The Reinvention of the Antichrist

In April 2004, as American troops in Iraq were fighting multiple insurgencies, U.S. officials announced a warrant for the arrest of Muqtada al-Sadr, a young, brash Shiite cleric who had bedeviled the Americans and their Iraqi allies. Paul Bremer, the top U.S. official in Baghdad at the time, declared Sadr an “outlaw.” President George W. Bush labeled him an enemy of the United States.

The warrant, which had been issued by an Iraqi judge months earlier, charged Sadr with instigating the April 2003 murder of a rival cleric, who was hacked to death in Najaf, Shiite Islam’s holiest city. Sadr went underground, as his supporters fought U.S. troops for months in southern Iraq and in Shiite districts of Baghdad. For years afterward, Sadr inspired fear in the United States as a ruthless warlord-cleric. In 2006, a Newsweek cover branded him “The Most Dangerous Man in Iraq.”

On May 12, when Iraqis voted in the country’s latest parliamentary elections 15 years after the U.S. invasion, a new image of Sadr emerged: a smiling cleric with a snowy beard, holding up his ink-stained index finger after casting his ballot in Najaf. In his left hand, he held a plastic Iraqi flag.

The contrast of these two images underscores the remarkable way Sadr has been able to reinvent himself over the past decade—from a sectarian militia leader who oversaw the killings of thousands of Iraqis to a populist, nationalist anti-corruption crusader. Sadr’s political alliance—a mixture of Shiite Islamists, the Iraqi Communist Party, secular civil society activists, and Sunni business leaders—unexpectedly won the parliamentary elections, securing the largest share, 54 seats, in Iraq’s 329-seat Parliament. Sadr is still far short of the 165-seat majority needed to appoint a prime minister and form a government.

In a region racked by wars and dominated by monarchs and strongmen, the voting offered a welcome juxtaposition: a relatively free and fair election in the Arab world, where the results were not preordained. And in this election at least, populism appeared to supplant sectarianism as the dominant force in Iraqi politics.

Sadr’s victory caught the United States, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and even many Iraqis by surprise. In a region racked by wars and dominated by monarchs and strongmen, the voting offered a welcome juxtaposition: a relatively free and fair election in the Arab world, where the results were not preordained. And in this election at least, populism appeared to supplant sectarianism as the dominant force in Iraqi politics.

But the election is not a seismic event that will alter Iraqi politics, which is still plagued by corruption, inertia, and foreign meddling. In fact, several of these ills contributed to Sadr’s victory: Iraqis’ frustration with their political class led to the lowest turnout, 44 percent, since the country’s first national elections, in 2005, after the U.S. invasion. (Participation in previous elections had not dipped below 60 percent.)

This election’s low turnout worked in Sadr’s favor. As with other Islamist groups in the Middle East, the Sadrist movement has built a formidable social and political organization that can deliver votes. Sadr also successfully cast himself as an Iraqi nationalist who would support a new government made up of technocrats and stamp out rampant corruption. (One of the movement’s most popular slogans was “Corruption Is Terrorism.”) Sadr’s own legislators and ministers have been tainted by graft charges, so ahead of the latest vote he forbade the 34 legislators from his previous parliamentary bloc from seeking reelection—a signal that Sadr was planning to clean house. In early May, the Shiite religious hierarchy led by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the most revered cleric in Iraq, urged followers not to vote along sectarian lines and reminded them of the corruption plaguing the country’s political class. Sistani also told voters that he and the religious establishment in Najaf had not endorsed any party or candidates.

Since early elections results were released in mid-May, Sadr has been thrust into the role of kingmaker, negotiating a governing alliance with other parliamentary blocs. He signaled that his most likely ally would be Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, whose bloc was expected to win the election but came in third. Sadr also met with the second-place finisher, Hadi al-Amiri, a powerful militia leader and Iranian ally who led a bloc associated with the Popular Mobilization Forces, the government-aligned Shiite militias that played a key role in the fight to expel Islamic State (ISIS) fighters from Iraq. Sadr is also negotiating with Kurdish parties and other Iraqi nationalist groups that won smaller parliamentary blocs.

The political jockeying over forming a new government will be tricky, partly because of the Iraqi parties and politicians who have an entrenched interest in maintaining a system of sectarian spoils where government ministries and associated patronage are divvied up. The system is also susceptible to foreign interference, especially by Iran, and to a lesser extent, the United States, which has about 5,000 troops that helped advise and train Iraqi forces in their three-year battle to oust ISIS militants from Iraqi cities. While the Trump administration has largely avoided public comment after the election, a top Sadr aide said that U.S. officials used intermediaries to contact members of Sadr’s political alliance after its victory.

The 44-year-old Sadr, who was once an ally of Iran and lived there for extended periods during Iraq’s civil war, has become highly critical of Tehran’s support for Iraqi Shiite factions in recent years. He has repeatedly said that he would not enter into a governing coalition with Iran’s allies, but he has reached out to Amiri, who is Iran’s closest partner in Iraq, and to another Shiite leader, Ammar al-Hakim, who also receives support from Tehran. Sadr appears most eager to exclude another Iranian ally, the former Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki, whose coalition won only 25 seats in the new parliament.

In the lead-up to the election, Iranian officials had pointedly said that they would not accept an Iraqi government led by Sadr’s allies. “We will not allow liberals and communists to govern in Iraq,” Ali Akbar Velayati, a senior adviser to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said in February as Iraqi electoral alliances took shape. But after the surprise results, Khamenei dispatched Qassem Soleimani, head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ foreign operations unit, to Baghdad to help organize Iran’s allies.

Shiite fighters from Saraya al-Salam, who are loyal to radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, in Baghdad, Iraq, July 8, 2016.

The Iranian regime has several interests in nurturing a friendly government in Baghdad: Iraq provides strategic depth and a buffer against Saudi Arabia and other Sunni Arab states that are competing with Iran for dominance over the region. Tehran also wants to guarantee that Iraq never again poses an existential threat to Iranian interests, as former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein did when he invaded Iran in 1980. Hussein was supported by the Sunni Arab states and most Western powers during the eight-year Iran-Iraq war that devastated both countries.

The American invasion in 2003 aimed at toppling Hussein opened the door for Iranian influence over Iraq, and Tehran moved quickly to solidify alliances with all of Iraq’s major Shiite factions. For years after the U.S. invasion, Sadr had an outsized influence on the country’s politics: he was able to mobilize the Shiite masses in a way few other Iraqi leaders could match, his followers created one of the most powerful militias during Iraq’s civil war, and he played kingmaker in the selection of prime ministers and formation of coalition governments.

When he emerged in 2003, Sadr was not yet 30 years old—and he was decades away from attaining the title of ayatollah. Sadr did not have the theological standing to be a marja, or source of emulation for the Shiite faithful. But he is the only surviving son of Grand Ayatollah Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr, who was assassinated by the Iraqi regime in 1999. The elder Sadr was a leading Shiite scholar, who, unlike Sistani, had advocated a strong political role for the clergy. The younger Sadr inherited his father’s political legacy as leader of the Sadrist movement.

Aside from his family’s pedigree, Sadr has another claim to leadership that his followers use to burnish his legitimacy over many other Iraqi leaders: he did not leave Iraq to live in exile during Hussein’s brutal rule. After Hussein’s ouster, Sadr and his supporters denounced the U.S. occupation and the Bush administration’s plan to install an interim government made up mainly of its favored exiled Iraqi politicians like Ahmad Chalabi and Ayad Allawi. Sadr’s followers seized control of hospitals, schools, and mosques in parts of Baghdad, Najaf, and Karbala. They provided social services in the absence of a central government. Posters of Sadr lined the walls of Shiite neighborhoods, and he drew tens of thousands to his rallies and Friday sermons. He managed to recruit several thousand fighters, mostly young Shiite men from Baghdad’s slums and southern Iraq, to join his new militia, the Mahdi Army.

The Ramapo Fault and the Sixth Seal (Revelation 6:12)

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/f9/RamapoFaultSystem.png 

Living on the Fault Line

Posted June 15, 2010 by Wayne J. Guglielmo

This chart shows the location of the Ramapo Fault System, the longest and one of the oldest systems of cracks in the earth’s crust in the Northeast. It also shows the location of all earthquakes of magnitude 2.5 or greater in New Jersey during the last 50 years. The circle in blue indicates the largest known Jersey quake.

The couple checked with Burns’s parents, who live in nearby Basking Ridge, and they, too, had heard and felt something, which they thought might have been an earthquake. A call by Burns some 20 minutes later to the Bernardsville Police Department—one of many curious and occasionally panicky inquiries that Sunday morning, according to the officer in charge, Sergeant John Remian—confirmed their suspicion: A magnitude 2.6 earthquake, its epicenter in Peapack/Gladstone, about seven miles from Bernardsville, had hit the area. A smaller aftershock followed about two and a half hours later.

After this year’s epic earthquakes in Haiti, Chile, Mexico, Indonesia, and China, the 2.6 quake and aftershock that shook parts of New Jersey in February may seem minor league, even to the Somerset County residents who experienced them. On the exponential Richter Scale, a magnitude 7.0 quake like the one that hit Haiti in January is almost 4 million times stronger than a quake of 2.6 magnitude. But comparisons of magnitude don’t tell the whole story.

Northern New Jersey straddles the Ramapo Fault, a significant ancient crack in the earth’s crust. The longest fault in the Northeast, it begins in Pennsylvania and moves into New Jersey, trending northeast through Hunterdon, Somerset, Morris, Passaic, and Bergen counties before terminating in New York’s Westchester County, not far from the Indian Point Energy Center, a nuclear power plant. And though scientists dispute how active this roughly 200 million-year-old fault really is, many earthquakes in the state’s surprisingly varied seismic history are believed to have occurred on or near it. The fault line is visible at ground level and likely extends as deep as nine miles below the surface.

During the past 230 years or so, New Jersey has been at the epicenter of nearly 170 earthquakes, according to data compiled by the New Jersey Geological Survey, part of the United States Department of Environmental Protection. The largest known quake struck in 1783, somewhere west of New York City, perhaps in Sussex County. It’s typically listed as 5.3 in magnitude, though that’s an estimate by seismologists who are quick to point out that the concept of magnitude—measuring the relative size of an earthquake—was not introduced until 1935 by Charles Richter and Beno Gutenberg. Still, for quakes prior to that, scientists are not just guessing.

“We can figure out the damage at the time by going back to old records and newspaper accounts,” says Won-Young Kim, a senior research scientist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in Palisades, New York, directly across the New Jersey border. “Once the amount and extent of contemporary damage has been established,” Kim says, “we’re then able to gauge the pattern of ground shaking or intensity of the event—and from there extrapolate its probable magnitude.”

Other earthquakes of magnitude 5 or higher have been felt in New Jersey, although their epicenters laying near New York City. One—which took place in 1737 and was said to have been felt as far north as Boston and as far south as northern Delaware—was probably in the 5 to 5.5 range. In 1884, an earthquake of similar magnitude occurred off New York’s Rockaway Beach. This well-documented event pulled houses off their foundations and caused steeples to topple as far west as Rahway. The shock wave, scientists believe, was felt over 70,000 square miles, from Vermont to Maryland.

Among the largest sub-5 magnitude earthquakes with epicenters in New Jersey, two (a 3.8 and a 4.0) took place on the same day in 1938 in the Lakehurst area in Ocean County. On August 26, 2003, a 3.5 magnitude quake shook the Frenchtown/Milford area in Hunterdon County. On February 3 of last year, a 3.0 magnitude quake occurred in the Morris County town of Mendham. “A lot of people felt this one because of the intense shaking, although the area of intensity wasn’t very wide,” says Lamont-Doherty’s Kim, who visited the site after the event.

After examining the known historical and geological record, Kim and other seismologists have found no clear evidence that an earthquake of greater than 5.3 to 5.5 magnitude has taken place in this area going back to 1737. This doesn’t mean, of course, that one did not take place in the more remote past or that one will not occur in the future; it simply means that a very large quake is less likely to occur here than in other places in the east where the seismic hazard is greater, including areas in South Carolina and northeastern New York State.

But no area on the East Coast is as densely populated or as heavily built-up as parts of New Jersey and its neighbors. For this reason, scientists refer to the Greater New York City-Philadelphia area, which includes New Jersey’s biggest cities, as one of “low earthquake hazard but high vulnerability.” Put simply, the Big One isn’t likely here—but if it comes, especially in certain locations, watch out.

Given this low-hazard, high-vulnerability scenario, how far along are scientists in their efforts to predict larger magnitude earthquakes in the New Jersey area? The answer is complex, complicated by the state’s geographical position, its unique geological history, the state of seismology itself, and the continuing debate over the exact nature and activity of the Ramapo Fault.

Over millions of years, New Jersey developed four distinct physiographic provinces or regions, which divide the state into a series of diagonal slices, each with its own terrain, rock type, and geological landforms.

The northernmost slice is the Valley and Ridge, comprising major portions of Sussex and Warren counties. The southernmost slice is the Coastal Plain, a huge expanse that covers some three-fifths of the state, including all of the Shore counties. Dividing the rest of the state are the Highlands, an area for the most part of solid but brittle rock right below the Valley and Ridge, and the lower lands of the Piedmont, which occupy all of Essex, Hudson, and Union counties, most of Bergen, Hunterdon, and Somerset, and parts of Middlesex, Morris, and Passaic.

For earthquake monitors and scientists, the formation of these last two provinces—the Highlands and the Piedmont—are of special interest. To understand why, consider that prior to the appearance of the Atlantic Ocean, today’s Africa was snuggled cozily up against North America and surrounded by a single enormous ocean. “At that point, you could have had exits off the New Jersey Turnpike for Morocco,” says Alexander Gates, professor of geology and chair of the department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Rutgers-Newark.

Under the pressure of circulating material within the Earth’s super-hot middle layer, or mantle, what was once a single continent—one that is thought to have included today’s other continents as well—began to stretch and eventually break, producing numerous cracks or faults and ultimately separating to form what became the Atlantic Ocean. In our area, the longest and most active of these many cracks was the Ramapo Fault, which, through a process known as normal faulting, caused one side of the earth’s crust to slip lower—the Piedmont—relative to the other side—the Highlands. “All this occurred about 225 million years ago,” says Gates. “Back then, you were talking about thousands of feet between the Highlands and the Piedmont and a very active Ramapo Fault.”

The Earth’s crust, which is 20 to 25 miles thick, is not a single, solid shell, but is broken into seven vast tectonic plates, which drift atop the soft, underlying mantle. Although the northeast-trending Ramapo Fault neatly divides two of New Jersey’s four physiographic provinces, it does not form a so-called plate boundary, as does California’s infamous San Andreas Fault. As many Californians know all too well, this giant fault forms the boundary between two plates—to the west, the Pacific Plate, and to the east, the North American Plate; these rub up against each other, producing huge stresses and a regularly repeating pattern of larger earthquakes.

The Ramapo Fault sits on the North American Plate, which extends past the East Coast to the middle of the Atlantic, where it meets the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, an underwater mountain range in constant flux. The consequences of this intraplate setting are huge: First, as Gates points out, “The predictability of bigger earthquakes on…[such] settings is exceedingly poor, because they don’t occur very often.” Second, the intraplate setting makes it more difficult to link our earthquakes to a major cause or fault, as monitors in California can often do.

This second bit of uncertainty is especially troubling for some people, including some in the media who want a neat story. To get around it, they ignore the differences between plate settings and link all of New Jersey’s earthquakes, either directly or implicitly, to the Ramapo Fault. In effect, such people want the Ramapo Fault “to look like the San Andreas Fault,” says Gates. “They want to be able to point to one big fault that’s causing all of our earthquakes.”

Gates does not think that’s the case, and he has been working with colleagues for a number of years to prove it. “What we have found is that there are smaller faults that generally cut from east to west across the northeast-trending Ramapo Fault,” he explains. “These much smaller faults are all over the place, and they’re actually the ones that are the active faults in the area.”

But what mechanisms are responsible for the formation of these apparently active auxiliary faults? One such mechanism, say scientists, is the westward pressure the Atlantic Ocean exerts on the North American Plate, which for the most part resists any movement. “I think we are in an equilibrium state most of the time,” says Lamont-Doherty’s Kim.

Still, that continuous pressure on the plate we sit on causes stress, and when that stress builds up sufficiently, the earth’s crust has a tendency to break around any weak zones. In our area, the major weak zone is the Ramapo Fault—“an ancient zone of weakness,” as Kim calls it. That zone of weakness exacerbates the formation of auxiliary faults, and thereby the series of minor earthquakes the state has experienced over the years.

All this presupposes, of course, that any intraplate stress in this area will continue to be released gradually, in a series of relatively minor earthquakes or releases of energy. But what if that were not the case? What if the stress continued to build up, and the release of large amounts of energy came all at once? In crude terms, that’s part of the story behind the giant earthquakes that rocked what is now New Madrid, Missouri, between 1811 and 1812. Although estimates of their magnitude have been revised downward in recent years to less than magnitude 8, these earthquakes are generally regarded as among the largest intraplate events to have occurred in the continental United States.

For a number of reasons—including the relatively low odds that the kind of stored energy that unleashed the New Madrid events could ever build up here—earthquakes of plus-6 magnitude are probably not in our future. Still, says Kim, even a magnitude 6 earthquake in certain areas of the state could do considerable damage, especially if its intensity or ground shaking was of sufficient strength. In a state as geologically diverse and densely populated as New Jersey, this is a crucial wild card.

Part of the job of the experts at the New Jersey Geological Survey is to assess the seismic hazards in different parts of the state. To do this, they use a computer-simulation model developed under the direction of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, known as HAZUS, for Hazards US. To assess the amount of ground shaking likely to occur in a given county during events ranging in magnitude from 5 to 7 on the Richter Scale, NJGS scientists enter three features of a county’s surface geology into their computer model. Two of these features relate to the tendency of soil in a given area to lose strength, liquefy, or slide downhill when shaken. The third and most crucial feature has to do with the depth and density of the soil itself and the type of bedrock lying below it; this is a key component in determining a region’s susceptibility to ground shaking and, therefore, in estimating the amount of building and structural damage that’s likely to occur in that region. Estimates for the various counties—nine to date have been studied—are sent to the New Jersey Office of Emergency Management, which provided partial funding for the project.

To appreciate why this element of ground geology is so crucial to earthquake modelers, consider the following: An earthquake’s intensity—which is measured on something called the Modified Mercalli Scale—is related to a number of factors. The amount of energy released or the magnitude of an event is clearly a big factor. But two earthquakes of the same magnitude can have very different levels of intensity; in fact, it’s quite possible for a lower magnitude event to generate more ground shaking than a higher magnitude one.

In addition to magnitude, other factors that affect intensity are the distance of the observer or structure from the epicenter, where intensity is the greatest; the depth beneath the surface of the initial rupture, with shallower ruptures producing more ground shaking than deeper ones; and, most significantly, the ground geology or material that the shock wave generated by the earthquake must pass through.

As a rule, softer materials like sand and gravel shake much more intensely than harder materials, because the softer materials are comparatively inefficient energy conductors, so whatever energy is released by the quake tends to be trapped, dispersing much more slowly. (Think of a bowl of Jell-O on a table that’s shaking.)

In contrast, harder materials, like the solid rock found widely in the Highlands, are brittle and break under pressure, but conduct energy well, so that even big shock waves disperse much more rapidly through them, thereby weakening the amount of ground shaking. “If you’ve read any stories about the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco, you know the most intense damage was in those flat, low areas by the Bay, where the soil is soft, and not in the hilly, rocky areas above,” says Karl Muessig, state geologist and NJGS head.

The map that accompanies the online version of the NJGS’s Earthquake Loss Estimation Study divides the state’s surface geology into five seismic soil classes, ranging from Class A, or hard rock, to Class E, or soft soil (state.nj.us/dep/njgs/enviroed/hazus.htm).

Although the weakest soils are scattered throughout the state, including the Highlands, which besides harder rock also contains areas of glacial lakes, clays, and wetlands, they are most evident in the Piedmont and the Coastal Plain. “The largest expanses of them are in coastal areas where you have salt marshes or large glacial lakes, as in parts of the Passaic River basin,” says Scott Stanford, a research scientist with NJGS and lead author of the estimate. Some of the very weakest soils, Stanford adds, are in areas of filled marshland, including places along the Hudson waterfront, around Newark Bay and the Meadowlands, and along the Arthur Kill.

Faults in these areas—and in the coastal plain generally—are far below the ground, perhaps several hundred to a thousand feet down, making identification difficult. “There are numerous faults upon which you might get earthquake movement that we can’t see, because they’re covered by younger sediments,” Stanford says.

This combination of hidden faults and weak soils worries scientists, who are all too aware that parts of the coastal plain and Piedmont are among the most densely populated and developed areas in the state. (The HAZUS computer model also has a “built environment” component, which summarizes, among other things, types of buildings in a given area.) For this reason, such areas would be in the most jeopardy in the event of a large earthquake.

“Any vulnerable structure on these weak soils would have a higher failure hazard,” Stanford says. And the scary truth is that many structures in New Jersey’s largest cities, not to mention New York City, would be vulnerable, since they’re older and built before anyone gave much thought to earthquake-related engineering and construction codes.

For example, in the study’s loss estimate for Essex County, which includes Newark, the state’s largest city, a magnitude 6 event would result in damage to 81,600 buildings, including almost 10,000 extensively or completely; 36,000 people either displaced from their homes or forced to seek short-term shelter; almost $9 million in economic losses from property damage and business interruption; and close to 3,300 injuries and 50 fatalities. (The New York City Area Consortium for Earthquake Loss Mitigation has conducted a similar assessment for New York City, at nycem.org.)

All of this suggests the central irony of New Jersey geology: The upland areas that are most prone to earthquakes—the counties in or around the Ramapo Fault, which has spawned a network of splays, or auxiliary faults—are much less densely populated and sit, for the most part, on good bedrock. These areas are not invulnerable, certainly, but, by almost all measures, they would not sustain very severe damage, even in the event of a higher magnitude earthquake. The same can’t be said for other parts of the state, where the earthquake hazard is lower but the vulnerability far greater. Here, the best we can do is to prepare—both in terms of better building codes and a constantly improving emergency response.

Meanwhile, scientists like Rutgers’s Gates struggle to understand the Earth’s quirky seismic timetable: “The big thing with earthquakes is that you can commonly predict where they are going to occur,” Gates says. “When they’re going to come, well, we’re nowhere near being able to figure that out.”

***********************

Planning for the Big One

For the men and women of the state police who manage and support the New Jersey Office of Emergency Management (OEM), the response to some events, like hurricanes, can be marshalled in advance. But an earthquake is what responders call a no-notice event.

In New Jersey, even minor earthquakes—like the one that shook parts of Somerset County in February—attract the notice of local, county, and OEM officials, who continuously monitor events around the state from their Regional Operations and Intelligence Center (The ROIC) in West Trenton, a multimillion dollar command-and-control facility that has been built to withstand 125 mph winds and a 5.5 magnitude earthquake. In the event of a very large earthquake, during which local and county resources are apt to become quickly overwhelmed, command and control authority would almost instantly pass to West Trenton.

Here, officials from the state police, representatives of a galaxy of other state agencies, and a variety of communications and other experts would assemble in the cavernous and ultra-high tech Emergency Operations Center to oversee the state’s response. “A high-level earthquake would definitely cause the governor to declare a state of emergency,” says OEM public information officer Nicholas J. Morici. “And once that takes place, our emergency operations plan would be put in motion.”

Emergency officials have modeled that plan—one that can be adapted to any no-notice event, including a terrorist attack—on response methodologies developed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. At its core is a series of seventeen emergency support functions, ranging from transportation to firefighting, debris removal, search and rescue, public health, and medical services. A high-magnitude event would likely activate all of these functions, says Morici, along with the human and physical resources needed to carry them out—cranes and heavy trucks for debris removal, fire trucks and teams for firefighting, doctors and EMTs for medical services, buses and personnel carriers for transportation, and so on.

This is where an expert like Tom Rafferty comes in. Rafferty is a Geographic Information Systems Specialist attached to the OEM. His job during an emergency is to keep track electronically of which resources are where in the state, so they can be deployed quickly to where they are needed. “We have a massive database called the Resource Directory Database in which we have geolocated municipal, county, and state assets to a very detailed map of New Jersey,” Rafferty says. “That way, if there is an emergency like an earthquake going on in one area, the emergency managers can quickly say to me, for instance, ‘We have major debris and damage on this spot of the map. Show us the location of the nearest heavy hauler. Show us the next closest location,’ and so on.”

A very large quake, Rafferty says, “could overwhelm resources that we have as a state.” In that event, OEM has the authority to reach out to FEMA for additional resources and assistance. It can also call upon the private sector—the Resource Directory has been expanded to include non-government assets—and to a network of volunteers. “No one has ever said, ‘We don’t want to help,’” Rafferty says. New Jersey officials can also request assistance through the Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC), an agreement among the states to help each other in times of extreme crisis.

“You always plan for the worst,” Rafferty says, “and that way when the worst doesn’t happen, you feel you can handle it if and when it does.”

Contributing editor Wayne J. Guglielmo lives in Mahwah, near the Ramapo Fault.

The Art of the Deal

3Trump cancels summit with North Korea’s Kim, warns that military ready

David Brunnstrom, Matt Spetalnick, Christine Kim7 Min Read

 

WASHINGTON/SEOUL (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday called off a historic summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un scheduled for next month, citing Pyongyang’s “open hostility,” and warned that the U.S. military was ready in the event of any reckless acts by North Korea.

Trump wrote a letter to Kim to announce his abrupt withdrawal from what would have been the first-ever meeting between a serving U.S. president and a North Korean leader in Singapore on June 12.

“Sadly, based on the tremendous anger and open hostility displayed in your most recent statement, I feel it would be inappropriate, at this time, to have this long-planned meeting,” Trump wrote.

It was a dramatic end to weeks of optimistic statements from Trump that by meeting with Kim he might succeed where previous U.S. presidents had failed and persuade North Korea to give up a nuclear weapons programme that now threatens the United States.

North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan responded to Trump’s announcement by saying Pyongyang remained open to resolving issues with Washington “at any time in any way.”

“We had set in high regards President Trump’s efforts, unprecedented by any other president, to create a historic North Korea-U.S. summit,” he was quoted as saying by the official Korean Central News Agency.

On Wednesday evening Washington time, North Korea had repeated a threat to pull out of the summit and warned it was prepared for a nuclear showdown with Washington if necessary.

White House officials said that statement in which Pyongyang also condemned U.S. Vice President Mike Pence as a “political dummy” was “the last straw.”

One senior official said there had been “a trail of broken promises” from North Korea “that has given the United States pause.” That included the North Koreans not showing up to a planned meeting in Singapore last week.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who met Kim twice in Pyongyang, said North Korea had not responded to contacts in recent days and Trump had made his decision after meetings on Wednesday in which he concluded the summit would not be successful.

“We got a lot of dial tones,” Pompeo said, adding it was disappointing but “frankly not a surprise.”

Speaking at the White House, Trump said he remained open to dialogue but had spoken to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and warned North Korea against any “reckless act.”

He said U.S. allies South Korea and Japan also were ready to shoulder much of the financial burden “if an unfortunate situation is forced upon us” by North Korea.

‘WE’LL SEE’

Asked if the summit cancellation increased the risk of war, Trump replied: “We’ll see what happens.”

He said the United States would continue its “maximum pressure” campaign of sanctions to press North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons.

Trump’s move sent global share markets sharply lower before they regained some footing. Safe-haven buying of U.S. Treasury bonds pushed their yields lower, while the dollar weakened.

The outlook for the meeting soured dramatically this month when North Korea angrily rejected the notion that it would agree to unilateral nuclear disarmament as Washington has demanded.

Trump has said he detected a change in Kim’s attitude after the second of two recent visits the North Korean made to China and that he was possibly being influenced by Beijing, with which the United States is embroiled in a major trade dispute.

The cancellation came just hours after North Korea followed through on a pledge to blow up tunnels at its main nuclear test site, which Pyongyang said was proof of its commitment to end nuclear testing.

The senior White House official said that among North Korea’s broken promises was one to allow experts to witness the dismantlement of the site, which meant there was no one there to verify what actually occurred. Only a small group of international media handpicked by North Korea witnessed the demolition at the Punggye-ri site.

North Korea’s announcement of its plan to destroy its only nuclear test site had been widely welcomed as a positive, if largely symbolic, step. Kim has declared his nuclear force complete, amid speculation the site was obsolete anyway.

The Pentagon said it was too early to give an assessment, but U.S. officials and experts say the site could be put back into service or re-established elsewhere.

SOUTH KOREAN PRESIDENT ‘PERPLEXED’

South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who worked hard to help set up the summit and urged Trump at a White House meeting on Tuesday not to let a rare opportunity slip away, said he was “perplexed” by the cancellation. He urged Trump and Kim to talk directly.

The reference to Pence that offended the White House came in a statement released by North Korean media citing Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui. She called Pence a “political dummy” for comparing North Korea – a “nuclear weapons state” – to Libya, where Muammar Gaddafi gave up his unfinished nuclear development programme, only to be killed later by NATO-backed fighters.

“Whether the U.S. will meet us at a meeting room or encounter us at nuclear-to-nuclear showdown is entirely dependent upon the decision and behaviour of the United States,” Choe said.

Trump had further raised expectations for a successful summit after North Korea released three Americans this month, which he called in his letter “a beautiful gesture” by Kim.

While Trump left the door open for talks with Kim, chances for a quick rescheduling appear remote and the cancellation will renew fears of a return to conflict on the Korean peninsula.

Trump’s letter also referred to the possibility of war.

“You talk about your nuclear capabilities, but ours are so massive and powerful that I pray to God that they will never have to be used,” he said.

North Korea’s pursuit of nuclear weapons prompted fears of war last year after it said it tested an H-bomb and developed a missile capable of hitting the United States.

Rhetoric reached new heights under Trump as he mocked Kim as “little rocket man” and threatened to “totally destroy” North Korea if necessary. Kim called Trump mentally deranged.

Slideshow (9 Images)

The summit cancellation denies Trump of what supporters hoped could have been a major diplomatic achievement, worthy of a Nobel Peace Prize.

It comes at a time when Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal has drawn criticism and his moving of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem has fuelled violence. An investigation into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 election hangs over his presidency.

Robert Einhorn, a non-proliferation expert at the Brookings Institution, said it seemed Trump realized he would not get assurances from Kim of a willingness to give up its nuclear weapons.

“He was, I think, reluctant to go to Singapore and come up short,” he said. “This probably was the best choice he could make – much better than having a meeting that would deepen the divisions, lead to angry recriminations and set back any prospect for getting back on track.”

Reporting by David Brunnstrom and Matt Spetalnick; Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Beijing, Joyce Lee and Hyonhee Shin in Seoul, Roberta Rampton, Jeff Mason, Lesley Wroughton, Doina Chiacu, Patricia Zengerle, Justin Mitchell and Arshad Mohammed in Washington and Michelle Nichols at the United Nations; Writing by David Brunnstrom and Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Mary Milliken, Bill Trott and Peter Cooney

How the Antichrist Became the Kingmaker (Revelation 13)

 Iraqi Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr visits his father’s grave in Najaf after parliamentary election results were announced on May 14, 2018. (Alaa Al-Marjani/Reuters)

As an awkward young cleric with a family name weightier than his own achievements, Moqtada al-Sadr began his quest for prominence after the toppling of Saddam Hussein. It rested on a sense of homegrown nationalism, a steely opposition to foreign domination and a willingness to fight.

He criticized political figures who were backed by Iran or promoted by Americans as unworthy of leadership.

“The people who deserve to rule are the ones who stayed here,” he said, sending his loyalists to battle American troops repeatedly in the early years of the U.S. occupation.

The labels he earned from U.S. officials reflected his growing notoriety: Over time, he went from “rabble-rouser” to “outlaw,” wanted by the U.S. government.

Now, Sadr is poised to assume a new sobriquet: kingmaker, after leading a political coalition to what appeared to be an early lead in national elections in Iraq. Sadr did not run in the election but may be able to choose Iraq’s next leader.

If the election results hold, it would cap a stunning evolution for Sadr, marking his transformation from the feared head of a Shiite militia to a populist political leader who has disavowed Iraq’s entrenched sectarianism. The coalition he gathered for the elections, which includes communist and secular figures, could upend Iraq’s political order and dilute the influence of the United States as well as Iran.

What brought Sadr out of the fringes of Shiite-centric politics was neither military nor religious, but rather his embrace of a wave of popular demonstrations over quality of life and Iraq’s stagnant politics.

Ahmed al-Mayali, a political scientist at the University of Baghdad, said Sadr’s image had evolved from sectarian ­militant to populist in the aftermath of the Islamic State’s onslaught in 2014, which left the radical Islamist group in charge of a large slice of northern and western Iraq.

Sadr used his considerable power to mobilize hundreds of thousands of people to an ongoing popular protest movement calling for political overhauls.

“He began demanding what the street was demanding,” Mayali said. “He protested with them and addressed all Iraqis in a simple language everyone could understand. The language of ‘I’m one of you, not an elite.’ ”

“This gave him more supporters than he had before,” Mayali added.

In the immediate aftermath of the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, Sadr’s support derived mainly from his famous name. His father, Grand Aya­tollah Mo­hammed Sadiq Sadr, was a revered cleric who was ass­assinated, along with two of his sons, by Hussein’s security forces in 1999.

In the post-invasion chaos, the younger Sadr deployed his father’s network to provide for the residents of Baghdad’s impoverished quarters.

“Faithful to his father’s populist vision, his organization had become a kind of street movement, from the Iraqi equivalent of the barrio, imbued with a profound antagonism to traditional Shiite authority and to the power those families represented,” the writer and Washington Post correspondent Anthony Shadid wrote in “Night Draws Near,” his chronicle of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and its aftermath.

Sadr was distinct from the returning Iraqi exiles who were seeking power in Baghdad because he had stayed in Iraq during the worst of Hussein’s repression, Shadid wrote.

“Like the poor Shiites, Sadr had suffered loss: his father, his brothers, and many of his other relatives were martyrs of the community. He spoke like the dispossessed; he even looked like them.”

His rhetoric — of rebellion and resistance to foreign influence — transformed into violent confrontation as Sadr’s Mahdi Army led uprisings against the U.S.-led coalition in several Iraqi cities and became one of the most feared militias during the years of Iraq’s sectarian civil war.

After years of self-imposed retirement from politics, Sadr staged a dramatic return to the limelight several years ago, latching onto a movement demonstrating against corruption by Iraq’s political elite and calling for a new government.

By February 2016, Sadr had assumed a dominating role in the demonstrations, showing his talent for brinksmanship, self-promotion and his ability to command the streets. His supporters staged mass protests before storming the walls of Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone, as his militiamen, renamed as the Peace Brigades, secured the perimeter.

When Sadr himself entered the Green Zone, it was a moment rich with symbolism: the maverick cleric, dismissed as a pretender by the establishment and derided as a firebrand by westerners, strolling into the redoubt of Iraq’s political elites. Soldiers who were there to guard the place embraced him, and a general kissed his hand.

In the protest tents, Sadr pulled off another unlikely trick: earning the trust of secular and reformist movements to form an unusual alliance that defied Iraq’s rigid, dysfunctional political order and underpinned his diverse ticket in Saturday’s election.

And he gained allies for his own growing political base of supporters — a movement characterized by the kind of devotion Sadr’s father had enjoyed a generation ago and that had allowed the young cleric to step out of his family’s shadow.

“They follow him because they are convinced of him,” Mayali said.

Fahim reported from Istanbul.

Iran Begins Nuclear Production at Furdow (Daniel 8:4)

BESA Center Perspectives Paper No. 843, May 23, 2018

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: On April 29, satellite imagery showed irregular activity at Iran’s Fordow uranium enrichment facility, arousing suspicion that Iran is preparing to resume its activities. The Iranians had indeed threatened to do this if President Trump followed through on his plan to quit the 2015 nuclear agreement (the JCPOA). However, the unusual activity might simply be steps towards converting the facility to a civil research center for nuclear energy and physics, which would comply with the JCPOA.

The Fordow uranium enrichment nuclear facility was one of the Iranian clandestine nuclear projects displayed in Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu’s “nuclear speech” on April 30. The day before the speech, irregular activity at Fordow was detected in a satellite image taken by the EROS-B (Earth Remote Observation) satellite. (EROS-B was manufactured by Israel Aerospace Industries and is operated by Israel’s ImageSat International [ISI]).

The photos showed that the entrance gate to the tunnels leading to the plant had been opened, and about thirty private cars and four buses were in the parking lot close to the entrance. This differs from recent months, when ISI photos showed the plant gate closed and no vehicles in the lot. The new photos also showed that two buildings that had been under construction in July 2016 are now completed and ready for use. The buildings are believed to be workshops for R&D and assembly.

ISI presented the images under the title: “Does Iran plan to reactivate the uranium enrichment plant in preparation for May 12?”

The IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency), which is responsible, according to the 2015 JCPOA agreement, for monitoring Iran’s nuclear facilities and activities, is committed to regular inspections of the Fordow facility. In its quarterly verification and monitoring report released on February 22, the IAEA said with regard to Fordow: “Throughout the reporting period, Iran has not conducted any uranium enrichment or related research and development (R&D) activities, and there has not been any nuclear material at the plant.” However, IAEA has not yet responded to the new satellite photos of Fordow.

Fordow is located deep inside a mountainous zone about 32 km northeast of Qom. It is part of Project Amad, the Iranian nuclear weapons effort. Its construction by the IRGC (Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps) began in 2006-07, and it went into operation in December 2011.

The secret gas centrifuge enrichment facility was designed for the purpose of enriching uranium for nuclear weapons. However, after its existence was exposed by Western intelligence services in 2009, Iran was forced to acknowledge it to the IAEA. Ever since then the facility has been subject to IAEA inspection.

Iran stated in October 2009 that the purpose of the Fordow facility was to enrich uranium up to 5%, the level of enrichment required for the nuclear fuel used in power reactors. In June 2011, Tehran changed its mind and informed the IAEA that the facility would be used to enrich up to 20%, the level required for nuclear fuel used in research reactors. This was to be accomplished by feeding Fordow’s centrifuges with uranium that had been enriched beforehand at the Natanz plant.

Although 20%-enriched uranium is still not weapons-grade, a large accumulation of 20%-enriched uranium can be a springboard for 90% enrichment, which is weapons-grade.

Fordow was built to contain up to 2,976 centrifuges of the IR-1 type, Iran’s first-generation gas centrifuge, which was designed to be installed in 16 cascades. In fact, until the signing of the JCPOA, in which Iran agreed to curb its nuclear program and close Fordow, the number of centrifuges installed there was only 2,710. When Fordow was brought into operation, only two cascades were active. Two more cascades became active in January 2012, bringing the number of operating centrifuges at Fordow up to 696.

But in accordance with Geneva’s interim “Joint Plan of Action” (JPA) agreement of November 2013, Iran ceased enriching uranium to 20% in January 2014. Moreover, all the 20%-enriched uranium accumulated by Iran up to that point was either converted for production of nuclear fuel for Tehran’s research reactor or downblended with natural uranium into lower than 5%-enriched uranium.

The quantity of 20% enriched uranium sufficient for casting a nuclear weapon core, following a further enrichment to 90%, is about 150 kg. That is less than the 166 kg 20% enriched uranium produced at Fordow between December 2011 and January 2014. Iran also produced 136 kg 20% enriched uranium at its Natanz enrichment plant between February 2010 and January 2014. Had Iran been able to use all its 20%-enriched material for a nuclear weapon, it could have had, within one or two months, a quantity of 90%-enriched material sufficient for two nuclear weapons.

It was stated in the JCPOA agreement that “the Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant (FFEP) will be converted into a nuclear, physics, and technology center” and that “Iran will not conduct any uranium enrichment or any uranium enrichment related R&D (Research and Development) and will have no nuclear material at the Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant (FFEP) for 15 years”. With regard specifically to Fordow, Iran committed itself to maintaining no more than 1,044 IR-1 centrifuges there for 15 years, and those centrifuges will be disconnected from their UF6 pipework (UF6, or uranium hexa-fluoride, is a uranium-fluorine compound that is fed as gas to the enrichment system). Three hundred forty-eight centrifuges that have not been used for enrichment will be modified for the production of stable isotopes in joint partnership between Russia and Iran, and all excess centrifuges at the facility and their infrastructure will be moved to the Natanz plant for storage. And finally, “Iran will permit the IAEA regular access, including daily as requested by the IAEA… for 15 years”.

JCPOA “Implementation Day” was January 16, 2016. On February 26, 2016, The New York Times reported:

Under the terms of the nuclear agreement with Iran, two-thirds of the centrifuges inside Fordow have been removed in recent months, along with all nuclear material. The facility is banned from any nuclear-related work and is being converted to other uses. Further, according to the 8th of September 2016 quarterly IAEA report on Iran, two of the 1,044 centrifuges that remained installed at Fordow after “Implementation Day” were removed from their x cascade, modified and installed separately for the purpose of conducting “initial research and R&D activities related to stable isotope production”.

Moscow has a significant role under the JCPOA in realizing Fordow’s project to separate stable isotopes. On January 20, 2017, Russia and Iran signed documents furthering their cooperation in the peaceful use of nuclear energy. Those documents referred, inter alia, to the stable isotopes project at Fordow. In connection with this, Iranian delegates traveled to Russia and Russian experts to Iran, including Rosatom consortium experts who arrived at Fordow on February 4 to begin installation of equipment.

The Rosatom consortium is one of the leading organizations of Russian nuclear energy projects. It is involved, among other things, in the Iranian Bushehr nuclear power station. At a meeting in Tehran on April 25 attended by Nikolay Spassky, deputy director general for international relations of Rosatom, and Behrouz Kamalvandi, spokesman for the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, the two exchanged views on the current status of the countries’ joint projects, including the second and third power reactors at Bushehr and the rebuilding of Fordow to produce stable isotopes.

It appears that on the surface, Iran had been keeping its commitments to the JCPOA word for word, and particularly those concerning Fordow. However, there were question marks about its ultimate intentions. First, it was reported in August 2016 that Iran had deployed the S-300 missile defense system, acquired from Russia, around the Fordow facility. The commander of the IRGC, Brigadier General Farzad Esmaili, said about this deployment, “Our main priority is to protect Iran’s nuclear facilities under any circumstances.”

In addition, key personalities in the Tehran regime threatened last year to resume enriching uranium as a response to Trump’s intention to quit Iran’s deal. In an open-door Majlis (the Iranian Parliament) session on August 3, Iranian president Rouhani said about Fordow: “If you have archive photos of it, you can see how much the facility has changed and what activities are taking place, especially in the field of stable isotopes and in the various labs,” but added: “We maintained Fordow in the JCPOA so that if we want, we can start enriching uranium to 20% within five days.”

On August 15, Rouhani said, “In an hour and a day, Iran could return to a more advanced nuclear level than at the beginning of the negotiations”. Also, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, Ali Akbar Salehi, said on August 22 on Iranian state television: “If we make the determination, we are able to resume 20% enrichment in at most five days”. On October 30, he added: “We can produce 20%-enriched uranium at Fordow in four days, but we don’t want the nuclear deal to collapse”. On March 5, Kamalvandi said to Tehran’s Arabic language al-Alam TV: “If America pulls out of the deal … Iran could resume 20% uranium enrichment in less than 48 hours”.

Given the lack of technical information on the essence of the stable isotopes project, it is impossible to understand what this is about. From a technological standpoint, the possibility of converting Fordow’s centrifuges, which are designed for uranium enrichment, into equipment to be used for the separation of stable isotopes is quite doubtful. It is probably easier to convert a tank into a tractor. Also, the nuclei of stable isotopes in medicine, agriculture, and industry are light, some of them far lighter than the uranium nucleus. Further, the chemical properties of stable isotope compounds differ from the UF6, which would make it necessary to install different feeding systems for stable isotope compounds at the Fordow facility. The part of the JCPOA that deals with stable isotope separation at Fordow is thus either nonsense or deception.

The unusual activity photographed by the satellite on April 29 can be explained as organizing steps for converting the facility to a civil research center for nuclear energy and physics, conducted in partnership with Russia, which would comply with the 2015 nuclear agreement. Careful monitoring of the Fordow site is highly important, particularly after Trump’s decision to pull out of the nuclear deal, but we must not be tempted towards hasty conclusions.

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Lt. Col. (ret.) Dr. Raphael Ofek is an expert in the field of nuclear physics and technology, who served as a senior analyst in the Israeli intelligence community.

BESA Center Perspectives Papers are published through the generosity of the Greg Rosshandler Family