The Antichrist Emerges As Kingmaker

The Antichrist is Kingmaker

The Antichrist is Kingmaker
As Iraq descends into sectarian chaos and political leaders struggle to form a new government, the country faces a new danger: conflict among competing intra-Shiite factions.

While most attention has been focused on the struggle between Grand Ayatollah Ali Al Sistani and Nouri Al Maliki, the outgoing prime minister, there is another important player: Muqtada Al Sadr. He is waiting for his opportunity to play the saviour of Iraq’s Shiites.

Once a renegade cleric with a ragtag militia fighting US forces, Mr Al Sadr has transformed himself into a statesman. He controlled a major bloc in the Iraqi parliament and he became a kingmaker in the selection of Iraq’s prime minister in 2010.

Today, Iraq is facing its gravest threat since 2003. The Islamic State group has declared a caliphate that stretches across Syria and Iraq.

After the Islamic State’s takeover of Mosul, Mr Al Sistani, the most revered cleric in Iraq, emerged from seclusion in an effort to restrain the jihadists, persuade the Shiite political elite to replace Mr Al Maliki and preserve a unified state under a Shiite-led government. Mr Al Sistani issued a call to arms in June, urging all able-bodied Iraqi men to join the security forces. Within a week, thousands of Shiite volunteers joined the Iraqi military or one of a growing number of Shiite militias – two forces that are difficult to distinguish in the current crisis.

Mr Al Sadr does not have the religious credentials of Mr Al Sistani or other senior clerics, but he is the son of a revered ayatollah and he has broad support among the masses. In the days after the takeover of Mosul, Mr Al Sadr called for establishing “peace brigades” that would protect Shiite holy sites in Iraq.

By mid-June, it became clear that Mr Al Sadr’s “peace brigades” were simply a new label for his Mahdi Army. This paramilitary force led a Shiite rebellion against US troops in 2004, and it carried out a bloody campaign against Sunnis during the subsequent civil war.

In 2008, the Mahdi Army supposedly disbanded. But on June 21, in Baghdad’s Sadr City, where the cleric has his base of support, and in Najaf and Karbala, the militia staged its largest show of force in six years. Thousands of fighters marched through the streets with machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades and explosives belts strapped to their chests. “I will purify Mosul, I am a Sadrist,” some of the fighters chanted, following a drill instructor.

Mr Al Sadr announced that his militia would not operate under the control of the Iraqi military or the government – in direct contradiction of Mr Al Sistani’s appeal for all volunteers and militias to coordinate with the Iraqi security forces.

Mr Al Sadr represents the triumph of a defiant brand of Shiism in Iraq. Because Mr Al Sistani and other senior theologians shun direct political involvement, they create a power vacuum among Iraqi Shiites, one that Mr Al Sadr is eager to fill. He wants to be both a respected cleric and a political broker.

In the Shiite world, it is unusual for a young cleric with Mr Al Sadr’s limited theological credentials to gain such a wide following. He is several ranks and years away from attaining the title of ayatollah. But he is the only surviving son of Grand Ayatollah Mohammad Sadiq Al Sadr, who was assassinated by the Iraqi regime in 1999. The elder Mr Al Sadr was a leading Shiite scholar and advocated a strong political role for the clergy. Mr Al Sistani and the elder Al Sadr became rivals in the religious hierarchy.

Aside from his pedigree, Mr Al Sadr has another claim to leadership: he did not leave Iraq to live in comfortable exile during Saddam’s rule.

Amid the euphoria that followed Saddam’s removal in 2003, clergymen debated their role in politics. Mr Al Sadr and his supporters argued that they must fill the void left by the Baathist system. They denounced the US occupation and Washington’s plan to install an interim government made up of exiled Iraqi politicians.

Mr Al Sadr’s followers seized control of hospitals, schools and mosques in parts of Baghdad, Najaf and Karbala. They provided social services in the absence of a central government. Posters of Mr Al Sadr and his martyred father lined the walls of Shiite neighbourhoods. He drew tens of thousands to his rallies and Friday sermons.

Mr Al Sadr started out as a militia leader, with the populist appeal and credibility that comes from being heir to a family of martyrs. He then turned himself into one of Iraq’s most effective politicians.

The elder clerics watched from the sidelines, confident that their rarefied religious authority would be more enduring than the young upstart’s fleeting political power. Now, he is once again poised to become a kingmaker in Iraq.

Mohamad Bazzi is a journalism professor at New York University and a former Middle East bureau chief for Newsday
On Twitter: @BazziNYU

Warning of the Third Woe (Revelation 8:13)

California earthquake a cautionary reminder of West Coast’s volatility

Warning of the Third Woe

Warning of the Third Woe

The 6.0 magnitude earthquake that struck California’s Napa Valley wine country Sunday morning has scientists reminding everyone of the potential for similar quakes here in the Pacific Northwest.

Usually it’s the Cascadia Subduction Zone, the huge undersea fault that causes magnitude 9.0 earthquakes off the Northwest Coast every 300 to 500 years, that gets the most attention. But seismologist Bill Steele from the University of Washington in Seattle said even smaller quakes could cause significant damage in Cowlitz County.

Steele said the California quake caused buildings with unreinforced masonry to collapse, injuring bystanders with falling bricks and debris. Buildings with unreinforced masonry in Longview and elsewhere would be at risk of similar damage.

“I think it’s time we start thinking about how we are going to strengthen these buildings or remove some of them before an earthquake does,” Steele said.

Wet, sandy soils — like most of the lowland Longview-Kelso area — tend to magnify shock waves. This makes structures on them more prone to collapse from liquefaction — which occurs when saturated soil is shaken and turns to quicksand.

The February 2011 magnitude 6.3 quake in Christchurch, New Zealand, killed 185 people and injured thousands more and provided a valuable lesson to scientists.

“We learned from Christ Church that magnitude 6 earthquakes can be devastating. If you have poor soils and poor building types, particularly unreinforced masonry, magnitude 6 can produce … ground motion that can break and displace these bricks so that the building becomes unstable and collapses,” Steele said.

Magnitude 6 earthquakes are not a rarity in Washington and Oregon. The last one in Western Washington occurred in 2001, when a 6.8 temblor north of Olympia injured 400 people and was the most expensive natural disaster in Washington history. Even closer to home, a 5.2 earthquake along the Mount St. Helens seismic zone caused violent shaking here on Feb. 14, 1981. Seismologists believed somewhat stronger quakes are possible along the fault.

How to be earthquake-ready

• Secure ceiling fans and light fixtures using bracing wire. Anchor the bookcases, file cabinets, loose shelving and entertainment centers to walls.
• Secure china, collectibles, trophies, and other shelf items with museum putty. Install a lip or blocking device to prevent books or other articles from falling off shelves.
• Secure televisions, computers, and stereos with buckles and safety straps.
• Ensure appliances have flexible gas or electrical connections.
• Strap the top and bottom of a water heater to wall studs.
• Know how to turn off the gas supply.
• Relocate flammable liquids to a garage or outside storage location.

Source: Federal Alliance for Safe Homes

ISIS May Become A Nuclear Power

ISIS about to become a nuclear power?
Pakistan teetering as Islamic supremacists expand

Abdul Maulana Aziz: Pakistani Islamic Radical

Abdul Maulana Aziz: Pakistani Islamic Radical

Published: 1 day ago

Too Late To Reduce Nuclear Risk (Revelation 16)

What can be done to reduce nuclear risks in volatile countries?

Nobody would dispute the danger inherent in possessing nuclear assets. But that danger becomes far more acute in a combat zone, where nuclear materials and weapons are at risk of theft, and reactors can become bombing targets. These risks – which are most apparent in today’s chaos-ridden Middle East – raise troubling questions about the security of nuclear assets in volatile countries everywhere.

Two recent events demonstrate what is at stake. On July 9, the militant group now known as the Islamic State, formerly the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria, captured 40 kilograms of uranium compounds at Mosul University in Iraq. The captured uranium was not weapons-grade; international inspectors removed all sensitive material from Iraq following the Gulf war of 1991 (which is why it was absent when the United States invaded in 2003). But what international response, if any, would have been initiated if the cache had been highly enriched?

On the same day, Hamas launched three powerful Iranian-designed rockets from Gaza at Israel’s Dimona reactor. Luckily, two missed the target, and Israel managed to intercept the third. But the episode represented a serious escalation of hostilities and served as an important reminder of the vulnerability of nuclear reactors in warzones.

In fact, Hamas made similar attempts to attack the Dimona complex in 2012, as did Iraq in 1991, with the aim of releasing the site’s contents to inflict radiological damage on Israel’s population. (The perpetrators appeared clueless to the fact that certain weather conditions would have concentrated the radioactive debris in the Palestinian-majority West Bank.)

Of course, it is possible that these events are an aberration. After all, the only conflict so far in which authorities have lost control of sensitive nuclear materials was the Georgia-Abkhazia war in the 1990s, when unknown forces seized a small amount of highly enriched uranium from a research institute.

Likewise, though there have been numerous attacks on nuclear reactors under construction, the sole threat to an operating plant in a combat zone outside of Israel occurred at the start of the fighting in the former Yugoslavia, when Serbian nationalists considered attacking Slovenia’s Krsko power plant and sent warplanes over the site. The plant’s operators temporarily halted electricity generation to curb the risk of a radiation release, but nothing came of the threat.

Indeed, whenever nuclear assets have been least secure – during the Soviet Union’s collapse, China’s Cultural Revolution and the Algiers putsch (when a group of mutinous retired generals set their sights on a nuclear device that France was testing in the Algerian desert) – they have not been compromised. Even in Ukraine today, despite the escalating civil conflict, the country’s 15 nuclear power plants have remained untouched (though even with new defensive measures taken by Ukrainian officials, this could easily change).

It is impossible to know whether this benign pattern will hold. But recent developments in the Middle East suggest that there are grounds for concern in other volatile countries, namely Pakistan, North Korea and Iran.

Pakistan has a large nuclear weapons program and faces an expansive jihadist insurgency, which previously attacked military bases that were suspected of housing nuclear assets. Though Pakistan has not experienced a nuclear breach, and the government insists that safeguards remain robust, the country’s increasingly frequent and severe bouts of instability raise serious questions about the future.

While North Korea’s nuclear arsenal is much smaller, persistent doubts about the regime’s sustainability make it a matter of grave concern. In the event of the regime’s collapse – which remains a distinct possibility – it would be difficult to prevent the diversion of its assets, or even the use of its weapons.

For its part, Iran seems relatively stable, at least compared to its neighbors. But it faces an uncertain political future. If a power struggle emerges, the large Bushehr reactor could be used as a bargaining chip.

To mitigate such risks, the international community could maintain its traditional policy of sitting tight and hoping that governments retain control of their nuclear infrastructure. But the United States, for one, is no longer satisfied with this approach. According to media reports, it has devised a strategy for deploying special forces to neutralize Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal in the event that its authorities lose control. And some government-connected think tanks have explored the possibility of deploying U.S. combat forces to address nuclear risks in North Korea if the regime crumbles.

Such plans, however, are by no means foolproof – not least owing to the difficulties of finding concealed nuclear assets and safeguarding reactors. Moreover, the American public’s willingness to become enmeshed in yet another risky military venture, when boosting homeland security could suffice, is dubious, at best.

Instead of waiting for a major development to force hurried action, the world’s major powers should engage in a full-throated debate to determine the best approach to addressing nuclear risks in volatile countries, seeking ways to cooperate whenever necessary. After all, even rival powers such as China and the United States or India and Pakistan share an interest in preventing the world’s most dangerous weapons from falling under the control of its most fanatical minds.

Bennett Ramberg, a policy analyst in the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Politico-Military Affairs under President George H. W. Bush, is the author of “Destruction of Nuclear Energy Facilities in War” and “Nuclear Power Plants as Weapons for the Enemy.” THE DAILY STAR publishes this commentary in collaboration with Project Syndicate © (