The Antichrist as the Kingmaker of Iraq

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A cleric who once tormented America seems to have won Iraq’s election

But the Shia firebrand may not be able to form a government

MUQTADA AL-SADR is a master at tapping Iraqi discontent. The firebrand Shia cleric (pictured) directed his supporters to attack the American troops who invaded Iraq in 2003. More recently he has led campaigns against corruption and foreign influence. His supporters ransacked government offices in 2016. And in the election on May 12th they gave his nationalist bloc, Sairoun (“Marching to Reform”), the most seats in parliament. Unofficial results put it unexpectedly ahead, with 55 seats.

The bloc led by Iraq’s mild-mannered prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, came second, with 51. A coalition led by Hadi al-Amari, the gruff commander of the Iranian-backed Badr Brigades, came third, with 50. The surprising result signals growing discontent with Iraq’s sectarian old guard. But it is unlikely to sweep it away.

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It may yet take months to determine who has actually won the election. Claims of irregularities need resolving before results are final. Parliament then has to elect a president, who must ask the largest bloc to form a government. Then the real jostling for posts begins.

Mr Sadr, who cannot become prime minister because he did not run himself, is in a strong position to be kingmaker. Although his most ardent supporters are Shias in the shantytowns of Baghdad and Basra, he won by broadening his appeal. He joined up with communist and secular parties, wooed Sunnis by praying in their mosques and published a plan for reconciliation between Islam’s sects. Last year he went to Saudi Arabia to meet Muhammad bin Salman, the Sunni kingdom’s powerful crown prince.

His bloc would need to form an inclusive coalition if it is to govern. In a post-election tweet, Mr Sadr named Kurdish, Sunni and Shia parties as potential allies. But he left two staunchly Shia parties with strong ties to Iran off his list: the Badr Brigades, which represents a coalition of Shia militias, and Dawa, a Shia Islamist party led by Nuri al-Maliki, a former prime minister. They could yet spoil his chances.

Mr Amari may have failed to do as well in Iraq as his Iranian-backed counterpart, Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hizbullah, did in Lebanon’s recent election. But he still wields a lot of clout. His Badr forces dominate the interior ministry and fill the ranks of the federal police. He is close to senior Iranians, who have in the past worked behind the scenes to cobble together a government. And he has hedged his bets by meeting regularly with the American ambassador in Iraq.

Mr Amari’s natural ally is Mr Maliki, whose “State of Law” faction inside Dawa fared poorly, winning 25 seats. But Mr Maliki has influence over Mr Abadi, another Dawa stalwart. There are differences. Mr Abadi does not share Mr Maliki’s Shia chauvinism and has canvassed Sunni and Kurdish votes. Remarkably for a Shia, Mr Abadi’s list won Mosul, the Sunni stronghold once controlled by Islamic State (IS).

All this means that Mr Abadi may emerge as a swing player. By joining Messrs Amari and Maliki, he could restore the dominance of the fractured Shia house. However, if he teamed up with Mr Sadr’s Sairoun, he could put the country on a path towards less sectarian politics. Both camps suggest they may back Mr Abadi’s bid for a second term.

In contrast to previous ballots, the election passed off without serious violence. For the first time since Iraq’s transition to parliamentary democracy in 2005, Sunnis voted in large numbers for Shias. Party leaders of all hues curbed their sectarian barbs. But Iraqis are disenchanted. Only 44% voted, down from 62% in 2014. Their patience will be tested if their votes only perpetuate dysfunctional, corrupt rule.

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 Man Who Will Shape Iraq’s Future (Revelation 13)

The Man Who Could Shape Iraq’s Future

Moqtada al-Sadr, who once led part of the insurgency against U.S. troops in Iraq, may pick the next prime minister.

Krishnadev Calamur is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he oversees news coverage. He is a former editor and reporter at NPR and the author of Murder in Mumbai. Twitter

May 16, 2018

 

Moqtada al-Sadr won’t be Iraq’s next prime minister, but he may very well decide who is. It’s a striking outcome for the Shia cleric who forged a reputation as a radical in the insurgency he led against the U.S. after the invasion of 2003, and who then defined himself as an Iraqi nationalist through his defiance of Iran. Over this period, Sadr has become an insider in Iraqi politics, but ahead of the country’s Saturday parliamentary elections he fashioned himself into an anti-corruption crusader and political outsider by building a coalition that includes communists, Sunnis, and political independents. His al-Sairoon Coalition (The Marchers) finished first in the vote, ensuring his relevance for years to come.

Al-Sairoon’s performance suggests that Iraq, which has only recently emerged from a brutal conflict against ISIS, might be tired of the political class that has governed the country since its first parliamentary elections in 2005. What’s not clear, however, is whether Sadr, whose brand is predicated on protest and opposition, can evolve into a constructive force in Iraqi politics.

“The biggest downside of Moqtada as a key player in the next government formation … is Moqtada is very hard to predict,” Michael Knights, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute who specializes in the region, told me. “And it’s not always clear which game he’s playing: Does he want to be part of the government or does he want to perpetually be in opposition to any government?”

Sadr did not himself contest the election, and so cannot have a formal role in the government—which seems to suit his preferences. His list’s performance can be attributed to a solid Shia support base and his ability to attract some minorities, but it’s not only about Sadr himself. Low voter turnout (44.5 percent) hampered support for other politicians. Samya Kullab, who is a senior correspondent for Iraq Oil Report, told me that voter apathy contributed to the low turnout.

“The evidence I have for this in my reporting is anecdotal, but corroborated the abysmal numbers seen on Election Day,” she said in an email. “In the months leading up to the election and during the election, we spoke to countless individuals, some casually drinking tea outside the polling station, about why they weren’t participating. The major themes included disenchantment with the system and a lack of faith in running candidates. Few believed they could actually deliver on campaign promises.”

That pessimism about politicians stands in contrast to the mood of cautious optimism about Iraq’s future in the period after its victory over ISIS. “You could say that maybe [some Iraqis] think the country is moving in the right direction in spite of its politicians and not because of them,” Knights told me. “Maybe that’s the key message to come out of this low turnout, which is that Iraq basically saved itself, but not because of its politicians, not because of its political class.”

In this context, Sadr cut an appealing figure. As I wrote last week, he spent much of the past year reaching out to unlikely political allies, including Sunnis. Perhaps more important in a country tired of traditional politicians, he filled his election list with political outsiders. Ryan Crocker, a veteran American diplomat who served as ambassador to Iraq between 2007 and 2009, told me that the Shia Arab nationalist and populist movement is not only a potent political force, it appeals to people beyond a Shia sectarian base. “It’s big. It’s important,” Crocker said.

Sadr’s cross-sectarian appeal notwithstanding, his strong views on what an Iraqi government should look like, and who should be part of it, could deter potential coalition partners. In a post on social media, Sadr appeared to suggest his support for a broad coalition that would include the party of the current prime minister, Haider al-Abadi. He also repeated a call for a government of technocrats, who many Iraqis believe will be more efficient and less corrupt than traditional politicians.

But the people Sadr excluded from his post may be even more significant, and they include the pro-Iran Shia alliance that finished second in the election, as well as a major Kurdish party. “You can’t really count on him through this government-formation process,” Knights said of Sadr. “He’s trying to dictate the geometry of this government. He doesn’t want certain people to be in it, and that’s going to make it harder to get to 165 seats,” the number needed for a majority in the 329-seat parliament.

Sadr’s position also speaks to Iraq’s efforts—and interim successes—in choosing its government independently, or at least with less foreign influence than before. Sadr is strongly opposed to both the presence of U.S. troops in the country, and to Iranian influence. He maintains that he merely supports a strong and independent Iraq. Overall, Knights said, the “Iranians might have lost some influence on this process in the same way Americans have lost a lot of influence on the process,” he said.

Knights explained the process this way: “It’s not up to Iran, but if at a certain point they want to make an objection felt, they’ll have their opportunity to do that. And generally speaking, if Iraqis feel very strongly about an option, they’ll override the Iranian veto, but if Iraqis themselves are divided over the option, then that’s when the Iranian option becomes more effective.”

With no clear victor, however, Iraq’s government is nowhere close to being formed.  Iraq’s election commission announced the results of 10 of the country’s 18 provinces. The eight provinces where the results aren’t yet known include those that make up the territories claimed by Iraqi Kurds, including Kirkuk, Salahaddin, and Nineveh.

“It’s Iraq, so a lot can change very quickly,” Kullab said. “Because there are more blocs and the results are contested in certain areas … we could be looking at a long government-formation process.”

Iraq has been here before. Past elections have produced the kind of political deal-making that resulted in broad unity governments that are hobbled by competing interests and visions. Knights called it a feature of Iraqi politics. “We basically get the same kind of government every time: It’s the government of everyone and no one, meaning that everyone’s in the government, but no one agrees on what it’s meant to do,” he said. “Most likely we’ll see that cycle again.”

But, he added, there’s a small possibility that with politicians such as Abadi, the current prime minister who delicately balances his relationship with both Tehran and Washington, and Sadr, a different kind of arrangement is possible. Some factions could stay outside the government as loyal opposition rather than trying to join it. If Sadr’s coalition becomes too difficult to incorporate into the government, Knights said, “I’m sure he’ll happily step into that role of opposition.”

“This would be a first for Iraq,” he said. “That would be pretty amazing.”

Antichrist’s Offices Attacked

Author: Margaret Griffis

Assailants bombed two offices tied to Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr on Tuesday. One bomb exploded at an office of the Saraya al-Salam or military wing of the Sadrist movement. The other bomb struck at an office belonging to a religious organization, Malek al-Ashtar, linked to the Sadrists. Both of the offices, which are located in Maysan province, were empty of people at the time.

Sadr’s Sa’iroun list won the most parliamentary seats in the May 12 election. It is unclear if the bombings were a reaction to that win. The distraction did not stop Sadr from moving forward with plans to influence the selection of a new prime minister. However, he will still need to make alliances with other parties to form the new government. He himself did not run in the election.

At least 10 people were killed:

NYC earthquake risk: the Sixth Seal (Revelation 6:12)

NYC earthquake risk: Could Staten Island be heavily impacted?

By Ann Marie Barron

Updated May 16, 4:31 AM; Posted May 16, 4:00 AM

Rubble litters Main Street after an earthquake struck Sunday, Aug. 24, 2014, in Napa, Calif. A report by the U.S. Geological Survey outlines the differences between the effect of an earthquake in the West vs. one in the East. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. – While scientists say it’s impossible to predict when or if an earthquake will occur in New York City, they say that smaller structures — like Staten Island’s bounty of single-family homes — will suffer more than skyscrapers if it does happen.

“Earthquakes in the East tend to cause higher-frequency shaking — faster back-and-forth motion — compared to similar events in the West,” according to a report by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), published on its website recently “Shorter structures are more susceptible to damage during fast shaking, whereas taller structures are more susceptible during slow shaking.”

DIFFERENCES IN INTENSITY

The report, “East vs West Coast Earthquakes,” explains how USGS scientists are researching factors that influence regional differences in the intensity and effects of earthquakes, and notes that earthquakes in the East are often felt at more than twice the distance of earthquakes in the West.

Predicting when they will occur is more difficult, said Thomas Pratt, a research geophysicist and the central and Eastern U.S. coordinator for the USGS Earthquake Hazards Program in Reston, Va.

“One of the problems in the East Coast is that we don’t have a history to study,” he said. “In order to get an idea, we have to have had several cycles of these things. The way we know about them in California is we dig around in the mud and we see evidence of past earthquakes.”

Yet Pratt wouldn’t rule out the possibility of a high-magnitude event taking place in New York, which sits in the middle the North American Tectonic Plate, considered by experts to be quite stable.

“We never know,” he said. “One could come tomorrow. On the other hand, it could be another 300 years. We don’t understand why earthquakes happen (here) at all.”

Though the city’s last observable earthquake occurred on Oct. 27, 2001, and caused no real damage, New York has been hit by two Magnitude 5 earthquakes in its history – in 1738 and in 1884 — prompting many to say it is “due” for another.

While earthquakes generally have to be Magnitude 6 or higher to be considered “large,” by experts, “a Magnitude 5, directly under New York City, would shake it quite strongly,” Pratt said.

The reason has to do with the rock beneath our feet, the USGS report says.

OLDER ROCKS

In the East, we have older rocks, some of which formed “hundreds of millions of years before those in the West,” the report says. Since the faults in the rocks have had so much time to heal, the seismic waves travel more efficiently through them when an earthquake occurs.

“Rocks in the East are like a granite countertop and rocks in the West are much softer,” Pratt said. “Take a granite countertop and hit it and it’ll transmit energy well. In the West, it’s like a sponge. The energy gets absorbed.”

If a large, Magnitude 7 earthquake does occur, smaller structures, and older structures in Manhattan would be most vulnerable, Pratt said. “In the 1920s, ’30s and late 1800s, they were not built with earthquake resistance,” he said, noting that newer skyscrapers were built to survive hurricanes, so would be more resistant.

When discussing earthquake prediction and probability, Pratt uses the analogy of a baseball player who averages a home run every 10 times at bat and hasn’t hit one in the past nine games: “When he’s up at bat, will he hit a home run? You just don’t know.”

And though it would probably take a magnitude of 7 to topple buildings in the city, smaller earthquakes are still quite dangerous, he said.

“Bookshelves could fall down and hit you,” he said. “People could be killed.” A lot of stone work and heavy objects fell from buildings when a quake of 5.8 magnitude struck central Virginia in 2011, he noted, but, fortunately, no one was injured.

To be safe, Pratt encourages New Yorkers to keep a few days’ worth of drinking water and other supplies on hand. He, himself, avoids putting heavy things up high.

“It always gets me nervous when I go into a restaurant that has heavy objects high on shelves,” he said. “It’s unlikely you’ll get an earthquake. But, we just don’t know.”