweeted, in part quoting the report by David Albright, Olli Heinonen, Frank Pabian, and Andrea Stricker

“The President was right to end horrible Iran deal. Pressure on Iran to abandon nuclear ambitions will increase,” Mr. Bolton concluded.

The Institute writers advised that “the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors should urge the IAEA to verify sites, locations, facilities, and materials involved in these activities, and urge Iran to cooperate fully in these investigations.”

Iran Ready to Nuke Up

FILE PHOTO – Iran’s nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi speaks to Reuters during an interview in Brussels, Belgium November 27, 2018. REUTERS/Yves Herman

Iran could enrich uranium to 20 percent within 4 days -atomic chief

16 Jan 2019 12:56AM

Iran can enrich uranium up to 20 percent within four days, its atomic energy chief said on Tuesday, a comment apparently aimed at showing Tehran could quickly expand its enrichment programme if its nuclear deal with world powers collapses.

Iran’s 2015 accord with world powers caps the level to which it is able to enrich uranium to 3.67 percent purity, well below the 20 percent it was reaching before the deal, and the roughly 90 percent suitable for a nuclear weapon.

President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the deal last May, calling it flawed, and reimposed sanctions on Iran. Tehran refuses to renegotiate and has said the deal could fall apart unless European signatories preserve its economic benefits for the Islamic Republic against U.S. pressure.

“If we want to come out of the nuclear deal and produce, within four days we could start our 20 percent,” Ali Salehi, head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, told the semi-official Fars News Agency. “But we already have stockpiles of 20 percent, and the capability.”

Salehi did not elaborate on his remark about stockpiles. Iran’s reserve of 20 percent enriched uranium was downblended, shipped abroad or turned into fuel plates for a research reactor after the nuclear deal was clinched.   

Salehi told Reuters in an interview last November that Iran could resume enriching uranium to 20 percent purity – seen as well above the level suitable for fuelling civilian power plants – if the 2015 deal’s trade spin-offs do not pan out for Tehran.

Iran is allowed under the deal to produce nuclear fuel under strict conditions that need to be approved by a working group set up by the signatories. Those conditions include ensuring that the fuel cannot be converted to uranium hexafluoride, the feedstock for centrifuges that enrich uranium.

(Reporting by Babak Dehghanpisheh; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

Iran Tests the Mettle of Babylon the Great

Iran keeps testing Trump — Why? Because it knows he’s much tougher than Obama ever was

James Jay Carafano22 hours ago

None of the world’s truly bad guys stays out the headlines for long. After keeping a relatively low profile for several months, Iran earlier this week found itself back in the news twice.

First came reports that U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton asked the Pentagon last year for military options to respond to two Iranian-sponsored terrorist acts in Iraq.

Then came news of a failed Iranian missile launch. Iran claimed it was merely sending up a satellite, but U.S. officials said the failed launch was part of Iran’s effort to test and expand its ballistic missile weapons capability.

IRAN SAYS IT’S LAUNCHED A SATELLITE THAT DIDN’T REACH ORBIT

While Iran is back in the headlines now, it’s the months when it was out of the news that may tell us more about what the regime is up to.

Clearly, the Iranian regime did not see the changed policies of President Trump coming.

Iran got a sweetheart deal from the Obama administration to temporarily put its nuclear weapons program on hold. In addition, the Iranian regime watched President Obama draw and then ignore red lines in Syria, and pursue ambivalent policies in Syria and Iraq until ISIS erupted and could no longer be ignored.

And Iran saw President Obama soft-peddle the U.S. alliance with Israel, so that America might appear more even-handed in dealing the Palestinians.

For now, it looks like Iran’s plan is to take former Obama Secretary of State John Kerry’s advice and just wait Trump out. The mullahs hope is that in two years they will get a new U.S. president who will drop the sanctions and beg to re-up Obama’s nuclear deal.

Beyond the kinder, gentler treatment from America that it received from the Obama administration, the Iranian regime also received a grand new opportunity for meddling: the war in Yemen.

Yes, times were good for Tehran during the Obama years as it pursued its goal of expanding influence by destabilizing the rest of its region.

Then President Trump ruined the party.

Once in office, President Trump began systematically turning around U.S. policy. And, make no mistake, this was all Trump. The strategy to put Iran back in its box started long before long-time Iran skeptics like Bolton joined his administration and before Pompeo moved from his job as CIA director to head the State Department.

The White House laid out a new approach for dealing with Tehran in the 2017 National Security Strategy and has followed it to the letter ever since. Pompeo’s recent Cairo speech simply reaffirmed that the administration sees Iran as chief troublemaker in the greater Middle East.

President Trump’s strategy has made the mullahs miserable. The U.S. withdrawal from Obama’s nuclear deal has dealt a series of hammer blows to Iran’s economy. Even Tehran admits the new U.S. sanctions are hitting hard.

At the same time, anti-regime protests and strikes continue throughout the country. Iran is also getting multinational pushback on every front from funding the Houthi rebels in Yemen to supporting Shiite militias in Iraq.

The Iranian government, while unhappy, remains as obstreperous as ever. Iranian Foreign Mohammad Javad Zarif recently went after Poland for agreeing to host a “U.S. anti-Iran conference” in February.

And the mullahs who rule Iran continue to play hostage diplomacy. An American citizen with a valid Iranian visa disappeared in July. Later, he reappeared – inexplicably in an Iranian prison –the fourth American now being held by the regime.

Tehran also continues to arm and supply Hamas, Hezbollah, the Houthi rebels, and Shiite militias in Iraq. Further afield, it keeps plotting terrorist attacks in Europe.

Yet, while Iran sticks to its usual bad habits, it hasn’t tried anything bold – like trying to close the Straits of Hormuz. Nor has the regime gone directly after U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria.

And while Iran’s nuclear chief has announced plans to start designing a new nuclear enrichment process, the regime has not – so far as we know – actually increased nuclear enrichment. It still allows International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors into the country.

For now, it looks like Iran’s plan is to take former Obama Secretary of State John Kerry’s advice and just wait Trump out. The mullahs hope is that in two years they will get a new U.S. president who will drop the sanctions and beg to re-up Obama’s nuclear deal.

Tehran is also watching closely to see how North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un handles Trump. If Kim can wrangle a sweetheart deal and keep his nukes, then the Iranian regime may reason: worst case scenario, Trump is re-elected, we’ll follow Kim’s playbook and shoot for a similar arrangement in the future.

Meanwhile, we can expect Iran to keep probing for weakness and advantage – without provoking the kind of escalatory confrontation with the West that would put Iran in a real bind. And so the Iranians will press the Europeans, make trouble in their region, name-call – and wait and see.

Yet while pursuing these foreign initiatives, the Iranian government must also somehow weather domestic opposition, a weak economy and an inevitable change in leadership after Iranian Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Sayyid Ali Hosseini Khamenei, 79, goes to the great beyond.

China Raises It’s Nuclear Horn (Daniel 8:8)

Pentagon Sees China Seeking Nuclear Bomber to Compete With U.S.

Anthony Capaccio

January 15, 2019, 2:00 PM MST

DIA also cites Chinese view that war with U.S. not looming

China is likely developing a long-range bomber capable of delivering nuclear weapons and a space-based early warning system it could use to more quickly respond to an attack, according to a new report from the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency.

The development of the bomber, when combined with China’s land-based nuclear weapons program and a deployed submarine with intercontinental ballistic missile technology, would give Beijing a “triad” of nuclear delivery systems similar to the U.S. and Russia, according to the report published Tuesday.

“China is building a robust, lethal force with capabilities spanning the air, maritime, space and information domains which will enable China to impose its will in the region,” the report’s author, Lieutenant General Robert Ashley, said in the introduction.

Some of the report’s assertions are “extremely unprofessional” and “absurd,” Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters at a regular briefing in Beijing on Wednesday, without specifying which aspects of the report she was referring to.

“The report disregards facts and is full of a Cold War and zero-sum mentality. The report speculates on China’s path, strategic intention and defense building,” Hua said. “We hope the U.S. military can view China’s growing military rationally and objectively and maintain the overall situation of military and bilateral relations.”

The report comes as President Donald Trump’s administration focuses on the potential for “great power” conflict with countries like China and Russia as part of its national defense strategy. It also comes amid heightened trade tensions between Washington and Beijing, and continuing disputes about China’s posture in the South China Sea.

Beijing’s development of a nuclear-capable bomber would provide China with “its first credible nuclear triad of delivery systems dispersed across land, sea, and air –– a posture considered since the Cold War to improve survivability and strategic deterrence,” according to the report.

Even without the bomber, China is progressing on its new Jin-class nuclear submarines which, armed with JL-2 ICBMs, are “poised to contribute to China’s nuclear deterrent once they begin strategic patrols in the near future,” DIA said.

The DIA assessment released Tuesday underscores that China maintains a “no first-use” nuclear policy but adds that there is “some ambiguity, however, over the conditions under which China’s NFU policy would apply.”

Despite a slew of disputes over Taiwan, the South China Sea and global trade, the review also says there is no indication in Chinese military strategic documents that Beijing views war with the U.S. as looming.

Moreover, while China’s defense spending climbed an average of 10 percent per year from 2000 to 2016, total spending remains “significantly below” the U.S., the report said. Spending was about 1.3 percent of gross domestic product from 2014-2018, compared to more than 3 percent of GDP for the U.S. over the same period.

China is trying to strike a balance between expanding its capabilities and reach without “alarming the international community about China’s rise or provoking the United States, its allies and partners, or others in the Asia-Pacific region into military conflict or an anti-China coalition,” the report adds.

Underlying China’s concerns are its view that the U.S.-led security architecture in Asia seeks to constrain its rise and interfere with its sovereignty, particularly in a Taiwan conflict scenario and in the East and South China Seas, said DIA.

The DIA’s observations will likely be used by proponents of the Pentagon’s drive to modernize the U.S. aging nuclear weapons infrastructure over 30 years, an effort which, when operations and support costs are included, could total about $1 trillion.

The report also gives credence — albeit in hedged judgments — to claims that China is developing a robust capability to disable U.S. satellites, an undertaking some officials have used to justify higher spending to harden spacecraft and create a separate “Space Force” supported by Trump but questioned by many at the Pentagon.

Chinese military strategists “regard the ability to use space-based systems and deny them to adversaries as central to enabling modern” information warfare,” according to the report. “Space operations probably will form an integral component of other PLA campaigns,” it added, using an acronym for the People’s Liberation Army.

As such, China “continues to develop a variety of counterspace capabilities designed to limit or prevent an adversary’s use of space-based assets during crisis or conflict” in addition to the research and “possible development of satellite jammers and directed-energy weapons,” DIA said.

— With assistance by Dandan Li

(Updates with China’s response in third and fourth paragraphs.)

Babylon the Great Asks for the Impossible

US calls on Iraq todisarm Shia militias

January 16, 2019 at 11:55 am

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has called on the Iraqi government to disarm 67 Shia militias and freeze their activities in preparation to them being disbanded. In response to the US request, Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi has asked Washington to give him some time to act.

Al-Arabiya news site published a list of the militias targeted, including those belonging to political parties participating in the Iraqi government. Among these are the military wing of the Badr Organisation led by Hadi Al-Amiri; the Iraqi Kata’ib Hezbollah or Hezbollah Brigades; the Brigade of Abu Al-Fadl Al-Abbas, also known as Al-Abbas Brigade; and Asa’ib Ahl Al-Haq led by Qais Al-Khazali and Saraya Al-Salam, affiliated with influential Shia cleric Moqtada Al-Sadr.

Most of the militias covered by Pompeo’s request are backed by Iran.