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By THE ASSOCIATED PRESSMARCH 4, 2016, 9:52 A.M. E.S.T.
The protests followed a similar showing of al-Sadr’s strength last week, when thousands gathered in downtown Baghdad after months of stalled reform efforts, which are led by Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and aimed at easing Iraq’s economic crisis and tackling government corruption.
As crowds began to gather in Baghdad on Friday, al-Abadi issued a statement, urging the protesters to remain peaceful.
Al-Abadi proposed a package of reforms last summer following nation-wide anti-corruption protests that quickly attracted widespread support, but since then he’s failed to effect tangible change.
Around 200,000 people rallied at the entrance to the heavily fortified Green Zone in central Baghdad, demanding reform, better services and an end to corruption in response to a call by Sadr.
Abadi promised political and economic reforms last summer after mass street protests, but quickly ran into legal challenges and systemic resistance to change.
Last month he vowed to appoint technocrats to replace ministers appointed on the basis of political affiliations but that pledge too remains unfulfilled and frustration with the government has increased.
“A chance should be given to efficient independent people, and those who took Iraq to the abyss should step aside,” said Sadr, whose Al-Ahrar bloc holds 34 seats in parliament and three cabinet posts
Sadr’s speech was broadcast on huge screens set up in the street and protesters waved Iraqi flags outside the entrance to the Green Zone, which was guarded by riot police standing behind razor wire.
The Green Zone houses government buildings and foreign embassies including that of the United States and has also become a symbol of the isolation of Iraq’s rulers from its citizens.
Baghdad-based political analyst Ahmed Younis said failure to root out corruption, and economic pressures due to slumping oil prices compounded by the battle against Islamic State had “pushed Abadi with the country to the edge of a cliff”.
“Everybody is watching Abadi drag his feet in carrying out real reforms…. Moqtada al-Sadr is now trying to take the imitative and be the winner in the reform race”.
After a 100,000-strong protest held by Sadr last week, Abadi said it was his critics that stood in the way: “The political blocs are still holding on to their ministers and by doing so we cannot reform the country,” Abadi added.
Muhanad al-Gharrawi, an aide to Sadr and leader of the protests said: “Today we are here to call for major reform. We want a technocratic government that serves Iraq’s interests. We won’t accept a solution to be like morphine used only to tranquilize the anger of people.”
(Reporting by Kareem Raheem, Saif Hameed and Ahmed Rasheed; Writing by Isabel Coles; Editing by Dominic Evans)
The North Korean leader said the country’s “nuclear warheads need to be ready for use at any time,” in response to the enemies that were threatening the country’s survival, the North Korean state news agency KCNA reported.
“Under the extreme situation that the U.S. Imperialist is misusing its military influence and is pressuring other countries and people to start war and catastrophe, the only way for our people to protect sovereignty and rights to live is to strengthen the quality and quantity of nuclear power and realize the balance of power,” Kim was quoted as saying.
On Thursday, Pyongyang launched six projectiles that flew 60 to 90 miles off the east coast of the Korean Peninsula.
South Korean defense officials said that the North had been testing the new multiple-rocket launcher with a range far enough to strike major American and South Korean military bases, including those in the Osan-Pyeongtaek hub 62 miles south of Seoul.
Apart from its nuclear weapons, North Korea’s multiple-rocket launchers and artillery pieces are its most-feared weapons in the South. The North is estimated to have 13,000 of them clustered on the inter-Korean border, 28 miles north of Seoul.
North Korea appeared to flexing its muscles in the wake of the toughest sanctions yet brought by the UN resolution aiming to cripple the economic factors that fuel Pyongyang’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs.
The flared up tensions could result in a WW3 given the United States’s attempt to move against the North wouldn’t be taken lightly by the communist nations. China, the North’s only ally could also end up in a confrontation with NATO and its allies on the Korean crisis since it wouldn’t like to see a US invasion of the country. Russia too would likely back China against the US and the thermo-nuclear war will the possible outcome of these developments.
Meanwhile, the move by South Korea to deploy an advanced missile defense system could further escalate the tensions in the fragile Korean peninsula. Representatives of the South Korean and American armed forces on a joint task force met last Friday in Seoul to discuss the possible deployment of the US missile system called Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD.
The move, however, will likely escalate tensions with the Chinese and Russians since they have repeatedly warned the South against hoisting the United States missile system. The missile will threaten the sovereignty of Beijing and could trigger a war similar to the Cuban crisis faced by Americans in the Cold war era.
The B-52 Stratofortress will start its first bombing campaign against ISIS in April, the Air Force Times reports. It’s not clear how many B-52s or airmen will be involved.
Officials say the aircraft will replace nuclear-capable B-1 Lancers hitting ISIS targets in Iraq and Syria.
The Lancers returned to home bases in the U.S. in January. They flew only 3% of all strike missions against ISIS, but had dropped 40% of the bombs and other munitions. B-1s could loiter over the battlefield for 10 hours, much longer than jet fighters, and also could fly supersonic, reaching targets across Iraq and Syria within minutes.
“The B-1s are rotated out, so they’re not here right now, they’ve gone back to do some upgrades,” Lieutenant General Charles Q. Brown Jr., commander at U.S. Air Forces Central Command, told reporters.
Each B-52 can carry up to 70,000 pounds of payload, officials say. The aircraft, sometimes nicknamed the “Big Ugly Fat Fella,” first took to the skies in 1954 and regularly takes part in military exercises around the world.
The B-52s are based in Louisiana and North Dakota.
Fox News’ Lucas Tomlinson contributed to this report.