History Expects the Sixth Seal in NYC (Revelation 6:12)

According to the New York Daily News, Lynn Skyes, lead author of a recent study by seismologists at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory adds that a magnitude-6 quake hits the area about every 670 years, and magnitude-7 every 3,400 years.

A 5.2-magnitude quake shook New York City in 1737 and another of the same severity hit in 1884.

Tremors were felt from Maine to Virginia.

There are several fault lines in the metro area, including one along Manhattan’s 125th St. – which may have generated two small tremors in 1981 and may have been the source of the major 1737 earthquake, says Armbruster.

“The problem here comes from many subtle faults,” explained Skyes after the study was published.

He adds: “We now see there is earthquake activity on them. Each one is small, but when you add them up, they are probably more dangerous than we thought.”

Armbruster says a 5.0-magnitude earthquake today likely would result in casualties and hundreds of millions of dollars in damage.

“I would expect some people to be killed,” he notes.

The scope and scale of damage would multiply exponentially with each additional tick on the Richter scale. (ANI)

The Tragedy of the Children Outside the Temple Walls (Revelation 11)

The tragedy of Gaza’s children

Wrapped in her mother’s arms in a crowded doctor’s surgery, Muna (not her real name) looks at first glance like any baby waiting to be weighed by a nurse. However, look more closely and you see why medical staff at the Ard El-Insan pediatric clinic in Gaza are worried. Muna is nine months old, but she weighs under 5kg — barely the normal weight for a healthy six-week-old baby.

“This is heartbreaking, but it’s now normal,” a doctor told me. “Every day we see over 50 cases of children with malnutrition, and the numbers are rising.”

The increasingly dire situation in Gaza — especially for children — is one of the world’s least reported humanitarian emergencies. The territory is mired in a deepening crisis as a result of three wars since 2007, a decade-long Israeli-led blockade, and a budget crisis fueled by intra-Palestinian hostilities and aid cuts.

Two years ago, the UN described conditions for the 2 million people inhabiting the tiny coastal strip as increasingly “unlivable.” And the situation has deteriorated since then.

The territory’s economy is in free fall. It contracted by 8 percent last year alone — and the decline continues. Half the population — including 400,000 children — is now living below the poverty line. The unemployment rate is among the highest in the world, with two-thirds of young people jobless.

Basic services are disintegrating as fast as the economy. The healthcare system is collapsing, with providers lacking basic equipment and essential medicines, including antibiotics. Clean piped water is a distant memory. Today, impoverished Gazans line to buy expensive and often unsafe trucked water. Sewage treatment is also a thing of the past: The equivalent of 43 Olympic-sized swimming pools of raw sewage is pumped into the sea every day. And electricity supply is sporadic.

Children like Muna, and their mothers, are bearing the brunt of the crisis.

Earlier this year, Save the Children, UNICEF and the World Food Programme conducted a survey to document the nutritional status of women and children in vulnerable communities across the Gaza Strip.

The results were shocking. About one in five pregnant women were malnourished. Child malnutrition, although still below emergency levels, has risen fourfold since 2014. And an alarming 40 percent of children covered by the survey were suffering from diarrhea or acute respiratory infection — potentially lethal diseases for young bodies weakened by hunger.

Humanitarian aid to Gaza is, quite literally, a lifeline. It keeps more than half the population from going hungry. Four of every five people — 1.6 million in total — need humanitarian support.

However, the aid pipeline is under pressure. Donors have provided less than half the US$351 million needed for this year. Deep cuts to the budget of the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA, the UN body responsible for Palestinian refugees) have compounded the problem, putting pressure on already overstretched education and health systems.

Other aspects of the tragedy unfolding in Gaza are less visible. Like their peers across the occupied Palestinian territories, Gaza’s children are in the grip of a mental health crisis. Half of Palestinian children aged six to 12 experience emotional and behavioral disorders, according to the WHO.

Adolescents in Gaza bear the scars of traumatic exposure to extreme violence, loss of friends and loved ones, and the toxic stress produced by daily fear and anxiety.

One recent survey found that more than two-thirds of children in schools close to the perimeter fence separating Gaza from Israel were dealing with psycho-social distress. The fragmented patchwork of mental healthcare cannot deal with an epidemic of this magnitude.

The Israeli-led blockade is pushing Gaza further toward the cliff edge of a humanitarian emergency. Restrictions on the movement of goods, such as fertilizers, medical equipment and pharmaceuticals, have choked off economic recovery, undermined livelihoods and left the territory’s health clinics without vital supplies. Aid donors complain about delays in the supply of equipment needed for critical infrastructure, including desalination plants.

Tensions between the Palestinian Authority (PA), based in the West Bank, and the Hamas authorities controlling Gaza have added to the crisis. The PA has cut budget transfers to Gaza, leading to further job losses, reduced wages and greater pressure on basic services.

Ultimately, there will be no peace and development in Gaza without reconciliation, underpinned by a political settlement that respects the rights and protects the security of all Palestinians and Israelis. Gaza cannot be treated as a separate entity. It is an integral part of the future unified state that must be established in peaceful coexistence with Israel across all occupied Palestinian territory.

That prospect seems a long way off. However, allowing Gaza to slide into a full-fledged humanitarian catastrophe would be an indefensible dereliction of responsibility by the international community.

Preventing such a disaster will require urgent action. Aid donors must commit to fully funding the UN’s humanitarian appeal, along with UNRWA’s 2019 budget.

The malnutrition crisis, neglected for too long, demands a decisive response — and next month, aid agencies are launching a US$23 million three-year action plan to address it. Easing the blockade would help tackle poverty and create the jobs Gaza desperately needs.

The World Bank has proposed ways to relax import restrictions without compromising Israeli security. World Bank president David Malpass could help broker such a deal.

None of this would be easy. Gaza’s children are in the eye of a perfect humanitarian storm and the hopes of an entire generation are fading.

If there is a glimmer of hope, perhaps it can be found by cutting through the tired, polarized debate on Gaza and asking a simple question: Does anyone believe that children like Muna should be pushed to the brink of starvation by a crisis they played no part in creating?

For the sake of all Gaza’s children, I hope not.

Kevin Watkins is the chief executive of Save the Children UK.

Copyright: Project Syndicate

The Stakes of the First Nuclear War (Revelation 8)

Kashmir conflict ‘stakes are high for the whole world’ says former ambassador

Pakistan on Tuesday asked the United Nations Security Council to meet over India’s decision to revoke the special status of Jammu and Kashmir, the Himalayan region that has long been a flashpoint in ties between the nuclear-armed neighbors.

The move by India blocks the right of the state of Jammu and Kashmir to frame its own laws and allows non-residents to buy property there. Telephone lines, internet and television networks have been blocked since the Aug. 5 decision and there are restrictions on movement and assembly.

“Pakistan will not provoke a conflict. But India should not mistake our restraint for weakness,” Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi wrote in a letter to the Security Council seen by Reuters.

If India chooses to resort again to the use of force, Pakistan will be obliged to respond, in self-defense, with all its capabilities,” he said, adding that “in view of the dangerous implications” Pakistan requested the meeting.

It was not immediately clear how the 15-member council would respond to the request and whether a member of the body would also need to make a formal request. Pakistan said on Saturday it had China’s support for the move.

Poland is president of the Security Council for August. Polish Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz told reporters at the United Nations on Tuesday that the council had received a letter from Pakistan and “will discuss that issue and take a proper decision.”

The Himalayan region is divided between India, which rules the populous Kashmir Valley and the Hindu-dominated region around Jammu city, Pakistan, which controls a wedge of territory in the west, and China, which holds a thinly populated high-altitude area in the north.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called on India and Pakistan to refrain from any steps that could affect the special status of Jammu and Kashmir. Guterres also said he was concerned about reports of restrictions on the Indian side of Kashmir.

The UN Security Council adopted several resolutions in 1948 and in the 1950s on the dispute between India and Pakistan over the region, including one which says a plebiscite should be held to determine the future of the mostly Muslim Kashmir.

Another resolution also calls upon both sides to “refrain from making any statements and from doing or causing to be done or permitting any acts which might aggravate the situation.”

UN peacekeepers have been deployed since 1949 to observe a ceasefire between India and Pakistan in Jammu and Kashmir.

Rick Olson served as the US ambassador to Pakistan form 2012 to 2015. The World’s Marco Werman spoke to Olson about the relationship between India and Pakistan. 

Marco Werman: Ambassador, help us understand the relationship between Pakistan and India and how that plays into what’s happening in Kashmir right now.

Rick Olson: It has been a contentious relationship between India and Pakistan since the establishment of the two countries in 1947. They have fought four wars, at least three of which were pretty directly related to the question of Kashmir. Kashmir is a Muslim-majority state. In 1947, it was a principality — Muslim majority principality — and there was an expectation on the part of Pakistan that it would come into Pakistan as a Muslim-majority state. What happened is the Maharajah chose to align with India and that has been a bone of contention between the two countries ever since.

“Things can really get out of control very quickly on the subcontinent.”

India and Pakistan, we have to remember, are both nuclear powers. That must also add to the challenge.

Well, absolutely, and this is why the stakes are so high for, amongst others, the United States, but really for the whole world because you have two nuclear powers that are eyeball to eyeball. I mean, they are literally adjoining each other. It’s unlike the Cold War when the US and the USSR were at least separated by oceans and had a bit of time before missiles would be launched. Things can really get out of control very quickly on the subcontinent.

Is there an opening for international intervention here? Should the US try to mediate, as President Trump kind of offered in passing to Imran Khan of Pakistan?

Well, the problem with this is a classic mediation would not work because a classic mediation requires both parties to agree to the terms of the mediation. And India has made clear that it does not see a role for international mediation. Now, I think the role for the United States — which it has traditionally played — is to, in times of crises, help to de-escalate and to help both sides using its good offices to find a way out of going a step further, and an escalatory conflict. And I think, unfortunately, I think that will probably be a role that the United States will probably have to continue to play and should play.

Ambassador, pull back for a moment because the US has been deeply engaged in this part of the world since 9/11. Kashmir, though often not the first consideration, but now it seems to be more in the center. With Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy, there is often a blue sky belief that maybe there is a grand bargain to be had. Is that still possible? Some deal that would give everyone in the region something and leverage like the diplomatic muscle of a country like India or is it too late for that, given India’s muscular intentions in Kashmir?

Well, I think that it remains to be seen how it’s going to play out in terms of the Afghan negotiations. The peace process between the US and the Taliban as it is pretty actively going forward. Pakistan has played a helpful role in that regard and I think one of the questions will be, going forward, is whether Pakistan insists on a greater role for the US with regard to India in exchange for its cooperation on Afghanistan.

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity. Reuters contributed to this report. 

The Iranian Nuclear Horn Continues to Grow (Daniel 8:4)

Iran Says It Continues To Surpass Enriched Uranium Limits

Radio Farda

The spokesman for the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI), Behrouz Kamalvandi announced on Tuesday, August 13, that the Islamic Republic’s enriched uranium stockpile has reached 370 kilograms.

“We are producing [enriched uranium] with a good capacity and our stockpile is 60 to 70 kilograms above the 300kg [JCPOA limit] and this amount is growing fast,” Behrouz Kamalvandi said on the sideline of a ceremony which marked the construction of a research center on separation and development of the applications of stable isotopes at Fordow nuclear facility in Qom.

The 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran, known as JCPOA, limits Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium to 300 kg.

Echoing recent remarks by the Islamic Republic’s President Hassan Rouhani, Kamalvandi also insisted, “Iran is not obliged to restrict its stockpile of heavy water to 130 tons,” adding, “Although our heavy water exports are not big figures, we have diverse markets which include European and non-European countries. Iran should not lose any of these markets.”

Nonetheless, Kamalvandi stopped short of naming the countries interested in buying heavy water from Iran.

Tehran has threatened its European partners in the JCPOA; France, Germany, and the U.K., that if their promises for helping Iran to sidestep U.S. sanctions imposed remain unfulfilled, it might produce even further enriched uranium, and return Arak heavy water plant to the situation it had before the nuclear deal.

Nevertheless, the Europeans have insisted that they would never concede to any deadline set by Iran.

In the meantime, Washington has deplored Iran’s threats as “nuclear extortion.”

Meanwhile, the head of the AEOI, Ali Akbar Salehi announced during the same event on Tuesday, “Fordow nuclear site is one of the most active nuclear sites in Iran and its cooperation with different states, such as Russia is underway within the JCPOA, providing infrastructural scientific and technical needs of the nuclear industry and other industries.”

The center will research methods to produce stable isotopes, including through distillation and heat exchange. These can be used in medicine, industry, and science, the state-run Iran Students News Agency (ISNA) reported.

According to Salehi, Fordow nuclear site has 1044 centrifuges enriching uranium.

The Antichrist is Winning the Peace in Iraq

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Winning the Peace in Iraq

Don’t Give Up on Baghdad’s Fragile Democracy

For Americans who came of age near the turn of the current century, the war in Iraq was a generation-defining experience. When the United States invaded the country in 2003, toppling the government of Saddam Hussein in a matter of weeks, many saw the war as a necessary or even noble endeavor to stop the spread of weapons of mass destruction, which Saddam was allegedly developing—and bring democracy to parts of the world that had long suffered under the weight of tyranny.

By the time U.S. forces withdrew from Iraq in 2011, such illusions had been shattered. The conflict had cost the United States $731 billion, claimed the lives of at least 110,000 Iraqis and nearly 5,000 U.S. troops, and done lasting damage to Washington’s international reputation. The invasion had sparked a virulent insurgency that was only barely quelled by 2011, and which resurfaced following the U.S. withdrawal, when a vicious jihadist group calling itself the Islamic State (or ISIS) seized an area the size of Iceland in western Iraq and eastern Syria. Most Americans who have been to Iraq remember car bombs and streets lined with ten-foot-tall concrete blast walls. For those who have never been, Iraq is less a place than a symbol of imperial hubris—a tragic mistake that they would prefer to forget.

Yet Iraq today is a different country. Few Americans understand the remarkable success of Operation Inherent Resolve, the U.S. campaign to defeat ISIS. Some 7,000 U.S. troops (and 5,000 more from 25 countries in the anti-ISIS coalition) provided support to Iraq’s army and local partners in Syria, who fought to free their towns, cities, and provinces from ISIS’ brutal grip. By the time these U.S.-backed forces had ejected ISIS from its final territorial stronghold, in Syria, in March of this year, the campaign had liberated 7.7 million people at the relatively modest cost of $31.2 billion. Today, Iraqi schools are open, Baghdad’s nightlife is vibrant, and security checkpoints have been removed. Last May, the country held largely free and fair nationwide parliamentary elections. Its population is young and forward-looking, and its government is back on its feet.

The United States has an opportunity to convert this momentum into a long-term geopolitical gain. Unfortunately, many Americans are so weary of their country’s involvement in Iraq that they fail to recognize the opportunity to salvage a positive outcome there that is far better than what anyone hoped to achieve even a few years ago. Many U.S. officials, meanwhile, are more focused on treating Iraq as an arena for combating Iran. They argue that, in the aftermath of ISIS’ defeat, Iraq has become an unreliable ally and even a proxy of Tehran. Worse, they appear willing to sacrifice the U.S. relationship with Baghdad—and put at risk the relative success that Iraq has become—in service of their campaign of “maximum pressure” against Iran.

This approach would be a mistake. Cutting off U.S. support right when Baghdad has managed to achieve a modicum of stability would risk the hard-won gains of recent years, especially during Operation Inherent Resolve. And a confrontational U.S. policy toward Iraq would fan the dying embers of sectarianism at precisely the moment when the country is emerging as a stable, nonsectarian democracy. Worse, it would strengthen Iran’s hand in Iraq and provide ISIS with the chance it needs to rebuild. The only way the United States can achieve its goals—preventing ISIS’ return and ending Iran’s destabilizing activities in Iraq—is by working through and with Baghdad

Iraq’s future looks brighter today than it has at any point in the past decade. Its progress can be largely attributed to two factors: the country’s recent evolution away from Shiite-Sunni sectarianism and the coalition’s victory over ISIS.

Iraq’s 2018 parliamentary elections marked a maturation of Iraq’s democracy. These were the first elections in which sectarianism took a back seat to issues of good governance and the daily concerns of Iraqis. A range of parties formed cross-sectarian or nonsectarian coalitions to compete for votes; none of them emerged dominant. Instead, the election produced a number of parliamentary blocs that must bargain with one another to get anything done. The current government relies on consensus and is led by two politicians with a history of working with the United States: Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi and President Barham Salih. When the government took office in October 2018, it marked Iraq’s fourth successive peaceful transfer of power.

The 2018 elections were a demonstration of Iraqis’ priorities. The alliance that won the most votes, the Sairoon (Marching Toward Reform) coalition, was led by followers of the populist Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, the erstwhile leader of a militia that fought U.S. troops from 2004 to 2008. Although Sadr studied and once sought refuge in Iran, he is also a vocal nationalist who wants to ensure Iraq’s independence from both Washington and Tehran. Many Iraqis consider today’s creeping Iranian influence to be an affront to their country’s sovereignty, and during the campaign, Sadr persuasively positioned his bloc as the independent alternative to the one led by former Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi (which was seen as too pro-American) and the one led by Hadi al-Ameri (which was seen as too close to Iran).

Even more important than Sadr’s emphasis on independence was his decision to champion bread-and-butter economic and governance issues. Sadr has long enjoyed support among poor Shiites thanks to his years spent demanding improved public services and a crackdown on Iraq’s egregious corruption. Although many Iraqis benefit from entrenched party patronage—some 60 percent of employed Iraqis are on the public payroll—they are fed up with politicians siphoning millions of dollars from the public coffers. Recognizing this frustration, Sadr called for the removal of corrupt officials and an upgrading of public services, especially electricity. After the election, he insisted on the appointment of technically competent cabinet ministers instead of politicians as a condition of his support for the government, which has largely occurred.

The demand for improved governance has moved to the fore now that Iraq has finally emerged from its vicious, five-year battle against ISIS. In 2014, the terrorist group swept across northern and western Iraq, capturing roughly one-third of the country’s territory, including Mosul, its second-largest city. Iraq’s military and police forces, corroded by years of political interference and corruption, all but disintegrated in the face of ISIS’ offensive. Some Sunnis, alienated by years of sectarian governance under the Shiite prime minister Nouri al-Maliki, welcomed ISIS forces as liberators. By the summer of 2014, many feared that the group would take Baghdad.

Iraq’s future looks brighter today than it has at any point in the past decade.

Alarmed by ISIS’ advance, Iran was the first country to come to Baghdad’s aid—by June, it had begun sending aid, equipment, and advisers from the Quds Force, a unit of its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Then, in September 2014, Maliki stepped down in favor of Abadi, a pro-U.S. moderate who worked to soothe Sunni fears of persecution. That same month, the United States formed a global coalition to defeat ISIS. Washington and its coalition partners provided Iraq with military assistance in the form of training, equipment, battlefield advisers, and air power. But it was the Iraqis who did the fighting.

The fact that the Iraqis provided most of the troops to defeat ISIS in Iraq was essential to restoring the country’s morale. The government did receive outside help—Iran backed Iraqi Shiite militias, and Qasem Soleimani, the leader of the Quds Force, became a ubiquitous presence in Iraq during the war. Yet the major military gains in the anti-ISIS campaign were made, with coalition assistance, by the Iraqi army and especially the Iraqi Counter Terrorism Service, an elite, nonsectarian force funded, trained, and supported by the United States since 2003.

UNSTEADY PROGRESS

Iraq has defeated ISIS on the battlefield, but it has not yet won the peace. The country now faces the massive task of reconstruction. The Iraqi government, assisted by the UN Development Program and the U.S.-led coalition, has returned basic services to places such as eastern Mosul, which was devastated by heavy fighting in 2016 and 2017. But western Mosul and other areas still resemble the bombed-out cities of Europe at the end of World War II.

At an international donor conference last year, Iraq secured some $30 billion in aid, loan, and credit pledges. Yet the government has estimated that recovery and reconstruction could cost as much as $88 billion. The task will take a decade or more, provided the Iraqi government and international donors remain committed to rebuilding Sunni areas. Without consistent progress in this effort, hope will wane and discontent will grow. Already, there are worrying signs that the momentum for ensuring Iraq’s stabilization and security has begun to stall. If it does, it could augur a return to a full-blown insurgency.

In the year and a half since December 2017, when Abadi declared Iraq’s liberation from ISIS, three million internally displaced people have returned to their homes in Iraq. But 1.6 million Iraqis, most of them Sunnis, are still displaced. The International Organization for Migration estimates that most of the remaining displaced people have now been so for over three years—a tipping point that the organization and other refugee experts say threatens permanent displacement. Many of these people are shunned by their fellow Iraqis, who suspect them of having supported ISIS.

The risk is that the resulting tensions could reignite sectarian conflict, drawing disaffected Sunnis—especially permanently displaced ones—back into the arms of ISIS. The group has already begun to reawaken, as former fighters drift back to their homes, forming sleeper cells in cities or creating rural safe havens in the Iraqi and Syrian deserts. Although ISIS attacks have declined since the destruction of the territorial caliphate, the group claims to be carrying out several dozen attacks and inflicting some 300 casualties every week, most of them in Iraq and Syria, a tally that roughly parallels those of outside observers.

PRESSURE DROP

Despite the progress it has made in recent years, Iraq is in a delicate position. The United States should be doing what it can to not only ensure the lasting defeat of ISIS but also assist Baghdad with the difficult work of reconstruction. Since the election of Donald Trump in 2016, however, U.S. policy toward Iraq has become increasingly confrontational, as the administration has made Iraq a central battleground in its fights with Iran.

Trump has presented Iraq with two demands that will be difficult for the country to meet. In November 2018, as part of its sanctions policy, Washington ordered Iraq to cease importing electricity and natural gas (which is used to make electricity) from Iran. In principle, Baghdad agrees with the goal of achieving energy independence. But in practice, Iraq currently receives about 40 percent of its electricity supply from Iran. As Luay al-Khatteeb, Iraq’s electricity minister, explained to U.S. officials in December, finding alternate energy sources will require rebuilding Iraq’s decrepit power grid and addressing the damage done by decades of war, mismanagement, and corruption—a project that he estimates will take at least two years. The United States has issued a series of 90-day waivers, most recently in June, to give Iraq time to comply. But if the administration stops granting waivers and Iranian imports are halted, the resulting electricity blackouts will certainly cause Basra and other Iraqi cities to erupt in violent protests, as they did last summer in response to power shortages.

The United States has also demanded that Iraq disband several Shiite militias with close ties to Iran. These militias are not a new problem: in 2009, Washington designated the most powerful Iranian-created militia, Kataib Hezbollah, as a terrorist organization for its attacks on U.S. soldiers in Iraq; the group and its leader, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, were also subject to U.S. sanctions targeting insurgents and militias. But over the past five years, the issue has become far more complex. In June 2014, a wave of mostly Shiite volunteers responded to a call from Iraq’s leading Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, to help defend the country against ISIS. Hundreds of small militia groups formed, and in 2016, these groups were formally recognized under Iraqi law as the Popular Mobilization Forces, or PMF. The Iraqi government office set up to oversee the PMF, the Popular Mobilization Committee, became a conduit for Iranian influence, with Muhandis serving as the committee’s deputy chair.

Washington has called on Baghdad to disband both the PMF and militia groups such as Kataib Hezbollah, which it often treats as essentially indistinguishable. The Iraqi government agrees that the militias should be broken up but understands that, given Iran’s clout, doing so will take some time and deft maneuvering. One aspect of that maneuvering will be to distinguish Iranian-backed militias from groups of Shiite volunteers who were largely motivated by patriotism. Many PMF fighters have already gone home, but over 100,000 remain on the government’s payroll. Some groups have become entrenched and are allegedly involved in extortion and other illegal activities.

The Iraqi constitution bans political militias—a provision that has wide popular support. In addition, Abdul-Mahdi issued a decree in July 2019 that called on all entities bearing arms to be incorporated into the armed forces. As the PMF is already legally part of Iraq’s armed forces, this decree could serve as a vehicle for dissolving the Iranian-backed militias—something Abadi had sought to do with a previous order. Carrying out this decree, however, will require building a powerful coalition in parliament, likely with the Sadrists in the lead.

The PMF is a separate issue. It is unlikely to be disbanded outright. Thanks to the PMF’s achievements in the anti-ISIS campaign, it is politically popular, especially among Shiites. The problem is that the PMF’s official role is redundant, overlapping with that of the Ministry of the Interior’s police force, which already struggles to attract enough qualified recruits. Since PMF fighters receive the same pay and benefits as police officers, they have little incentive to join the federal police. This issue can be best addressed over time, as part of an effort to professionalize the entire armed forces of Iraq.

Instead of engaging with their Iraqi colleagues to find workable solutions, however, officials in the Trump administration seem intent on alienating them. Senior U.S. policymakers apparently believe that Iraqis are hostile to the United States, ungrateful for its help, and beholden to Iran. When I spoke to one U.S. diplomat recently, he noted that almost one-third of Iraq’s current parliamentarians had been detained by U.S. forces at some point before 2011. The implication was that they could not be trusted. But since 2003, the United States has often worked with former combatants in Iraq and encouraged their reintegration into mainstream politics. Abadi’s interior minister, Qasim al-Araji, was a former U.S. detainee, yet he worked closely with the U.S. coalition to coordinate the counter-ISIS campaign. Washington has cooperated with Ameri, who is the leader of the pro-Iranian Badr Organization, for years.

The administration’s statements and actions have affronted Iraqis by appearing to ignore their sovereignty, which is still a sore subject for a country the United States invaded. In February, Trump asserted in a Face the Nation interview that he planned on keeping U.S. troops in Iraq to “watch” Iran. This touched a nerve—the Iraqi government welcomes the presence of U.S. troops for the express purposes of defeating ISIS and helping improve its armed forces, but its policy is to maintain good relations with both Washington and Tehran. Trump’s statement drew rebukes from Iraq’s prime minister, its president, and Sistani. Then, on May 7, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made a surprise visit to Baghdad, where he met with Iraqi leaders and publicly demanded assurances that they would protect Americans against any hostile activity, implicitly from Iran. A few days later, the State Department ordered all nonessential personnel to leave the U.S. embassy in Baghdad after a mortar fell nearby. Since then, two locations where U.S. personnel are stationed have been targeted by rockets, likely fired by Iranian-backed militias.

The mortar and rocket attacks were reminders of the bad old days of the U.S. occupation, when rockets landed near the embassy with some regularity, as well as troubling signs that U.S. troops could be targeted as Washington increases its pressure on Tehran. Yet the United States should be working with the Iraqi government, which desperately wants to avoid a confrontation with Iran, rather than treating it with disdain. The Trump administration’s moves were widely seen as overreactions by U.S. and coalition officials in Iraq, who for the past four years have been quietly working to mitigate the threat posed by Iranian-backed militias and who are confident in their ability to protect U.S. troops. For most Iraqis—and for many coalition officials, too—Pompeo’s demand came across less as a genuine response to a security threat and more as an unnecessary attempt to humiliate Baghdad.

Washington is putting the Iraqi government in a difficult position. It will appear weak to Iraqis if it does not resist American browbeating. And the more confrontational Washington’s stance becomes, the more that pro-U.S. Iraqi politicians will be discredited in the eyes of their fellow citizens. The Trump administration’s approach thus risks driving Iraq into the arms of Iran—the opposite of its stated goal. Worse, an Iraqi government forced to lean on Tehran would once again alienate Sunnis, paving the way for a return of sectarianism and even a resurgence of ISIS.

Sadr at a mosque in Baghdad, December 2015

Alaa al-Marjani / Reuters

COUNTERING IRAN, WINNING IRAQ

With Iraq at a critical point in its transition to a stable and secure democracy, U.S. actions can either help ensure this transition’s success or fundamentally jeopardize its prospects. As this opportunity may be short lived, Washington should act quickly to seize it. It should focus its security assistance and diplomatic efforts on coordinating with the Iraqi government to make certain that there is a successful conclusion to the counter-ISIS campaign—one that will not only eliminate the last remnants of the group but also address the grievances that drove its success in the first place. At the same time, the United States should work behind the scenes with Baghdad to address Iran’s destabilizing activities in Iraq. Finally, the United States should help integrate Iraq into a set of long-term bilateral, multilateral, and regional partnerships.

Continued security assistance to Iraq will be necessary to ensure that ISIS’ nascent efforts to make a comeback do not succeed. The Iraqi security forces are on the mend, but further professionalization of the army and the police force is needed to prevent these forces from unraveling again. A combination of U.S. aid and diplomacy can guarantee that Iraq’s war-damaged areas are rebuilt and that its 1.7 million displaced citizens find homes while resisting ISIS’ blandishments. Washington should also consider pressing Baghdad to revise or eliminate its de-Baathification law, which still subjects Sunnis to unfair treatment.

To ensure the lasting defeat of ISIS, the United States will also need to more actively grapple with the difficult problem of ISIS foreign fighters detained in Syria. The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces are currently holding over 2,000 foreign fighters, but as the SDF is a nongovernmental entity, this is not a permanent solution. The U.S. government should push for one of two solutions: an international tribunal to try these detainees or a coordinated international effort to have them transferred to and tried, or at least held, in their countries of origin.

Despite the progress it has made in recent years, Iraq is in a delicate position.

The United States must also adopt an approach to reducing Iran’s negative influence in Iraq that will help stabilize the region, rather than corner the Iraqi government and force it to choose between Washington and Tehran. Iraqi nationalism is the ultimate hedge against Iran’s overweening ambitions; no Iraqi wishes for his or her country to become a pawn of Iran. Yet the United States must make sure that the sovereignty card is played against Tehran and not against Washington. Issuing public demands to Baghdad is counterproductive—pressure must be exerted behind closed doors, and savvy coalitions must be built to empower Iraqis to limit Iranian encroachment. That said, Iran is and will remain one of Iraq’s major trading partners, its primary source of tourism revenue, and a much larger and more powerful country forever on its borders. Only a web of countervailing influence from the United States, Europe, and the Arab world will secure Iraqi sovereignty.

The United States has all the tools to help Iraq succeed, and it is manifestly in Washington’s interest to do so. A strong, independent, and democratic Iraq will be a boon to U.S. interests in the Middle East. As the largest Shiite-majority Arab country, Iraq can serve as a bridge between the region’s Shiites and Sunnis, Arabs and Persians. As a neighbor and former rival of Iran, Iraq can also act as a brake on Tehran’s regional ambitions—provided that it is in a position to look after its own security needs.

A more consolidated Iraqi democracy will also make fewer demands on the United States. Iraq has the fifth-largest oil reserves in the world, which should provide it with the resources to care for its own people. The country is also, finally, beginning to restore diplomatic and commercial ties with the Gulf states, which had withered after Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990. Saudi Arabia has reopened its embassy in Baghdad, resumed commercial airline service to Iraq, provided the country with reconstruction aid, and welcomed Abdul-Mahdi and Sadr to Riyadh. In April, Saudi Arabia pledged $1 billion in investment to Iraq, and it has offered to sell Baghdad electricity at a discount to help wean the country off Iranian energy.

The basic architecture for a mutually beneficial U.S.-Iraqi relationship already exists. After the 2007 U.S. troop surge, U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker worked with Salih, who was then deputy prime minister, and Salih’s fellow Kurd, Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, to develop the Strategic Framework Agreement, which called on Washington and Baghdad to deepen their relationship from a security partnership to one spanning cultural, economic, educational, and scientific ties. Thus far, the United States has focused on winning contracts for U.S. businesses and gaining more visas as implicit preconditions for other forms of engagement. This is a mistake. Instead, the United States should see the broad implementation of the agreement as a chance to use U.S. soft power—in the form of investment, trade, tourism, and educational and scientific exchanges—to draw Washington and Baghdad closer together.

Russia’s Nefarious Nuclear Plans (Daniel 7)

Failed Russian nuclear test hints at Putin’s dangerous plans to beat U.S. defenses

“Is it dangerous? Yes! I think the phrase ‘flying nuclear reactor’ tells you all you need to know,” one analyst said.

7 killed in explosion at suspected test site for secret nuclear-propelled missile

Aug. 13, 2019, 5:53 AM ET

By Alexander Smith

A recent explosion during what experts say was likely a Russian nuclear-powered missile test indicates Moscow could be pursuing dangerous technology in an attempt to beat U.S. missile defenses.

Five scientists were killed and radiation spiked in a nearby city following the blast at an offshore platform in the Russian Arctic last Thursday.

Authorities have drip-fed details of the incident to the public. But Monday, Vyacheslav Solovyov, scientific director of the Russian Federal Nuclear Center, confirmed that at the time of the blast, nuclear scientists at the Nyonoksa military range were working on “small-sized energy sources using radioactive fissile materials.”

Another factual morsel came when Russia’s state nuclear agency, Rosatom, said the accident happened while testing “isotope power sources within a liquid propulsion system.”

Experts said this vague, technical wording hinted that the facility was likely testing the same experimental weapon Russian President Vladimir Putin announced in March 2018. He revealed that Russia was developing a cruise missile with “unlimited range” that could carry a nuclear weapon to any point on the globe.

Putin unveils his experimental missile during an address to the Federal Assembly.Marat Abulkhatin / TASS via Getty Images file

The incident drew a response from President Donald Trump on Monday night, with the president tweeting that it “has people worried about the air around the facility, and far beyond. Not good!”

Experts say all the evidence points toward it being a test of the rocket that Putin announced.

“There’s really no other possible scenario for this. All the pieces fit together,” said Vipin Narang, a politics professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who focuses on nuclear weapons. “It’s very difficult to imagine that it’s anything else besides this.”

The deadly explosion came days after the United States scrapped the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty, complaining Russia had violated the pact banning ground-based nuclear weapons of a certain range. The New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which limits long-range nuclear weapons, is set to expire in February 2021 unless renewed.

“We’re kind of stumbling or drifting into this arms race with the Russians,” said Jeffrey Lewis, a nuclear expert at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies.

“But there is a real human cost to an arms race,” he said. “There were all kinds of disasters in the Soviet Union and the United States during the Cold War, because people felt so strongly about the need to do these dangerous things.”

Russia’s defense ministry initially said two people had been killed, before Rosatom announced the death of five of its scientists. It was not clear what the final death toll was.

The military base in the small town of Nyonoska in Arkhangelsk region.AFP – Getty Images

The weapon likely being tested last week according to Lewis, Narang and other experts, is called the Burevestnik, which translates as “petrel,” a type of sea bird. NATO has dubbed it the SSC-X-9 Skyfall. If completed, the missile would not only be nuclear-armed but also nuclear powered, carrying a relatively small reactor to heat the air in its jet engine.

It would fly at a lower and on a less predictable trajectory than an intercontinental ballistic missile, making it theoretically capable of evading U.S. missile defenses.

“You can see how the missile bypasses interceptors,” Putin said last year alongside a computer-generated video of the rocket. “As the range is unlimited, the missile can maneuver for as long as necessary.”

“As you no doubt understand, no other country has developed anything like this,” he added. “There will be something similar one day but by that time, our guys will have come up with something even better.”

Trump claimed on Twitter that the U.S. has “similar, though more advanced, technology.”

It was not immediately clear which weapons the president was referring to. The U.S. did try to develop a nuclear-powered cruise missile in the 1960s but Project Pluto, as it was called, was scrapped because it was considered too dangerous

Joe Cirincione, president of the anti-nuclear weapons group the Ploughshares Fund, said that the president’s tweet was “bizarre” given that the U.S. does “not have a nuclear-powered cruise missile program.”

Little is known about the Russian version, but experts — many of whom were horrified at Putin’s announcement last year — say it will likely run into many of the same grave safety concerns.

“Think of it like a mini Chernobyl on a missile,” MIT’s Narang said. “It’s an air-breathing cruise missile and they put an unshielded mini nuclear reactor on it. Obviously, that’s pretty bats— insane. We tried this in the 1960s and gave up for a reason, and this is why. It’s very risky.”

Thursday’s accident is the latest sign that Russia’s attempts to succeed where the U.S. failed are not going to plan. This is the latest of several failed tests since they started in 2017.

Cheryl Rofer, a retired chemist at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, the birthplace of the atomic bomb in New Mexico, believes Putin will never succeed.

“There are basic and fundamental engineering considerations that suggest that a nuclear-powered cruise missile with a very small power source will be very difficult or impossible to build,” she wrote on the Nuclear Diner website Sunday.

That’s because of how difficult it is to make this type of missile light enough but with enough power to fly. But the main reason it was abandoned in the past is the design has the potential to spread radioactive particles over the ground as it flies. In the 1960s, the U.S. did not want to test its rocket in Nevada or over the Pacific because of the risk it could veer off course and cause an environmental catastrophe.

“Is it dangerous? Yes!” Lewis said. “I think the phrase ‘flying nuclear reactor’ tells you all you need to know. You’ve got air blowing through an open nuclear reactor and spewing out the back.”

A board reading “State Central Naval Range” at the Nyonoksa military garrison in October 2018.Sergei Yakovlev / Reuters file

In his announcement last year, Putin made no secret of why he’s so intent on reviving a technology that has been discredited by scientists for decades as dangerous and irresponsible. He sees it as the necessary weapon to beat potential advances in U.S. missile defenses

Many scientists are deeply skeptical of the effectiveness of domestic missile defenses based in Alaska and California. This is because incoming missiles can deploy countermeasures such as decoys or systems that cool their temperature so they’re all but invisible to interceptors.

But Russia is developing the Skyfall on the assumption these defenses will improve, according to Narang.

“I would not count on our national missile defenses to intercept even a single incoming North Korean [intercontinental ballistic missiles] right now,” he said. “But what worries Russia is not necessarily it working today, but working in the future.”

He added that “the fact that the Russians have lost lives and made real sacrifices testing this missile shows just how terrified they are of U.S. missile defense.”

Lewis, at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, broadly agrees: “The Russians take missile defense extremely seriously, much more than we are willing to admit the United States.”

“However, it takes a special kind of crazy to do this. What most countries would do would be just build more nuclear weapons because it’s cheaper,” he added. “Instead the Russians seem to have gone down this Soviet path of this kind of bizarre menagerie of doomsday weapons.”

Israel Rebuilds the Temple Walls (Revelation 11)

A resident of Nahal Oz walks next to a concrete wall to protect the local kindergarten, just outside the northern Gaza Strip . (photo credit:” REUTERS)

ISRAEL TO BUILD ADDITIONAL WALL WITH GAZA TO PREVENT INFILTRATIONS

By ANNA AHRONHEIM

Channel 12 report says wall to be constructed between Yad Mordechai and Sderot.

Israel’s defense establishment will begin building an additional wall along the northern part of the Gaza border fence to protect communities after three infiltrations along the border in less than two weeks.

According to a report on Channel 12, the Defense Ministry is planning to build a 6 m. high defensive wall inside Israeli territory along a 9 km. stretch of Route 34 between the communities Yad Mordechai and Sderot.

It is expected to cost tens of millions of shekels. The Defense Ministry and the Prime Minister’s Office are currently discussing where the budget for its construction will come from.

The wall, which is meant to provide nearby communities with additional protection from terrorist infiltration, comes in addition to another barrier of large sand berms and tree plantings to protect citizens from threats, such as anti-tank fire emanating from the Strip following the death of an Israeli civilian by a Kornet anti-tank missile fired at his car in May.

Israel’s new, upgraded barrier with the Strip is expected to be completed by next summer – both above and below ground – to remove the threat of cross-border attack tunnels and stop terrorists from Gaza, who are intent on carrying out attacks from infiltrating into southern Israel.

But even as work on the barrier continues, six armed Palestinians were able to infiltrate into southern Israel in less than two weeks before being engaged by IDF troops and killed.

On Sunday, Israeli troops shot and killed 26 year-old Marwan Nasser, who opened fire on them while trying to infiltrate into southern Israel. No Israelis were hurt in the incident and surrounding communities were not placed under increased security.

During his funeral, Nasser was seen wearing a green bandanna associated with Hamas’ military wing, the Izzadin al-Qassam Brigades.

The incident came 24 hours after IDF troops shot dead four heavily armed Palestinians who attempted to infiltrate with rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs), AK-47 assault rifles and grenades.

While the military hasn’t yet determined which group is behind the foiled attack, they put the responsibility of the attack squarely on Hamas.

The four militants were identified as former Hamas members: 21-ear-old Abdullah Ismail al-Hamaida, 19-year-old Abdullah Ashraf al-Ghomri, 20-year-old Ahmad Ayman al-Adeini and 21-year-old Abdallah al-Masri, all of Deir al-Balah in the central Gaza Strip.

On August 1, an IDF officer and two soldiers were injured and a Hamas militant was killed in an exchange of fire at the border in the area of Kissufim in southern Israel.

Identified as Hani Abu Salah, who was a member of Hamas’ border patrol, he was the brother of Fadi Abu Salah, a disabled Palestinian man who was killed by IDF fire during one of the weekly Great March of Return protests along the border last May. He had been wearing a uniform and was armed with grenades and a Kalashnikov when he infiltrated into Israeli territory from the southern edge of the Hamas-run enclave.

The Great March of Return border protests began on March 30 and have seen over half a million people violently demonstrating along the security fence demanding an end to the 12-year long blockade, congregating at points along the border range between several thousand to 45,000 every Friday.

Demonstrators have been burning tires and hurling stones and marbles as, well as other types of violence, which include the throwing of grenades and improvised explosive devices (including military-grade explosives) towards troops. Ball bearings and other projectiles are also launched by high-velocity slingshots towards forces along the border.

Approximately 70,000 Israelis reside the over 50 communities in the Gaza border area, and there was a marked increase of people moving to the area over the past five years following Operation Protective Edge in 2016.

But over the past year, there have been 10 rounds of violent conflict, causing residents to interrupt their daily lives and remain close to bomb shelters since they have some 15 seconds to find shelter from rocket and mortar fire. The last round of violence in early May saw over 700 rockets fired towards southern Israel, which killed five civilians