Antichrist And US Finally Concur On Something (Rev 13)

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Moqtada al-Sadr and Pentagon concur: It’s the wrong name at the wrong time

France 24

You know you’re in trouble when firebrand Iraqi Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr thinks your operation codename is…well, a bit too firebrand Shiite for his taste.

Yes, it’s true. Scary Sadr, from the scary old Mahdi Army days, has weighed in on the latest debate over the codename given to a military operation to take back ISIS-controlled, Sunni areas of western Iraq.

On Tuesday, the Hashd al-Shaabi — an umbrella for mostly Shiite militias sometimes called the Popular/People’s Mobilization Forces — launched an operation to liberate ISIS-held parts of Iraq’s Sunni heartlands. The codename for the liberating mission, Hashd al-Shaabi spokesman Ahmed al-Assadi told reporters in Iraq, was “Operation Labaik ya Hussein”.

Ya Hussein, what sort of operation name is that for a Shiite force “liberating” their Sunni brothers?

“Labaik ya Hussein” has been translated by many news organizations as “We are at your service, Hussein” although Juan Cole’s version, “Here I am, O Husayn” is probably more accurate.

Hussein (also spelt Husayn or Hussain), one of Shiite Islam’s most revered imams, was the son of Imam Ali and Prophet Muhammad’s daughter, Fatimah Zahra. Hussein’s death during the 7th century Battle of Karbala marked the birth of Islam’s bitter Sunni-Shia divide and it’s an anniversary commemorated across the Shiite world with massive processions featuring paroxysms of grief and self-flagellation accompanied by chants, of which, “Labaik ya Hussein” is a central, rallying cry.

Over the centuries, tomes of theological discourse have been devoted to parsing and interpreting that cry of supplication. In a 2009 speech, Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah kicked off a fiery discourse on the signature Shiite chant proclaiming, “The Americans don’t understand what ‘Labaik ya Hussein’ means. They pass over the meaning without knowing the significance of it,” he roared.

But this time, for once, the stupid Americans actually got it. In what is perhaps the biggest understatement of the current anti-ISIS campaign, Pentagon spokesman Col. Steve Warren expressed disappointment at the operation’s codename, calling it “unhelpful”.

Unhelpful? You bet.

A red rag for a wounded bull

Let’s be clear: Sunnis at large are not anti-Hussein. He is, after all, the grandson of the Prophet. They just don’t revere him as much as the Shiites. In the gentler, more tolerant old days — before Saudi-funded Wahabism spread its austere, uncompromising tentacles across the Muslim world — this codename would have been okay.

But today, it’s not — and certainly not in today’s Iraq.

Naming an operation by saber-rattling Shiite militias into the disgruntled Iraqi Sunni heartlands “Labaik ya Hussein” is like waving a red rag at a bull. And this bull, I fear, could charge straight into ISIS’s arms.

ISIS –- or IS or ISIL or Daesh -– of course styles itself as the savior of marginalized Sunnis against the Iran-backed Shiite (and therefore apostate) powers in Baghdad and Damascus. That’s the prime ISIS recruitment card, especially in Iraq. For months now, US military officials having been desperately trying to win back the support of the Sahwa (Awakening) Sunni sheikhs who helped expel al Qaeda before the US pullout from Iraq.

Well, good luck to that effort. Convincing Iraq’s Sunni sheikhs to join “Operation Labaik ya Hussein” is like convincing the IRA to join an Orange march through Northern Ireland.

From great Arab armies to great Arab militias

When he replaced the disastrous Nuri al-Maliki as prime minister last year, Haider al-Abadi represented the hope that his predecessor’s sectarian way of doing business would end and that the new chief would be able to draw his disgruntled Sunni citizenry into the national fold.

But poor Abadi is looking more like the Viceroy of Baghdad than the prime minister of Iraq these days. Of course he would have preferred to rely solely on the Iraqi security forces. But let’s not waste time on that so called, once-great Arab army. US Defense Secretary Ash Carter was dead right in his assessment of the Iraqi security forces showing no will to battle ISIS, White House damage control notwithstanding. I haven’t seen a great Arab army winning any wars in my lifetime. But I hear, from history books, that they once roamed this earth.

These days, we have great Arab militias, which become even more powerful and even more destabilizing with time and battlefield victories.

And that, for Abadi — a suave civilian politician raised in Baghdad’s affluent Karada district by his mother of Lebanese origin before moving to Britain to start an engineering business — is a ticking bomb. The militias could present a threat to Abadi’s authority and if they do, all bets are off on how he will manage or weather that storm.

If Operation Labaik ya Hussein does succeed in liberating Ramadi and other ISIS-held regions, the Hashd al-Shaabi groups could well get even more cocky and triumphant. And we only have to look to Libya to see what happens when cocky, triumphant armed men believe they are national saviors and refuse to go gently into the night.

Maliki, the spoiler of Baghdad

Abadi’s position is further enfeebled by the presence of his predecessor playing spoiler in political and influential Shiite circles.

As journalist Borzou Daragahi noted in the Financial Times, “Abadi may be prime minister of Iraq, but he still does not live in the palace designated for him in the capital’s fortified Green Zone. That is because his predecessor, Nouri al-Maliki, has refused to move out.”

A “high-ranking member of Abdadi’s cabinet” told Daragahi that, “Maliki is opposed to every step the government makes…Deep down he [Maliki] feels he is being betrayed and he has been treated unfairly by everybody.”

This has alarming shades of the power play in another embattled Arab capital being ripped by the increasingly dangerous Sunni-Shia divide.

In the Yemeni capital of Sanaa, ousted autocrat Ali Abdullah Saleh has gone to bed with his old enemy, the Shiite Houthis, in a bid to undermine an already undermined Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who is currently cooling his heels in exile in Saudi Arabia.

The longstanding political myth in the Arab world has been that it takes a strongman to govern and hold together these nations. When he was president, Saleh famously defined his job description as “dancing on the heads of snakes”. Hadi has proved to be a lumbering dancer. If Abadi is not able to rein in the Shiite militias and comes off as a well-meaning, urbane nice guy incapable of dancing on snakes or riding the Shiite militia tiger, this does not bode well for the security of Iraq as we once knew it.

As for Hezbollah’s ‘Labaik ya Zainab’

Meanwhile, in neighboring Syria, Hezbollah militants helping President Bashar al-Assad cling to power regularly chant, “Labaik ya Zainab” at the funerals of fellow fighters killed in Syria.

Zainab was Hussein’s sister, who was captured during the Battle of Karbala and taken to Damascus, then seat of Umayyad power and currently home to a magnificent shrine dedicated to the Prophet’s granddaughter. The defense of this Damascene shrine is an important propaganda chip in Hezbollah’s efforts to paint their support for Assad as a pan-Shiite resistance against the Sunnis.

Slogans like “Labaik ya Zainab” and Labaik ya Hussein” are redolent with textual and sub-textual meaning in the Muslim world — as clerics like Hassan Nasrallah and Moqtada al-Sadr know all too well.

So, when Sadr issued a statement Wednesday acknowledging that the latest operation codename “is going to be misunderstood, there is no doubt,” someone should have listened to him.

Sadr even offered alternate mission names such as “Labaik ya Salaheddin” or “Labaik ya Anbar”.

By late Wednesday, the Hashd al-Shaabi had heeded Sadr’s call, if not his alternate brand suggestions. Following complaints of sectarianism from local Anbaris who loudly proclaimed their distrust in paramilitaries that pursue “an Iranian agenda,” the Hashd finally announced a new codename.

Iraqi state TV said the paramilitaries had renamed the campaign “Labaik ya Iraq” with Hashd al-Shaabi spokesman Karim al-Nouri breezily declaring the old and new codenames had “the same meaning.” The matter, according to Nouri, had been settled. “Now we have opted for ‘Iraq’ and there is no problem,” he declared.

Alas, the problem hasn’t disappeared. The name change came too late to assure too many already suspicious Iraqi Sunnis, the damage has been done.

As I said, when the likes of Sadr represent the voices of moderation and inclusion, you know you’re in trouble. Especially since Sadr’s own paramilitary force, Saraya al-Salam, is involved in the Shiite militia fight against ISIS. This in turn underscores the precarious nature of the Hashed al-Shaabi alliance. Right now, there are signs of some competition between the groups. But, as Wednesday’s late name change shows, the alliance is holding together for the most in the joint fight against ISIS. If that cohesion starts to crumble though, and Iraqi Sunni disaffection only mounts, ya Hussein, we’re in for a very bloody period indeed.

The US Should Worry More Than India About ISIS (Dan 8)

India concerned ISIS may get access to Pakistan’s nuclear arms
Livemint

Singh said if Pak develops technology that enables its submarines to carry nuclear warheads, ‘it would just be a step further in arming its defense services’

Hong Kong: India is concerned that extremist groups such as Islamic State may get their hands on nuclear arms from Pakistan, minister of state for defence Rao Inderjit Singh said.

“With the rise of ISIS in West Asia, one is afraid to an extent that perhaps they might get access to a nuclear arsenal from states like Pakistan,” Singh said on Saturday on the sidelines of the Shangri-La regional security conference in Singapore.

Terrorism has killed more than 50,000 people in Pakistan since 2001 and given rise to concern about the security of its armaments. Pakistan has the fastest growing nuclear programme in the world, according to the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations, with an arsenal of 100 to 120 warheads, compared with China’s 250 and India with 90 to 100.

Singh said if Pakistan develops technology that enables its submarines to carry nuclear warheads, “it would just be a step further in arming their defense services.”

India ranked 23rd out of 25 countries in the NTI Nuclear Materials Security Index, only above Iran and North Korea. Pakistan ranked 22nd. Bloomberg

West Coast Prone To Nuclear Attacks (Dan 7)

 
SERIOUS FLAWS REVEALED IN U.S. ANTI-MISSILE NUCLEAR DEFENSE AGAINST NORTH KOREA
By DAVID WILLMAN contact the reporter
Two serious technical flaws have been identified in the ground-launched anti-missile interceptors that the United States would rely on to defend against a nuclear attack by North Korea.
Pentagon officials were informed of the problems as recently as last summer but decided to postpone corrective action. They told federal auditors that acting immediately to fix the defects would interfere with the production of new interceptors and slow a planned expansion of the nation’s homeland missile defense system, according to a new report by the Government Accountability Office.
As a result, all 33 interceptors now deployed at Vandenberg Air Force Base in Santa Barbara County and Ft. Greely, Alaska, have one of the defects. Ten of those interceptors — plus eight being prepared for delivery this year — have both.
Summing up the effect on missile-defense readiness, the GAO report said that “the fielded interceptors are susceptible to experiencing … failure modes,” resulting in “an interceptor fleet that may not work as intended.”
The flaws could disrupt sensitive on-board systems that are supposed to steer the interceptors into enemy missiles in space.
The GAO report, an annual assessment of missile defense programs prepared for congressional committees, describes the problems in terse, technical terms. Defense specialists interviewed by The Times provided more detail.
The interceptors form the heart of the Ground-based Midcourse Defense system, GMD for short. Four of the massive, three-stage rockets are stationed at Vandenberg and 29 at Ft. Greely.
They would rise out of underground silos in response to an attack. Atop each interceptor is a 5-foot-long “kill vehicle,” designed to separate from its boost rocket in space, fly independently at a speed of 4 miles per second and crash into an enemy warhead — a feat that has been likened to hitting one bullet with another.
The GMD system was deployed in 2004 as part of the nation’s response to Sept. 11, 2001, and a heightened fear of attack by terrorist groups or rogue states. It has cost taxpayers more than $40 billion so far and has been plagued by technical deficiencies.
One of the newly disclosed shortcomings centers on wiring harnesses embedded within the kill vehicles’ dense labyrinth of electronics.
A supplier used an unsuitable soldering material to assemble harnesses in at least 10 interceptors deployed in 2009 and 2010 and still part of the fleet.
The same material was used in the eight interceptors that will be placed in silos this year, according to GAO analyst Cristina Chaplain, lead author of the report.
The soldering material is vulnerable to corrosion in the interceptors’ underground silos, some of which have had damp conditions and mold. Corrosion “could have far-reaching effects” because the “defective wiring harnesses” supply power and data to the kill vehicle’s on-board guidance system, said the GAO report, which is dated May 6.
When Boeing Co., prime contractor for the GMD system, informed government officials of the problem last summer, they did not insist upon repair or replacement of the defective harnesses, according to the report.
Instead, Missile Defense Agency officials “assessed the likelihood for the component’s degradation in the operational environment as low and decided to accept the component as is,” the report said.
The decision minimized delays in producing new interceptors, “but increased the risk for future reliability failures,” the report said.
Chaplain told The Times that based on her staff’s discussions with the Missile Defense Agency, officials there have “no timeline” for repairing the wiring harnesses.
The agency encountered a similar problem with wiring harnesses years earlier, and the supplier was instructed not to use the deficient soldering material. But “the corrective actions were not passed along to other suppliers,” according to the GAO report.
L. David Montague, co-chairman of a National Academy of Sciences panel that reviewed operations of the Missile Defense Agency, said officials should promptly set a schedule for fixing the harnesses.
“The older they are with that kind of a flawed soldering, the more likely they are to fail,” Montague, a former president of missile systems for Lockheed Corp., said in an interview.
The second newly disclosed defect involves a component called a divert thruster, a small motor intended to help maneuver the kill vehicles in flight. Each kill vehicle has four of them.
The GAO report refers to “performance issues” with the thrusters. It offers few details, and GAO auditors declined to elaborate, citing a fear of revealing classified information. They did say that the problem is different from an earlier concern that the thruster’s heavy vibrations could throw off the kill vehicle’s guidance system.
The report and interviews with defense specialists make clear that problems with the divert thruster have bedeviled the interceptor fleet for years. To address deficiencies in the original version, Pentagon contractors created a redesigned “alternate divert thruster.”
The government planned to install the new version in many of the currently deployed interceptors over the next few years and to retrofit newly manufactured interceptors, according to the GAO report and interviews with its authors.
That plan was scrapped after the alternate thruster, in November 2013, failed a crucial ground test to determine whether it could withstand the stresses of flight, the report said. To stay on track for expanding the fleet, senior Pentagon officials decided to keep building interceptors with the original, deficient thruster.
The GAO report faulted the Missile Defense Agency, an arm of the Pentagon, for “omitting steps in the design process” of the alternate thruster in the rush to deploy more interceptors. The skipped steps would have involved a lengthier, more rigorous vetting of the new design, defense specialists said. The report said the omission contributed to the 2013 test failure.
All 33 interceptors now deployed have the original, defective thruster. The eight interceptors to be added to the fleet this year will contain the same component, GAO officials told The Times.
The missile agency currently “does not plan to fix” those thrusters, despite their “known performance issues,” said the GAO report.
Contractors are continuing to work on the alternate thruster, hoping to correct whatever caused the ground-test failure. The first test flight using the alternate thruster is scheduled for late this year.
The GAO had recommended that the Pentagon postpone integrating the eight new interceptors into the fleet until after that test. Defense Department officials rebuffed the recommendation, the report said.
In a response included in the report, Assistant Secretary of Defense Katharina G. McFarland wrote that delaying deployment of the new interceptors “would unacceptably increase the risk” that the Pentagon would fall short of its goal of expanding the GMD system from 33 interceptors to 44 by the end of 2017.
Asked for comment on the report, a spokesman for the Missile Defense Agency, Richard Lehner, said in a statement that officials “have in place a comprehensive, disciplined program to improve and enhance” the GMD system “regarding the issues noted by the GAO.”
“We will continue to work closely with our industry partners to ensure quality standards are not only met, but exceeded,” the statement said.
Boeing declined to comment.
The GMD system is designed to repel a “limited” missile attack by a non-superpower adversary, such as North Korea. The nation’s defense against a massive nuclear assault by Russia or China still relies on “mutually assured destruction,” the Cold War notion that neither country would strike first for fear of a devastating counterattack.
GMD’s roots go back to the Clinton administration, when concern began to mount over the international spread of missile technology and nuclear development programs. In 2002, President Bush ordered “an initial set of missile defense capabilities” to be put in place within two years to protect the U.S.
To accelerate deployment, then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld exempted the missile agency from the Pentagon’s standard procurement rules and testing standards.
Engineers trace the system’s difficulties to the breakneck pace at which components were produced and fielded. In precisely scripted flight tests above the Pacific, interceptors have failed to hit mock-enemy warheads about half the time.
As a result, the missile agency projects that four or five interceptors would have to be fired at any single enemy warhead, according to current and former government officials. Under this scenario, a volley of 10 enemy missiles could exhaust the entire U.S. inventory of interceptors.
The Obama administration, after resisting calls for a larger system, pledged two years ago to increase the number of interceptors to 44. Both Republicans and Democrats in Congress have pushed for further expansion. The House this month passed a bill authorizing $30 million to plan and design a site for interceptors on the East Coast. The White House called the move “premature.”
david.willman@latimes.com

Playing Cards With Esau (Genesis 28)

Kerry and Iranian Policy

Kerry and Iranian Policy

Why the Long-Term Fate of an Iran Nuclear Deal Rests With . . . IranBy STEPHEN SESTANOVICH

WSJ
May 29, 2015 3:59 PM

When 47 Republican senators wrote to Iran’s supreme leader in March, warning that future Congresses and presidents could reverse a deal between Iran and the Obama administration, many people criticized their letter. For some, it was bad taste; for others, bad politics. But was it bad analysis? Politico has published a related piece by two former George W. Bush administration officials, Eric Edelman and Robert Joseph, and my Council on Foreign Relations colleague (and fellow WSJ Think Tank contributor) Ray Takeyh. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei should read what they say. With just a month left for negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program, the long-term viability of any agreement could depend on it.

Mr. Edelman, Mr. Joseph, and Mr. Takeyh look to history to explore how and when U.S. presidents renounce arms-control deals that their predecessors negotiated. They find three relevant cases: the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (from which George W. Bush withdrew in 2001), the 1979 SALT-II treaty (which Ronald Reagan said in 1986 that he would stop observing), and the 1994 Agreed Framework With North Korea (which the U.S. repudiated in the face of Pyongyang’s cheating in 2002).

Clearly, the United States does rethink the pros and cons of existing agreements. But the real lesson for Ayatollah Khamenei is not that Washington is an unreliable partner. It’s that the fate of a deal depends primarily on Iran—and whether it is a reliable partner.

Look at what finally undid these agreements. Reagan didn’t like the SALT-II treaty but observed it for more than five years. Ultimately, Soviet cheating gave opponents of the treaty a trump card. Mr. Bush, too, would have stuck with a North Korea deal that he didn’t like, but Kim Jong Il made that impossible. In the late 1990s, Russian negotiators rejected a stream of U.S. ideas to adjust the ABM treaty to a world of new ballistic-missile threats. Had Moscow reacted differently, there might still be a treaty.

The message for Iran’s supreme leader? As he tells his diplomats how to handle the last phase of talks, he should know that the one factor most likely to trigger U.S. withdrawal, now or later, is doubt about the other side’s good faith. Washington can live for a long time with agreements it doesn’t like, but fears of cheating are hard to put to rest. (That’s why Saddam Hussein is no longer running Iraq.)

News reports suggest that Iranian negotiators have been instructed to haggle endlessly about what inspectors will be allowed to do and see. Tehran may well make it easier to keep some things hidden. But if it does, chances are that somewhere down the road an American president is going to reconsider the deal.

Stephen Sestanovich, a professor at Columbia University and senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, is the author of “Maximalist: America in the World From Truman to Obama.” He is on Twitter: @ssestanovich.