Pakistan’s nuclear weapons WILL fall into terrorist hands (Daniel 8:8)

The United States has periodically expressed concern that nuclear weapons and materials in Pakistan could land up in the hands of terrorist organisations. This concern has become more aggravated with the development of tactical weapons which will be distributed to the lowest rung of the Pakistani army.

Only last week, US authorities reiterated their apprehension of potential contact between Pakistan’s nuclear scientists and extremist groups. This is a matter of great concern for the Indian defence establishment which remains sceptical about whether Pakistan will be able to keep its nuclear weapons safe from terrorists.

Both India and Pakistan continue to share a volatile border, with cross-border firing having stepped up during the Modi regime. India is only too aware that Pakistani army is using asymmetrical warfare whereby terrorist networks are used by the military and ISI to further their objectives.

But given that Pakistan is believed to have the fifth-largest nuclear arsenal in the world, the question is just how secure are their nuclear assets given the fear that a ‘dirty bomb’ could land up in the wrong hands?

Security expert Dr Bharat Karnad, Research Professor in National Security Studies at the Centre for Policy Research and author of two books on India ‘s nuclear policy, says, “The concern of a rogue nuke has been there for some time. This is a matter of concern for the Indian government. What can you do? There is always the possibility of terrorists taking over a nuclear installation,” said Dr Karnad.

File image of a Pakistan paramilitary personnel. Reuters

But he went on to emphasise, “Pakistan’s nuclear assets are looked after by the Strategic Arms Division. SAD has its own security organisation which is extremely professional…The Pakistan army is an extremely professional one and its nuclear assets are its crown jewels. There is no way they will allow these to be made vulnerable. The Pakistan army has insulated both the ISI and the SAD from Taliban outfits.”

To a question on whether China has any access to Pakistan’s nuclear assets, Dr Karnad replied, “China has no say in their nuclear program. China is only a supplier. The plutonium producing reactors in Khushab have been set up with Chinese assistance.’

On the issue of India’s response to a rogue attack, Dr Karnad said, “Unlike Pakistan, India’s own Ministry of Defence is not in the picture. Nuclear response is in within the ambit of the PMO and the NSA.”

Dr R Rajaraman, emeritus professor of theoretical physics at JNU and co-chair of International Panel in Fissile Materials believes Pakistan’s heavy water reactors at Khushab can together produce only 105 kg of Pu in a period of five years and there is no way they can reach the figure of 200 warheads by 2020 as has been projected by some security analysts.

On the crucial issue of these weapons falling into the hands of terrorists, Dr Rajaraman replied, “I don’t think terror groups like the Taliban can get their hands on a Pakistani bomb. They may have launched some attacks at the gates of some military bases. But that is a far cry from penetrating the rings of security that Pakistan must undoubtedly have to guard its weapons.”

Dr Rajaraman is more concerned about the use of the Nasr missiles given that there is no clear command and control status of these battlefield nuclear missiles. He goes on to say, “Because it is a battlefield weapon, there is an increased possibility of terrorists getting hold of it in transit or in the heat of battle and that can be an extremely dangerous development.”

Elaborating on this point, Dr Rajaraman maintains that while the `button’ is controlled by a collection of people from the apex political and military sections of Pakistan, how this chain of command will prove effective in a battlefield weapon is a different issue.

He further said, “The field commander will be given some level of on-the-spot decision making on its launch but this also increases the probability of an accidental development. Its use represents a very unwise move which raises the level of nuclear danger in the subcontinent,’ he added.

Dr Anil Kakodkar, former chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, believes that the apprehension of nuclear weapons falling into the hands of terrorist groups is not misplaced. “I think we have to be always on the alert on how to deal with such situations and our response to such a development will naturally be very complex,’ said Dr Kakodkar.

He refused to spell out what this response mechanism would be except to say, “We have enough mechanisms in place to deal with such a situation….. We can only hope that anyone who acquires nuclear weapons shows higher degrees of responsible behaviour,’ said the eminent scientist.

Prof Srikumar Banerjee, Chancellor, Homi Bhabha National Institute and former chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, is circumspect about such a development. He believes multiple checks are maintained in the national boundaries of nations with nuclear arsenal and nuclear materials.

“The safety of this material is the responsibility of the concerned governments. That is why every nuclear reactor or production facility is protected and the material counted down to the last milligram,’ said Banerjee.

Citing the example of India, he said, “There is complete accounting which is done very vigorously and cannot be deviated from. The International Atomic Energy Agency has also laid down very strict norms which each nation has to follow.’

Prof MV Ramana,theoretical physicist, who has authored a book on India’s nuclear power does not rule out the possibility of non-state actors acquiring nuclear weapons.

Prof Ramana said, “I don’t think one can rule out the possibility of non-state actors in Pakistan or, for that matter, in India, obtaining nuclear weapons. However, they do not, as far as I know possess any nuclear weapons. Nor do I think will it be easy for them to get their hands on nuclear weapons. All countries try to protect their nuclear weapons to the extent possible.”

On several occasions, Pakistani intellectuals have also expressed their apprehensions on this possibility. Pakistan Air Commodore Tariq Ashraf’s book Evolving Dynamics of a Nuclear South Asia highlights the absence of a civilian and bureaucratic involvement in Pakistan Nuclear Control Authority.

Other neighbouring countries apart from India are concerned about the likelihood of such an event. It has now come to the fore that following the Taliban attack on an army-run school in Peshawar three years ago, Pakistan’s Atomic Energy Commission wrote a letter to the SPD expressing concern about such a development given that Pakistan is home to hundreds of terrorists.

Former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf has gone to the extent of claiming that nuclear stockpiles were not being collected to be used at the time of a festival. Meanwhile, even as Pakistan maintains its nuclear force is being built up to deter a conventional attack by India, it is also being used as a cover for terrorist attacks it sponsors in India such as the infamous Mumbai attack

Preparing For The Sixth Seal (Revelation 6)

http://www.earth.columbia.edu/sitefiles/image/press_room/press_releases/sykes_fig3_500.jpg 

Preparing for the Great New York Earthquake

by Mike MullerShare

Most New Yorkers probably view the idea of a major earthquake hitting New York City as a plot device for a second-rate disaster movie. In a city where people worry about so much — stock market crashes, flooding, a terrorist attack — earthquakes, at least, do not have to be on the agenda.

A recent report by leading seismologists associated with Columbia University, though, may change that. The report concludes a serious quake is likely to hit the area.

The implication of this finding has yet to be examined. Although earthquakes are uncommon in the area relative to other parts of the world like California and Japan, the size and density of New York City puts it at a higher risk of damage. The type of earthquake most likely to occur here would mean that even a fairly small event could have a big impact.

The issue with earthquakes in this region is that they tend to be shallow and close to the surface,” explains Leonardo Seeber, a coauthor of the report. “That means objects at the surface are closer to the source. And that means even small earthquakes can be damaging.”

The past two decades have seen an increase in discussions about how to deal with earthquakes here. The most recent debate has revolved around the Indian Point nuclear power plant, in Buchanan, N.Y., a 30-mile drive north of the Bronx, and whether its nuclear reactors could withstand an earthquake. Closer to home, the city adopted new codes for its buildings even before the Lamont report, and the Port Authority and other agencies have retrofitted some buildings. Is this enough or does more need to be done? On the other hand, is the risk of an earthquake remote enough that public resources would be better spent addressing more immediate — and more likely — concerns?

Assessing the Risk

The report by scientists from the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University at summarizes decades of information on earthquakes in the area gleaned from a network of seismic instruments, studies of earthquakes from previous centuries through archival material like newspaper accounts and examination of fault lines.

The city can expect a magnitude 5 quake, which is strong enough to cause damage, once every 100 years, according to the report. (Magnitude is a measure of the energy released at the source of an earthquake.) The scientists also calculate that a magnitude 6, which is 10 times larger, has a 7 percent chance of happening once every 50 years and a magnitude 7 quake, 100 times larger, a 1.5 percent chance. Nobody knows the last time New York experienced quakes as large as a 6 or 7, although if once occurred it must have taken place before 1677, since geologists have reviewed data as far back as that year.

The last magnitude 5 earthquake in New York City hit in 1884, and it occurred off the coast of Rockaway Beach. Similar earthquakes occurred in 1737 and 1783.

By the time of the 1884 quake, New York was already a world class city, according to Kenneth Jackson, editor of The Encyclopedia of New York City.”In Manhattan,” Jackson said, “New York would have been characterized by very dense development. There was very little grass.”

A number of 8 to 10 story buildings graced the city, and “in world terms, that’s enormous,” according to Jackson. The city already boasted the world’s most extensive transportation network, with trolleys, elevated trains and the Brooklyn Bridge, and the best water system in the country. Thomas Edison had opened the Pearl Street power plant two years earlier.

All of this infrastructure withstood the quake fairly well. A number of chimneys crumbled and windows broke, but not much other damage occurred. Indeed, the New York Times reported that people on the Brooklyn Bridge could not tell the rumble was caused by anything more than the cable car that ran along the span.

Risks at Indian Point

As dense as the city was then though, New York has grown up and out in the 124 years since. Also, today’s metropolis poses some hazards few, if any people imagined in 1884.

In one of their major findings, the Lamont scientists identified a new fault line less than a mile from Indian Point. That is in addition to the already identified Ramapo fault a couple of miles from the plant. This is seen as significant because earthquakes occur at faults and are the most powerful near them.

This does not represent the first time people have raised concerns about earthquakes near Indian Point. A couple of years after the licenses were approved for Indian Point 2 in 1973 and Indian Point 3 in 1975, the state appealed to the Atomic Safety and Licensing Appeal Panel over seismic issues. The appeal was dismissed in 1976, but Michael Farrar, one of three members on the panel, dissented from his colleagues.

He thought the commission had not required the plant to be able to withstand the vibration that could occur during an earthquake. “I believe that an effort should be made to ascertain the maximum effective acceleration in some other, rational, manner,” Farrar wrote in his dissenting opinion. (Acceleration measures how quickly ground shaking speeds up.)

Con Edison, the plants’ operator at the time, agreed to set up seismic monitoring instruments in the area and develop geologic surveys. The Lamont study was able to locate the new fault line as a result of those instruments.

Ironically, though, while scientists can use the data to issue reports — the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission cannot use it to determine whether the plant should have its license renewed. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission only considers the threat of earthquakes or terrorism during initial licensing hearings and does not revisit the issue during relicensing.

Lynn Sykes, lead author of the Lamont report who was also involved in the Indian Point licensing hearings, disputes that policy. The new information, he said, should be considered — “especially when considering a 20 year license renewal.”

The state agrees. Last year, Attorney General Andrew Cuomo began reaching out to other attorneys general to help convince the commission to include these risks during the hearings.

Cuomo and the state Department of Environmental Conservation delivered a 312-page petition to the commission that included reasons why earthquakes posed a risk to the power plants. The petition raised three major concerns regarding Indian Point:

  • The seismic analysis for Indian Point plants 2 and 3 did not consider decommissioned Indian Point 1. The state is worried that something could fall from that plant and damage the others.
  • The plant operators have not updated the facilities to address 20 years of new seismic data in the area.
  • The state contends that Entergy, the plant’s operator, has not been forthcoming. “It is not possible to verify either what improvements have been made to [Indian Point] or even to determine what improvements applicant alleges have been implemented,” the petition stated.

A spokesperson for Entergy told the New York Times that the plants are safe from earthquakes and are designed to withstand a magnitude 6 quake.

Lamont’s Sykes thinks the spokesperson must have been mistaken. “He seems to have confused the magnitude scale with intensity scale,” Sykes suggests. He points out that the plants are designed to withstand an event on the intensity scale of VII, which equals a magnitude of 5 or slightly higher in the region. (Intensity measures the effects on people and structures.) A magnitude 6 quake, in Sykes opinion, would indeed cause damage to the plant.

The two reactors at Indian Point generate about 10 percent of the state’s electricity. Since that power is sent out into a grid, it isn’t known how much the plant provides for New York City. Any abrupt closing of the plant — either because of damage or a withdrawal of the operating license — would require an “unprecedented level of cooperation among government leaders and agencies,” to replace its capacity, according to a 2006 report by the National Academies’ National Research Council, a private, nonprofit institution chartered by Congress.Indian Point Nuclear Plant

Entergy’s Indian Point Energy Center, a three-unit nuclear power plant north of New York City, lies within two miles of the Ramapo Seismic Zone.

Beyond the loss of electricity, activists worry about possible threats to human health and safety from any earthquake at Indian Point. Some local officials have raised concerns that radioactive elements at the plant, such as tritium and strontium, could leak through fractures in bedrock and into the Hudson River. An earthquake could create larger fractures and, so they worry, greater leaks.

In 2007, an earthquake hit the area surrounding Japan’s Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant, the world’s largest. The International Atomic Energy Agency determined “there was no significant damage to the parts of the plant important to safety,” from the quake. According to the agency, “The four reactors in operation at the time in the seven-unit complex shut down safely and there was a very small radioactive release well below public health and environmental safety limits.” The plant, however, remains closed.

Shaking the Streets

A quake near Indian Point would clearly have repercussions for New York City. But what if an earthquake hit one of the five boroughs?

In 2003, public and private officials, under the banner of the New York City Area Consortium for Earthquake Loss Mitigation, released a study of what would happen if a quake hit the metropolitan area today. Much of the report focused on building damage in Manhattan. It used the location of the 1884 quake, off the coast of Rockaway Beach, as its modern muse.

If a quake so serious that it is expected to occur once every 2,500 years took place off Rockaway, the consortium estimated it would cause $11.5 billion in damage to buildings in Manhattan. About half of that would result from damage to residential buildings. Even a moderate magnitude 5 earthquake would create an estimated 88,000 tons of debris (10,000 truckloads), which is 136 times the garbage cleared in Manhattan on an average day, they found.

The report does not estimate possible death and injury for New York City alone. But it said that, in the tri-state area as a whole, a magnitude 5 quake could result in a couple of dozen deaths, and a magnitude 7 would kill more than 6,500 people.

Ultimately, the consortium decided retrofitting all of the city’s buildings to prepare them for an earthquake would be “impractical and economically unrealistic,” and stressed the importance of identifying the most vulnerable areas of the city.

Unreinforced brick buildings, which are the most common type of building in Manhattan, are the most vulnerable to earthquakes because they do not absorb motion as well as more flexible wood and steel buildings. Structures built on soft soil are more also prone to risk since it amplifies ground shaking and has the potential to liquefy during a quake.

This makes the Upper East Side the most vulnerable area of Manhattan, according to the consortium report. Because of the soil type, the ground there during a magnitude 7 quake would shake at twice the acceleration of that in the Financial District. Chinatown faces considerable greater risk for the same reasons.

The city’s Office of Emergency Management agency does offer safety tips for earthquakes. It advises people to identify safe places in their homes, where they can stay until the shaking stops, The agency recommends hiding under heavy furniture and away from windows and other objects that could fall.

A special unit called New York Task Force 1 is trained to find victims trapped in rubble. The Office of Emergency Management holds annual training events for the unit.

The Buildings Department created its first seismic code in 1995. More recently, the city and state have adopted the International Building Code (which ironically is a national standard) and all its earthquake standards. The “international” code requires that buildings be prepared for the 2,500-year worst-case scenario.

Transportation Disruptions

With the state’s adoption of stricter codes in 2003, the Port Authority went back and assessed its facilities that were built before the adoption of the code, including bridges, bus terminals and the approaches to its tunnels. The authority decided it did not have to replace any of this and that retrofitting it could be done at a reasonable cost.

The authority first focused on the approaches to bridges and tunnels because they are rigid and cannot sway with the earth’s movement. It is upgrading the approaches to the George Washington Bridge and Lincoln Tunnel so they will be prepared for a worst-case scenario. The approaches to the Port Authority Bus Terminal on 42nd Street are being prepared to withstand two thirds of a worst-case scenario.

The terminal itself was retrofitted in 2007. Fifteen 80-foot tall supports were added to the outside of the structure.

A number of the city’s bridges could be easily retrofitted as well “in an economical and practical manner,” according to a study of three bridges by the consulting firm Parsons Brinckerhoff. Those bridges include the 102nd Street Bridge in Queens, and the 145th Street and Macombs Dam bridges, which span the Harlem River. To upgrade the 155th Street Viaduct, the city will strengthen its foundation and strengthen its steel columns and floor beams.

The city plans upgrades for the viaduct and the Madison Avenue bridge in 2010. The 2008 10-year capital strategy for the city includes $596 million for the seismic retrofitting of the four East River bridges, which is planned to begin in 2013. But that commitment has fluctuated over the years. In 2004, it was $833 million.

For its part, New York City Transit generally is not considering retrofitting its above ground or underground structures, according to a report presented at the American Society of Civil Engineers in 2004. New facilities, like the Second Avenue Subway and the Fulton Transit Center will be built to new, tougher standards.

Underground infrastructure, such as subway tunnels, electricity systems and sewers are generally safer from earthquakes than above ground facilities. But secondary effects from quakes, like falling debris and liquefied soil, could damage these structures.

Age and location — as with buildings — also add to vulnerability. “This stuff was laid years ago,” said Rae Zimmerman, professor of planning and public administration at New York University. “A lot of our transit infrastructure and water pipes are not flexible and a lot of the city is on sandy soil.” Most of Lower Manhattan, for example, is made up of such soil.

She also stresses the need for redundancy, where if one pipe or track went down, there would be another way to go. “The subway is beautiful in that respect,” she said. “During 9/11, they were able to avoid broken tracks.”

Setting Priorities

“On the policy side, earthquakes are a low priority,” said Guy Nordenson, a civil engineer who was a major proponent of the city’s original seismic code, “and I think that’s a good thing.” He believes there are more important risks, such as dealing with the effects of climate change.

“There are many hazards, and any of these hazards can be as devastating, if not more so, than earthquakes,” agreed Mohamed Ettouney, who was also involved in writing the 1995 seismic code.

In fact, a recent field called multi-hazard engineering has emerged. It looks at the most efficient and economical way to prepare for hazards rather than preparing for all at once or addressing one hazard after the other. For example, while addressing one danger (say terrorism) identified as a priority, it makes sense to consider other threats that the government could prepare for at the same time (like earthquakes).

Scientists from Lamont-Doherty are also not urging anybody to rush to action in panic. Their report is meant to be a first step in a process that lays out potential hazards from earthquakes so that governments and businesses can make informed decisions about how to reduce risk.

“We now have a 300-year catalog of earthquakes that has been well calibrated” to estimate their size and location, said Sykes. “We also now have a 34-year study of data culled from Lamont’s network of seismic instruments.”

“Earthquake risk is not the highest priority in New York City, nor is dog-poop free sidewalks”

More Violence Outside the Temple Walls (Revelation 11:2)

Gaza violence: Israelis and Palestinians in fierce exchanges at UN

▪ 15 May 2018 Middle East

The BBC’s Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen sent this report from Gaza

There have been angry exchanges between Israeli and Palestinian envoys at the UN, as the diplomatic fallout over deadly violence in Gaza gathered pace.

Some 58 Palestinians were killed when Israeli troops fired on protesters on Monday, with funerals held on Tuesday.

The Palestinian envoy spoke of a “crime against humanity”, while Israel accused Hamas, who are in control of Gaza, of taking their own people hostage.

This week was the culmination of a six-week protest against Israel.

Monday was the 70th anniversary of the founding of the state of Israel and also the day the US made the controversial move of its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

What have Israel and the Palestinians said?

The emergency meeting of the UN Security Council began with its president, Poland’s Joanna Wronecka, calling a minute’s silence for those killed in Gaza on Monday, along with “others who have died as a result of a conflict that has endured for far too long”.

After a number of nations expressed concern at the violence and some called for an inquiry, the Palestinian and Israeli envoys engaged in a fierce exchange.

Image caption

Riyad Mansour speaks at the UN amid a strong difference among speakers to the council

Palestinian UN envoy Riyad Mansour said: “We condemn in the most emphatic terms the odious massacre committed by Israel in the Gaza Strip.”

He called for a halt to Israel’s military operations and a transparent international inquiry into what he said was a “brutal Israeli attack on Palestinian people who expressed their resistance”.

He said it was “a war crime, a crime against humanity”.

Mr Mansour criticised the UN for not pursuing inquiries in the past, saying: “How many Palestinians have to die before you take action? Did they deserve to die? Did children deserve to be taken away from their parents?”

Danny Danon, the Israeli envoy to the UN, said the events at the border “were not demonstrations, they were not protests, these were violent riots”.

He said that Hamas had “taken the people of Gaza hostage”.

“They incite people to violence, place as many civilians as possible in the line of fire to maximise civilian casualties, then they blame Israel and come to the UN to complain. It is a deadly game they play at the expense of innocent children.”

He added: “When they say day of rage they mean day of terrorism; right of return means the destruction of Israel; peaceful protest means incitement and violence.”

What have other nations said?

▪ Speaking at the UN, US ambassador Nikki Haley defended the level of Israel’s use of force, saying: “No country in this chamber would act with more restraint than Israel has.” She said the US “deplores the loss of human life” but laid blame on Hamas, saying: “Make no mistake, Hamas is pleased with the results from yesterday”

▪ Germany, the UK, Ireland and Belgium all called for an independent inquiry. UK ambassador Karen Pierce said: “The volume of live fire used in Gaza yesterday, and the consequent number of deaths is distressing and cannot be ignored by the council”

▪ Ireland summoned the Israeli ambassador to express its shock

▪ Turkey told Israel’s ambassador to temporarily leave. Israel did the same to the Turkish consul in Jerusalem

▪ French President Emmanuel Macron told Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu in a telephone call that civilians had the right to protest peacefully

Kuwait is preparing a draft document aimed it said at “providing international protection for civilians”.

What happened in Gaza on Tuesday?

Funerals were held for the 58 Palestinians killed on Monday. About 2,700 were also injured, Palestinian officials said.

Two further deaths were reported on Tuesday, but despite fears of renewed violence, calm mostly prevailed as the dead were buried.

Monday and Tuesday’s events came after a six-week protest called the “Great March of Return”.

Monday was the anniversary of the creation of Israel while Tuesday marks the day Palestinians call “Nakba”, or “catastrophe”, which commemorates the more than 700,000 Palestinians who fled or were expelled from their homes following its foundation.

Monday also marked the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem, a move that has incensed Palestinians.

Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state and see the US move as backing Israeli control over the whole of the city – which Israel regards as its indivisible capital.

On Tuesday, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas recalled his envoy to Washington, Saeb Erekat, in protest at the embassy move.

More than 100 protesters have been killed and thousands injured by Israeli fire during the six-week protest.

Image caption

The BBC’s Jeremy Bowen explains why people have been protesting in Gaza

At Shifa, Gaza’s main hospital, men were queuing on Tuesday to give blood. They wanted to help the many wounded in Monday’s violence.

Inside the hospital, there were many with gunshot wounds. Across Gaza, families were burying their dead. By midday there were no reports of new demonstrations.

There was shock in Gaza at the scale of the killing. The right of return to lands they lost is a highly emotional issue for Palestinians but people here questioned whether it was worth staging such a protest after the terrible death toll.

In fact, this was an incident waiting to happen. Tension has been rising for weeks in Gaza. People here have been impoverished by a goods blockade imposed by Israel and by Egypt, which shuns Hamas because of its links with the Muslim Brotherhood.

The only way of stopping more violence and death is to work seriously to settle the conflict. But that is not happening.

The Antichrist poised for victory in Iraqi election

Moqtada al-Sadr poised for victory in Iraqi election

May 15, 2018

Anti-US firebrand cleric is likely to end up with the largest bloc of seats

Moqtada al-Sadr once led the insurgency against US troops

Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi is facing a shock defeat in the country’s first election since declaring victory over Islamic State in December.

With more than half the votes counted, firebrand Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who is leading a coalition of groups including his own Istiqama (Integrity) party as well as secularist and communist candidates, has taken a clear lead.

Abadi, who is the preferred candidate of the US, looks set to come in third behind the Fatah (Conquest) alliance, led by former transport minister Hadi al-Amiri, who presides over the political wings of several Shia-led paramilitary forces.

However, Sadr’s coalition looks unlikely to win enough seats to form a government in its own right, and is likely to begin talks with other candidates to name a new prime minister. Since he did not run for a seat, he will not be eligible for the role.

A political outlier before Saturday’s ballot, Sadr is best known for leading the “fearsome” Mehdi Army in two insurgencies against US troops in Iraq, following the toppling of Saddam Hussein in 2003.

The Sadr-led army has also been blamed for “the killing of thousands of Sunni Muslims in the sectarian violence that plagued Iraq in 2006 and 2007”, says the BBC.

Sadr fled to Iran before a government crackdown on the Mehdi Army, but has since moved to distance himself from Iran. The Associated Press says he has “in recent years sought to recast himself as a populist, railing against corruption and failing services”.

Meet the antichrist, the new ruler of Iraq

Cleric who fought US troops is winning Iraq’s election: Meet Moqtada al Sadr

Natasha Turak

HAIDAR HAMDANI | AFP | Getty Images

More than 91 percent of Iraq’s votes have been tallied after polls closed over the weekend in Iraq’s first election since defeating the Islamic State (ISIS) late last year.

And they reveal a shock win for firebrand Iraqi cleric Moqtada al Sadr, who wasn’t even running for prime minister, along with his coalition allies, the Iraqi Communist Party.

He was followed by Iran-backed Shia militia leader Hadi Al Amiri, while incumbent Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi, initially predicted to win re-election, trailed in third. Voter turnout was a low 44.5 percent, indicating widespread voter apathy and pessimism, observers said.

Reports show that Sadr’s “Sairoon” alliance won more than 1.3 million votes, translating to 54 seats in the country’s 329-seat parliament, taking the greatest share among a broad and fractured array of parties.

Who is Moqtada al Sadr?

A win for Sadr, the populist Shia leader known for his anti-American campaigns and his populist appeal to Iraq’s young and poor, could dramatically change Iraq’s political landscape and its relationship with external powers like the U.S. and Iran.

In addition to pushing for the removal of U.S. troops from Iraq, Sadr is avidly opposed to Iranian influence in his country. That influence has grown significantly thanks to the pivotal role played by Iran-backed militias in driving out ISIS.

The influential cleric, who has millions of religious followers, cannot become prime minister as he did not run for the position himself — but his electoral success means he will likely have a key role in deciding who does.

Powerful charisma

Sadr has spearheaded a number of political movements in Iraq, gaining infamy for directing attacks on U.S. troops in the wake of the 2003 Iraq invasion. His charismatic sermons have drawn hundreds of thousands into the streets over a range of causes. More recently, he’s led campaigns and protests against corruption within the Shia-led government as well as against Iranian influence, and pledged to overcome sectarianism by leading a secular coalition that includes Iraq’s communists.

Sadr in 2003 created the Mahdi Army, which executed the first major armed confrontation against U.S. forces in Iraq led by the Shia community — and it posed such a threat that U.S. forces were instructed to kill or capture him. The group, which numbered up to 10,000, was also accused of carrying out atrocities against Iraq’s Sunnis. It was disbanded in 2008, but re-mobilized in 2014 to fight ISIS.

The cleric owes much of his religious following to the legacy of his father, an influential Iraqi ayatollah murdered in the 1990s for opposing former President Saddam Hussein, and has spent much of his career championing Shia causes.

AHMAD AL-RUBAYE | AFP | Getty Images

But in the last year, he’s undergone something of a reinvention: he has reached out to Sunni Gulf neighbors, most notably in 2017 visits to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, where he met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) powers typically shunned Iraq’s Shia, but are now making headway in the country through investment and economic aid, seen partially as an attempthttp://www.andrewtheprophet.com/ to counter arch-rival Iran’s entrenched influence in the country.

Ahead of the election, Sadr pledged a commitment to abandon sectarianism by forming a coalition with secular Sunnis and Iraq’s Communist Party, who have as a result seen their best election performance ever.

Sadr’s strong showing suggests that he maintains a relatively loyal following and that his nationalist, cross-sectarian platform was effective at mobilizing voters in challenging conditions,” said Ryan Turner, a senior risk analyst at London-based PGI Group.

He has also stopped advocating violence, said Renad Mansour, an Iraq researcher and fellow at U.K. policy institute Chatham House. “He passed the use of violence for his political agenda,” Mansour said. “But say if the U.S. come back and occupy Iraq, I imagine that this would change.”

Possible kingmaker

Because of the fractured nature of Iraqi politics, no candidate or bloc has won an outright majority. The winners of the most seats must negotiate a coalition government within 90 days, during which a long complex process of compromise will have to unfold. Winning the greatest share of votes does not directly translate to leading the government.

“Depending on the final tallies and political jockeying, Sadr may find himself in a position to play kingmaker, which could see Abadi reappointed prime minister,” Turner said, referring to the current prime minister, who was widely praised for leading the fight against ISIS and for balancing relationships across sects and external powers.

But to do so, Sadr would likely have to outmaneuver Iran, which would prefer to see Amiri — the candidate who finished second place — assume the premiership. Tehran wields much of its influence by pushing its preferred policies through Iranian-backed candidates and political players like Amiri. A major objective of Iran’s is to push the U.S. out of Iraq, where some 5,000 troops still remain.

Department of Defense photo

U.S. Army paratroopers assigned to Bravo Troop, 5th Squadron, 73rd Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division, maneuver through a hallway as part of squad level training at Camp Taji, Iraq.

The extent to which the reforms Sadr has championed can take place will be determined by these fractured politics, said Mansour. “So far Sadr has been a very vocal voice demanding change — the question becomes whether he’ll actually be able to maneuver around the system that Iraq is, which is one where power is so diffuse among different entities that it’s hard for one group to have complete control. But I think he certainly will try and be more dramatic about it.”

Labeled one of the most corrupt countries in the world by Transparency International, Iraq is still mired in poverty and dysfunction following its bloody, three-year battle against ISIS.

Officials estimate they’ll need at least $100 billion to rebuild the country’s destroyed homes, businesses and infrastructure, and improvised explosive devices and landmines remain scattered throughout the country. The composition of the new government will be crucial in determining how Iraq moves forward.

“It’s not clear that Sadr’s rising political influence will undermine Iraq’s recent progress,” Turner said, noting that despite the cleric’s past, he has cooperated with Abadi and backed changes intended to reduce corruption. “Much will depend on what happens next, and whether Sadr is able to quickly form a governing coalition or Iraq enters a period of prolonged deadlock as after the 2010 election.”