Sr. Bette Ann Jaster says the governor must make public the results of a risk assessment for a fracked-gas pipeline that runs by Indian Point. Video by Nancy Cutler/lohud Wochit
Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has always been a controversial political operator in Iraq – the most popular among Shia leaders, the most temperamental, and the most unpredictable. His solid popular base has given him a very strong bloc in almost every Iraqi parliament since 2003 and has allowed him to manoeuvre through Iraqi politics like no one else.
His political life has been characterised by constant u-turns and controversial moves. He was one of the few Shia leaders to remain in Iraq under Saddam Hussein’s regime and again one of the few who openly opposed the US presence in the country after the 2003 invasion. During the sectarian civil war (2004-2008), he led the Mahdi Army militia which was notorious for its violence against the Sunni community and which paved the way for the proliferation of Shia militias.
Yet after the 2010 elections which brought a second term for the increasingly sectarian Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, al-Sadr switched to a moderate political line and reached out to the Sunni community. In January 2013, he even went as far as joining a Sunni prayer at Shaykh Abdul Qadir Gilani Mosque in Baghdad.
He has also kept one foot in the government camp and another in the opposition. He would take part in the political process by having his Sadrist Movement run in the elections; he would secure enough votes to get seats in parliament and ministerial posts in the government. And yet, he would also lead protests against that very same government and call for reform.
He worked hard to develop strong ties to the opposition which was mostly secular and dominated by civil society activists. His cooperation with consecutive protest movements since 2011 allowed him to engage in a unique dialogue with this camp that was traditionally seen as an opponent to everything the likes of al-Sadr stood and worked for.
This dialogue with the secularists resulted in an uneasy and unpopular but necessary alliance between them and the Sadrist Movement, at least from the perspective of the protest movement. Many saw this fragile alliance as an important pillar for rebuilding a diverse country like Iraq. But the majority in both camps were uneasy about it.
While playing with both the ruling elite and the opposition, al-Sadr maintained his militia, occasionally reinventing it under different iterations. Both the government and the opposition were able to live with that.
This position enabled al-Sadr to lead a double political life. On one hand, he was a member of the ruling class and had a say in almost every key decision that it made. On the other hand, he was close to the opposition which was pushing for political change.
During the past nine years, al-Sadr provided pivotal support for the protest movements in Iraq, mobilising people to come out and demonstrate. His main slogan was always reform – ie, he wanted the existing political architecture to remain the same, with occasional reorganisation and change of guard in government posts.
This reform-focused agenda was what kept all the protests harmless for the government and the ruling political class. Every time the protests reached a new peak, al-Sadr would give a new ultimatum to the government, get promises of reform and send the protesters home.
This strategy made him more and more powerful within the government, giving him leverage over his political opponents. But his political games did not go unnoticed and created tensions within the protesters’ camp, which split into two fronts. The older politicians who believed in the “historic” alliance with al-Sadr clashed with those who criticised him for riding the protest wave to get more political gains.
Last fall, however, al-Sadr’s political game seemingly began to unravel. On October 1, protests broke out which took a very different shape than those in the past. The protesters were younger, more spontaneous and less political. Many of them were his supporters, but they took to the street on their own, without being ordered to do so, and they stressed that they do not want anyone to “ride the wave” this time.
When the government and security realised that al-Sadr was not behind the protests, they used extreme violence against them. In the first week of the demonstrations more than 150 people were killed and some 3,000 injured. This angered the protesters and pushed many more to come out in the streets. On October 25, the protests came back with renewed, powerful momentum.
It was then that al-Sadr decided to join, but as a protector of the protesters not as a leader, sending his “blue hats”, members of his Saraya al-Salam militia, to the squares. His side-door entry into the protests was meant to allow him to gradually assume leadership, but the protesters knew better. They kept their distance, making sure their tents were separate from the Sadrists’, and made clear their rejection of all political leaders. “The people want the downfall of the regime!” became their slogan; they clearly were not going to leave the squares after another promise of reforms.
As the violence against them escalated, so did their chants against Iran, which many blamed for the repeated brutal crackdowns. General Qassim Soleimani, the head of the Quds Force of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, travelled multiple times to Baghdad to direct the security response. As the protesters pressed for the resignation of Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi, the Iranians doubled-down on him.
Since September, al-Sadr, who had been in Iran’s holy city of Qom, where he is studying to obtain the rank of a jurisprudent (or ayatollah), was reportedly pressed to take leadership of the protest movement. On October 29, he appeared personally in Najaf, but the crowds rejected his presence and he returned to Iran. It was clear he had failed. A month later Abdul Mahdi submitted his resignation.
The January 3 assassination of Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, deputy chief of Iraq’s Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMFs, also known as PMUs), however, was a major shock to the system and threatened to undermine the protesters’ gains, as pro-Iranian elements in Iraq tried to rally sectarian outrage.
These events were a game changer for al-Sadr, who felt that he could not stay in the middle any more. He has reportedly come to believe that the protests were no longer about reforms but change which could threaten his comfortable position on the Iraqi political scene.
People close to him say that the Iranians have convinced him that he would face a serious threat to his life if he were to go back to Iraq and that they can only protect him if he remains in Iran. In December, an associate of his reported that a drone dropped a bomb on his home in Najaf, hitting its outer wall, although he did not indicate who was suspected of carrying out the attack.
Al-Sadr decided to join the pro-Iran forces. In mid-January, he called for a million-man march to expel the US troops from Iraq, but the turnout was poor.
The protesters, in turn, rejected both Iranian and US interference in Iraq and criticised the Sadrists’ attempt to derail their movement. Shortly after, al-Sadr sent his blue hats to “weed out the saboteurs and the intruders” from the protest. Seven people were killed and 150 injured in the ensuing clashes.
All of this was accompanied by a stream of contradictory tweets by al-Sadr. Over four weeks, he moved from being suspicious of the protests to supporting them, then withdrawing his supporters from the streets just after his anti-US march, only to send them back to attack them. But contrary to what he was expecting, people continued to stream into squares to show solidarity with the protest movement.
In the face of yet another failure of his strategy, he may yet again change his mind. The initial signs of a possible shift in his position appeared in his latest tweet titled: “the charter of the reform revolution”.
As of the time of writing this article, none of his closest aides has spoken to him in person. He is reportedly talking to them only through Facebook messenger and WhatsApp. But just like the public, they too are kept in the dark about his intentions. Like the rest of us, most of his followers and aides get his direction from his Twitter feed.
This may be the first time that al-Sadr has had a head-on collision with his support base. His most ardent followers will stick by him, but it is clear he is losing his clout in the streets. As a result, his position may be weaker in the next election.
How far his image will be eroded by this collision remains to be seen. As long as he retains his militia, al-Sadr will surely remain a powerful player in Iraqi politics.However, it is increasingly clear that this protest wave has upset his political game.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.
9 February 2020, 12:02 pm
Iran says its aerospace activities are peaceful but Washington claims that Tehran’s ballistic missile programme is a “destabilising behaviour” in the region
Iran’s Revolutionary Guards unveiled Sunday a short-range ballistic missile that they said can be powered by a “new generation” of engines designed to put satellites into orbit.
The Guards’ Sepahnews website said the Raad-500 missile was equipped with new Zoheir engines made of composite materials lighter than on earlier steel models.
It also unveiled Salman engines made of the same materials but with a “movable nozzle” for the delivery of satellites into space.
The Raad was “a new generation missile that has half the weight of a Fateh-110 missile but with 200 kilometres more range,” it added.
The Fateh-110 is a ballistic ground-to-ground missile first unveiled in 2002. Its latest generation has a range of 300 kilometres (186 miles).
Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps commander Major General Hossein Salami unveiled the missile and engines alongside IRGC aerospace chief Brigadier General Amirali Hajizadeh.
“The complicated achievements on the bleeding edge of global technology that were unveiled today are our key to entering space,” Salami said.
Salami noted the movable nozzle on the new engine allowed “manoeuvrability beyond the atmosphere” and amounted to a “leap in modern missile technology”.
The new technologies that made the missiles “cheaper, lighter, faster and more precise” could be applied to all of Iran’s missile classes, he added.
Tensions between Iran and its arch foe the United States have soared since May 2018 when US President Donald Trump withdrew from a nuclear deal that offered Tehran sanctions relief in return for curbs to prevent it acquiring nuclear weapons.
Washington says it seeks to rein in Iran’s ballistic missile programme as well as its “destabilising behaviour” in the region.
It has since slapped crippling sanctions on Iran as part of its “maximum pressure” campaign, with Tehran hitting back by progressively rolling back commitments to the nuclear deal.
The US has also raised concerns in the past about Iran’s satellite programme, saying the launch of a carrier rocket in January 2019 amounted to a violation of curbs on its development of ballistic missiles.
Iran maintains it has no intention of acquiring nuclear weapons, and says its aerospace activities are peaceful and comply with a UN Security Council resolution.
Iran says its aerospace activities are peaceful but Washington claims that Tehran’s ballistic missile programme is a “destabilising behaviour” in the region
February 7, 2020, 9:00 AM UTC
Key point: While the threat of nuclear war between the United States and Soviet Union has ended, the United States now faces the prospect of a similar war with Russia or China.
It is no exaggeration to say that for those who grew up during the Cold War, all-out nuclear war was “the ultimate nightmare.” The prospect of an ordinary day interrupted by air-raid sirens, klaxons and the searing heat of a thermonuclear explosion was a very real, albeit remote, possibility. Television shows such as The Day After and Threads realistically portrayed both a nuclear attack and the gradual disintegration of society in the aftermath. In an all-out nuclear attack, most of the industrialized world would have been bombed back to the Stone Age, with hundreds of millions killed outright and perhaps as many as a billion or more dying of radiation, disease and famine in the postwar period.
During much of the Cold War, the United States’ nuclear warfighting plan was known as the SIOP, or the Single Integrated Operating Plan. The first SIOP, introduced in 1962, was known as SIOP-62, and its effects on the Soviet Union, Warsaw Pact and China were documented in a briefing paper created for the Joint Chiefs of Staff and brought to light in 2011 by the National Security Archive. The paper presupposed a new Berlin crisis, similar to the one that took place in 1961, but escalating to full-scale war in western Europe.
BY ELIAS YOUSIF, OPINION CONTRIBUTOR
The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the view of The Hill
For those who hoped 2020 would offer an opportunity to set a gentler course in U.S. foreign policy, it took just three days for President Trump to shatter those aspirations. The targeted killing of Iranian Quds Force commander Qassim Soleimani on January 3 injected global panic into the New Year, with actors on all sides scrambling to avert the prospect of a full-scale war.
Thankfully, more than a month on from the killing, the dust surrounding the affair has begun to settle, for now, allowing space for a sober assessment of the price the U.S. has paid for killing Soleimani that avoids the doomsday predictions or foolish chauvinism of those early days.
To the Trump administration’s credit, its assessment that Iran would elect a more muted response to the assassination of its most senior military commander proved accurate. Iranians are masters of escalation control. Once the rising tensions between Tehran and Washington accelerated from clandestine operations to conventional warfare, Iran lost its strategic advantage. Simply put, Iran understood that, with the shield of plausible deniability removed, their vulnerabilities to conventional attack were too great. Working through Swiss channels, Tehran communicated clearly that its limited missile strike on a U.S. military base in Iraq would be the end of its rejoinder.
But avoiding WWIII is a dismally low bar to pass, and the fact that the killing didn’t spark a wider conflict is a poor measure of the wisdom of the operation. Such generous appraisals fail to take into account the rippling consequences the strike has had on local developments that are undermining strategic advantages the U.S. once enjoyed, damaging the American position in the region and torpedoing what had been a series of promising steps towards deescalationIn Iraq, where the strike took place, the stunning violation of the country’s sovereignty has brought U.S. relations with Baghdad to the breaking point. In the days following the killing, Iraq’s parliament voted to expel American troops from Iraqi soil, a core objective of Commander Soleimani before his death. With reports that ISIS is reconstituting its proto-state, the departure of U.S. troops and any associated decline in their coordinating role in the counter-ISIS campaign would be a significant coup for the terror organization and a tremendous loss for U.S. security.
Unfortunately, over the past few weeks, hundreds of thousands of Iraqi’s have taken to the streets to call for an end to the American deployment. The irony, of course, is that the ire of Iraqi protesters had previously been squarely focused on state capture, corruption and, by natural extension, Iranian manipulation of Iraqi politics. In effect, the strike managed to divert public attention away from Iran’s efforts to co-opt the Iraqi state for its own gains and onto the United States’ apparently dangerous presence in the country.
In fact, the killing effectively pilfered an important moment for a wave of protest movements across the region, including in Iraq and Lebanon, that had the second order consequence of undermining Iran’s efforts to subvert the politics of those countries. Calls for an end to corruption, for the curtailing of vast patronage networks and for more transparent governance threatened the very structures Tehran depends on for its clandestine activities. Though those grievances remain, and protesters have continued to take to the streets, the assassination sapped energy and attention from key stakeholders who were either engaged with or the target of these efforts.
Similarly, the strike managed to dull weeks of anti-government protests in Iran, where marchers instead took to the streets to mourn the loss of Commander Soleimani. Though the respite from demonstrations the Iranian government enjoyed was short-lived, the utility in being able to point to the distant enemy of the United States has endured, allowing the regime in Tehran to divert attention away from its own failings.
Regional efforts to reduce tensions between the Gulf and Iran also took a significant hit. In Yemen, one of the primary theaters for the region’s proxy conflict, backdoor peace efforts that had made humble but promising progress in recent weeks have screeched to a halt, as the appetite for de-escalation that had driven Iran and Saudi Arabia to press their clients to pursue peace has all but evaporated.
Likewise, hopes that indirect talks between Riyadh and Tehran could reduce tensions and improve the security situation in the region have been effectively extinguished. For now, Tehran is likely to be searching for a means to re-establish deterrence and to project strength in the face of the most high-profile assassination in the country’s history. Such an outlook bodes poorly for regional peace efforts.All told, Soleimani’s death did not come cheaply. From Beirut to Baghdad, the price has been paid in long-term efforts by the U.S. to reduce the Iranian footprint in the region, diffuse the risk of conflict, end the war in Yemen, and support good governance as an antidote to corruption and insecurity. In return, the U.S. has little to show. Though the Iranians did not respond in kind to such a flagrant act of aggression, it does not mean they’ve elected to cede the battlefield. Allowing the conflict to return from a rolling boil to a low simmer speaks to Iran’s strategic edge in proxy operations that allows it to obscure its direct involvement.
With the benefit of patience, Iran is likely to resume the operational tempo it had maintained in the months leading up to the assassination. The immediate tactical benefits of Soleimani’s death, therefore, will be short-lived. The costs, however, will endure.
Elias Yousif is a program and research associate with the Security Assistance Monitor Program at the Center for International Policy, where he analyzes the impact of U.S. arms transfer programs on international security and human rights.
Premier-designate has until March 2 to form new cabinet, but top aide to influential Sadr says Allawi will be ‘toppled’ if protester demands not met.
Sadr, a former militia leader with millions of devoted followers across the country, first backed the rallies but split with the movement
BAGHDAD – Iraq’s incoming prime minister will face “hell” and be removed within days if he includes members of the political elite in his cabinet, a top aide to cleric Moqtada Sadr has warned.
Premier-designate Mohammad Allawi has until March 2 to form a new cabinet, to be put to the protest-rocked country’s parliament for a vote of confidence.
Thousands of anti-government demonstrators have already rejected his nomination as prime minister.
Sadr, a former militia leader with millions of devoted followers across the country, first backed the rallies but split with the movement by endorsing Allawi last week.
Kadhem Issawi, a senior advisor to Sadr, insisted the new cabinet must not include members of the political elite — particularly Shiite military groups like the powerful Hashed al-Shaabi network, which rivals Sadr.
“If Sayyed (Lord) Moqtada hears that Allawi has granted a ministry to any side, specifically the Shiite armed factions, Iraq will turn into hell for him and will topple him in just three days,” Issawi told a gathering including a journalist late Saturday.
Sadr even rejected the appointment of members of his own movement to the government, Issawi said.
He said Sadr’s supporters would be willing to encircle Baghdad’s Green Zone, the high-security enclave housing government offices and foreign embassies, to ensure a non-partisan cabinet gets a vote of confidence.
Sadr has a long-standing rivalry with the Hashed, formed to fight the Islamic State group in 2014, as many of its members defected from his own movement.
In 2018, the cleric’s Saeroon parliamentary bloc joined forces with the Hashed’s political arm Fatah to form a shaky alliance that brought Adel Abdel Mahdi to the premiership.
But the partnership frayed, and two months after popular protests demanding government change erupted in October, Abdel Mahdi stepped down.
On February 1, Iraq’s bitterly divided political parties named Allawi as a successor but in private, government and security sources have expressed scepticism he will get his cabinet through the deeply-divided parliament.
Sadr immediately endorsed Allawi’s nomination as a “good step” but Issawi appeared to soften Sadrist support.
“We haven’t adopted Allawi. We just said we wouldn’t veto him,” he said.
Sadr has faced growing criticism by young anti-government demonstrators for a dizzying series of tweets recently in which he backed, then abandoned, then re-endorsed protests.
The cleric’s supporters, usually identified in protest squares by their blue caps, have raided rival demonstrators and the ensuing violence has left eight anti-government activists dead over the last week.
Issawi said Sadr still backed the rallies but alleged that drug use and other “moral” problems had tainted them.
“We’re against the protests being cleared out. We support their continuation but think they should be cleaned,” he said.
Issawi also laid down another red line: Sadr himself, who has a cult-like following in parts of Iraq.
“They want to insult the symbolism and holiness of Sayyed Moqtada? Impossible,” Issawi said.
TEHRAN – To prevent a war against itself, Iran must increase its military power, the Leader of the Islamic Revolution suggested on Saturday, noting that being militarily vulnerable will prompt the enemy to take action against the country.
“In order to prevent war and in order to put an end to threats we must become powerful,” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told a number of Air Force officers on the occasion of Air Force Day.
The Leader went on to say, “We are not seeking to threaten any country or nation, rather we are after protecting the country’s security and preventing threats.”
February 8 is known as the Air Force Day in Iran. It dates back to Fab. 8, 1979 when a large number of the Air Force’s staff managed to stage a unified parade in front of the founder of the Islamic Republic Imam Khomeini to voice their support for the Islamic Revolution.
Ayatollah Khamenei also said reliance on domestic capacities and turning threats into opportunities are the chief reasons for the successes of the Air Force.
“In addition to repairing and maintenance of aircrafts, the Air Force has successfully planned and manufactured fighter jets in spite of the U.S. sanctions,” the Leader stated.
‘Reliance on oil revenues is main cause of Iran’s problems’
Elsewhere in his remarks, Ayatollah Khamenei said, “If the officials act wisely, we can utilize the sanctions (imposed on the country as an opportunity) to rid the country’s economy from reliance on oil revenues which are the root cause of many problems.”
The current U.S. administration has openly acknowledged that it has imposed the harshest sanctions in history against Iran. This followed after Donald Trump abrogated the multilateral 2015 nuclear agreement in May 2018 and imposed sanctions on Iran. The U.S. has imposed a total ban on Iran’s oil exports.
Ayatollah Khamenei said if the former U.S. presidents were advancing “evil” policies not so openly, the current one is following Washington’s “warmongering policies, seditions and greed for others’ assets openly”.
The Leader added the wrong policies that enemies have taken toward Iran “is certainly doomed to failure”.
Before remarks by the commander-in-chief of the Iranian Armed Forces, Commander of the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force (IRIAF) Brigadier General Aziz Nasirzadeh praised the 41st anniversary of the February 8 event and presented a report on the activities and programs considered by the force under his command in various sectors.
“We are ready, through strong determination and trust in God” to take any necessary step in every field to “defend the interests of the great Iranian nation in the face of arrogant enemies,” the Air Force commander stated.
Nasirzdeh went on to say that reinvigoration of the Air Force’s combat power, manufacturing spare parts, upgrading the staff’s capabilities, planning and manufacturing drones, producing smart ammunition, repairing the aircrafts’ engines, conducting relief and rescue operation in the flood-hit regions and operationalizing aerial ambulance are among the activities and achievements of the Air Force.