The Sixth Seal: The Big Apple Shake (Revelation 6:12)

Image result for new york earthquake

Big Apple shake? Potential for earthquake in New York City exists

NEW YORK CITY (PIX11) – For the last 43 years John Armbruster has been a seismologist with Columbia University’s Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory.  A veteran of what he describes as “a couple of dozen” quakes, he is interested in the seismic activity throughout the Pacific region in recent weeks.

However, does the amount of plate movements around the world in recent weeks as well as years to translate to New York City being more vulnerable, “These earthquakes are not communicating with each other, they are too far apart,” said Armbruster in an interview with PIX 11 News on Wednesday.

What would a magnitude 6.0 earthquake inflict upon the city?

“We know that its unlikely because it hasn’t happened in the last 300 years but the earthquake that struck Fukushima Japan was the 1000 year earthquake and they weren’t ready for the that.

How We Are Helping the Saudi Nuclear Horn (Daniel 7)

Shocking: China and the CIA Both Helped Saudi Arabia Get Their Own Ballistic Missiles

Well that was a bad idea.

Key point: Saudi Arabia wanted long-range missiles and it got them. It turns out that when you really want something, you don’t care who helps you.

You would be hard pressed to find two more determined foes of Iran other than Saudi Arabia and Israel. The latter country has long been perturbed by bellicose anti-Israeli rhetoric from Tehran, and has unleashed hundreds of air strikes and artillery bombardments targeting Iran’s efforts to arm Hezbollah forces in Lebanon and Syria.

Meanwhile, Riyadh appear to see itself as engaged in nothing short of an epic struggle for dominance of the Middle East, and has oriented its foreign policy around combating the perceived Iranian menace, even in places its influence is moderate at best.

Iran hawks are preoccupied by the possibility of an Iranian nuclear weapon—a weapon which, given the limitations of Tehran’s air and sea forces, would need to be delivered by a ballistic missile. Iran’s continuing development of such missiles has been proposed as a casus belli, and was cited to justify the U.S. withdrawal from a nuclear deal struck in 2014 (the deal constrained Iran from developing nuclear warheads, but not ballistic missiles to carry them in). It’s often ignored that Israel and Saudi Arabia themselves maintain some of the largest ballistic missile arsenals in the region—the latter of which is the subject of this article.

Iran’s ballistic missile program began during the ‘War of the Cities’ phase of the devastating Iran-Iraq war, when Baghdad rained hundreds of Scud missiles on Iranian metropolises. Though Iran managed to acquire a few Scuds from Libya with which to retaliate against Iraqi cities, it mostly could only strike back with air attacks—which placed its steadily diminishing fleet of U.S.-built warplanes at risk.

Saudi Arabia was also growing nervous of Iraq’s evidently huge missile arsenal. Denied access to U.S. ballistic missiles, Riyadh instead went knocking at the door of Beijing—which had previously proven willing to export arms to Iran when Moscow and Washington refused to do so.

In 1987, China transferred between thirty and 120 Dongfeng (‘East Wind’) DF-3A intermediate range ballistic missiles measuring twenty-four meters long and a dozen Transport-Erector-Launcher trucks. Once gassed full of liquid fuel, the missiles could strike targets as far as 2,700 miles away—though they required special launch pads. Saudi Arabia formed a Royal Saudi Strategic Missile Force to operate the weapons, much to Washington’s annoyance.

Just four years later, Riyadh did end up in a war with Baghdad, and forty-six Iraqi missiles did fall upon Saudi territory. Yet Riyadh never bothered flinging missiles back at Baghdad. Why?

The problem with the DF-3 is that it has a Circular Error Probable of at best 300 meters. This means that if you fired a half-dozen at a given target, you could expect on average only three to land within the length of three football fields of the aim point; with the other three most likely falling further afield. Other sources claim the CEP may even be as large as one or two miles.

A weapon that inaccurate is pretty much useless for striking a military target—unless equipped with a nuclear warhead, which is what the DF-3 was designed to do.

But China wasn’t going to sell nukes to the Saudis. The DF-3s were instead modified to carry 3,000 pounds of high explosives. This meant the Saudi DF-3s were only ‘useful’ for dropping high explosives on a target as large as a city and randomly killing whatever unlucky civilians happened to be nearby the point of impact. However, the abundant firepower of U.S. war planes during the Gulf War meant the Saudis felt little need for such tactics.

Over a decade later, Riyadh grew interested in acquiring a more effective strategic missile deterrence, and again turned to China—this time seeking its much more accurate DF-21 IRBM, which has a CEP of only 30-meters. (China even developed a guided DF-21D model designed to hit large ships at sea.) Furthermore, the DF-21’s use of solid-fuel rockets means it can be launched on very short notice.

Though possessing a shorter range of 1,100 miles, the 30-ton missile is perfectly adequate to hit targets throughout the Middle East and would be difficult to intercept as it plunges towards its target at ten times the speed of sound. Reportedly Saudi launch sites were photographed oriented for firing at Iran and Israel, though given the increasingly less discrete alliance between Riyadh and Tel Aviv in recent years, that latter part may be more for show.

In 2014, Newsweek exposed that the CIA had actually helped broker the sale of Chinese missile to Riyadh—as long as it was established that the DF-21s did not have nuclear warheads. Thus, after a series of covert meetings in Washington DC-area diners between spooks and Saudi officials, in 2007 two CIA agents were dispatched to inspect the missiles in their shipping crates before they were transferred into Saudi possession.

Saudi Arabia has reportedly never test-fired its missile arsenal, however, leaving the operational readiness of the RSSMF open to question. Nonetheless, it has maintained four or five underground facilities to house the weapons. Finally, in April 2014, as Riyadh grew fearful of U.S. rapprochement with Iran due to the nuclear deal, it paraded the gigantic missiles publicly.

The thing with a ‘deterrent’ weapon system is that, though they need to appear to be a credible threat, they only serve their primary purpose if they scare a foe into avoiding hostilities. However, that deterrence can’t happen if the adversary isn’t well aware of the extent of that threat due to secrecy, which may explain the Saudi decision to begin prominently trotting the rockets out in full view.

There are also persistent rumors that Riyadh has acquired a small quantity of nuclear weapons from Pakistan, or has arranged to have some transferred in the event of a conflict. Again, the mere existence of the rumors is useful for Saudi deterrence, regardless of the truth of the matter.

That Tehran takes the Saudi threat seriously is supported by a statement by an Iranian general claiming in September 2018 that Iran had earlier tested its Bavar-373 surface-to-air missile system to intercept a ballistic missile. As the primary threat to Iran from the United States comes from air strikes and cruise missiles, the test is likely aimed at Saudi or Israeli missile capabilities. The Bavar-373 appears to be an attempted domestic copy of the Russian S-300PMU-2 long-range SAM.

Ultimately, Washington clearly has fewer objections to the possession of ballistic missiles and possible nuclear capabilities in its nominal allies. Both Iran and Saudi Arabia, past victims of ballistic missile attack, appear to believe that bulking up on such weapons will deter each other from overt hostilities—perhaps even if they only have conventional warheads. However, the tens of thousands of civilians killed during the War of the Cities in the 1980s doesn’t really support that assumption.

Sébastien Roblin holds a master’s degree in conflict resolution from Georgetown University and served as a university instructor for the Peace Corps in China. He has also worked in education, editing, and refugee resettlement in France and the United States. He currently writes on security and military history for War Is Boring. This first appeared in 2018.

Image: Reuters.

How the Feds Screwed Up Before the Sixth Seal (Rev 6)

A group of local and state lawmakers redoubled their call on Friday afternoon for federal regulators to take a closer look at safety concerns over the Algonquin gas pipeline expansion near the Indian Point nuclear power plant.

Report criticizes federal nuke agency over approving gas pipeline near Indian Point

, The Journal NewsPublished 10:58 a.m. ET Feb. 28, 2020 | Updated 1:37 p.m. ET Feb. 28, 2020

State, county and federal officials are calling on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to explain why the agency concluded placing a natural gas pipeline near the Indian Point nuclear power plant wouldn’t pose a safety risk to nearby communities.

Following an inspector general’s report this week critical of the agency’s role in approving an expansion of the pipeline, Westchester County Executive George Latimer joined Rep. Nita Lowey in demanding the NRC hold a briefing to explain its 2014 decision.

“This is a gross failing on the part of the agency that is charged with keeping this community and the families that live here safe,” Latimer said. “It is particularly appalling when coupled with the fact that this is the same agency charged with overseeing the decommissioning of Indian Point – a process that is occurring right now.”

Indian Point is scheduled to shut down in 2021, with one of its two remaining reactors closing this April. Its owner, Louisiana-based Entergy, has a pending deal to sell the Buchanan power plant and its 240 acres to Holtec International, a New Jersey based decommissioning firm that has promised to tear down the plant in 15 years.

This week, Lowey sent a letter to NRC Chairman Kristine Svinicki asking for a meeting.

“The IG findings show outrageous failings by an agency charged with the important responsibility of protecting the health and safety of our communities,” Lowey said. “This report indicates repeated failings to use proper analysis by the same commission that oversees the decommissioning of Indian Point.”

The report by the Office of the Inspector General for the NRC raised new questions about the agency’s analysis of a risk assessment conducted by Entergy, which concluded the pipeline would not pose a risk to plant operations if it ruptured.

Among the report’s major findings was the work of an NRC physical scientist who analyzed Entergy’s work.

The scientist’s managers told investigators that calculations the scientist used to gauge the possibility of a gas line rupture “appeared to be backwards engineering to get a desired result,” the report said.

“Several NRC senior managers said that based on issues identified in this event inquiry pertaining to the Physical Scientist’s analysis, it may be prudent to redo the analysis,” the report added.

Additionally, the report said the NRC “never confirmed” Entergy’s claim that, in the event of a rupture, pipeline operators in Texas could shut down the flow of gas in three minutes.

In fact, the operator said it would take twice that amount of time to shut down gas valves.

“OIG contacted the pipeline operator who estimated it would take at least 6 minutes after detection of a leak to close the valves,” the report notes.

Entergy expressed confidence in its 2014 assessment.

“The safety of the plant, our employees and the community is our top priority,” Entergy spokesman Jerry Nappi said. “We are confident that the thorough pipeline assessment previously performed by Entergy’s independent engineering experts remains valid, and that safety of the plant is assured. “

But Nappi added that Entergy was  “currently reviewing the NRC Inspector General’s report to understand and assess any new items that may have been identified.”

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission relied on the NRC analysis when it approved an expansion of the Algonquin Incremental Market Pipeline in 2015.

The pipeline, which began operating in 2017, is owned by Enbridge Energy Partners and carries natural gas north from Pennsylvania, coursing through communities in Westchester, Putnam and Rockland counties.

NRC spokesman Scott Burnell said the agency is reviewing the report but there are no immediate plans to revisit the decision.

“The plant continues to operate safely,” Burnell said. “Our current examination of the facts regarding the Indian Point pipeline shows no grounds for immediate regulatory action. The Inspector General report raises legitimate issues. The staff is reviewing the analysis and related processes as directed by the Chairman.”

Svinicki sent a letter to NRC staff members this week.

“If the staff determines that no immediate regulatory action is warranted, the staff should provide the Commission with the staff’s basis for that conclusion,” she wrote.

Theresa Knickerbocker, the mayor of the Village of Buchanan, talks about the Indian Point Energy Center closing and what lies ahead for the village. Rockland/Westchester Journal News

In 2016, protesters locked themselves inside a section of the pipeline in Verplanck and were arrested by state police. And anti-pipeline advocates regularly turned up at Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s former New Castle home urging him to use his office to stop the expansion.“Why put a pipe bomb next to Indian Point?” their signs read.

“This report backs up our most damning allegations of the mishandling of the AIM Pipeline approval by the NRC,” said Courtney Williams of Peekskill, a leader in the anti-pipeline efforts. “It confirms what we have been warning about for years — that they did not know what they are doing when it comes to gas pipelines. And now, they are compounding their snafu by refusing to act immediately, making the exact same mistakes as justification.”

She said Cuomo should direct the Department of Public Service to intervene.

“We need the gas shut off,” Williams said.

State Sen. David Carlucci urged Svinicki to answer the neighboring community’s concerns.

“The chairman needs to come to the Hudson Valley immediately and outline the steps being taken to address our safety and explain how the commission will properly inspect and safeguard the pipeline near Indian Point moving forward,” he said in a statement.

Iran launches more missiles at the US Embassy (Daniel 8:4)

The rocket launchers were found close to “Tuesday Market” in Zayouna, east Baghdad (Source: Twitter.com)

Missile Attack Targets U.S. Embassy As Shi’ite Factions Escalate Threats Against U.S. For Designating Militia Leader As Global Terrorist

On March 2, 2020, two missiles struck Baghdad’s Green Zone, one falling near the U.S. Embassy, according to Iraqi security sources.[1] Iraqi media are reporting on a video that has surfaced online that shows the moment before the strikes. In the video, sirens can be heard as well as loud bangs heard in the background.[2] Iraqi security released photos showing the rocket launcher that was used in the attack, saying that it was found in Zayona district of east Baghdad.

The recent attack comes amid a series of threats made by Shi’ite militias commanders who recently began escalating their hostile rhetoric against the U.S., particularly after the U.S. Department of State announced on February 26 the designation of Ahmad Al-Hamidawi, the secretary general of the Iranian-backed Iraqi militia Hizbullah Brigades, as a global terrorist.

Wa’dallah Brigades Denies Responsibility For Attack

On March 2, the Wa’dallah Brigades, a group of the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) that is linked to Shi’ite cleric Mohammad Al-Yaqoubi, a student of the father of Muqtada Al-Sadr, issued a statement saying it was not responsible for the recent missile attack. The statement came in response to what Wa’idallah Brigades described as “false news circulated by media agencies that are exploiting the name of the formation.” The statement further emphasized that the group operates “under the leadership of the Hashad [i.e., PMU] and by the order of the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces,” adding that the group “denies any responsibility for any military action outside the framework of its official work as a military entity linked to the state agencies and in which it has a legal cover.”[3]

Brigades’ statement (Source: Facebook.com)

Al-Sadr Threatens To Activate Al-Mahdi Army

Days before the attack, Iraqi Shi’ite cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr said in a televised interview that he was considering reactivating the Mahdi Army, which carried out many attacks against U.S. forces until he suspended it in 2008.[4] Zayouna, the district where Iraqi security forces found the rocket launcher, is near Al-Sadr city, a stronghold of the cleric’s supporters and militiamen.

Hizbullah Escalates Tone of Threats

On February 27, the Hizbullah Brigades issued a communique responding to the Department of State’s designation of Ahmad Al-Hamidawi as a global terrorist. The communique said: “America, the first country of terrorism in the world, still violates the sovereignty of Iraq, demeans its dignity, and belittles its people and national [political] powers. It rudely describes its men who defend their homeland as terrorists, despite the criminal history of the U.S. administrations, and their barbaric practices against the Iraqi people and the people of the world.” It went on to say this “miserable and malicious decision [to designate Al-Hamidawi] does not represent anything for us. And we shall put it under our feet.” The statement said the group will continue “to pursue the path of resistance to humiliate America, its proxies and supporters,” pledging “not to allow the American occupation to stay in the land of the sacred sites as long as we [i.e., the Hizbullah Brigades] are alive.”

Hizbullah’s statement (source: kataibhezbollah.com).

In a February 29 tweet in response to the designation of Al-Hamidawi, Hizbullah Brigades military commander Abu Ali Al-Askari warned Iraqi contractors not to work with American soldiers stationed in the country.

Abu Ali Al-Askari’s statement (Source: Twitter.com).

“This is a final and irreversible warning to the owners of Iraqi transportation and security companies to annul their contracts with US forces,” adding that his warning also extends to those Iraqis who have diplomatic and economic ties to U.S. troops.

“The Hezbollah Brigades gives a deadline of March 15, for these cancellations to take place; otherwise, [the addressees] will bear the responsibility for their stance of reluctance and stubbornness before God and the people.”

Addressing the Iraqi security forces, including the Iraqi counter-terrorism units which are trained by the U.S. troops, Al-Askari  said that “in order to preserve your history and your loyalty to the blood of the martyrs, it is imperative to not meet with the leaders of the occupation.”

[1] Twitter.com/SecMedCell, March 2, 2020.

[2] Nasnews.com, March 2, 2020.

[3] Facebook.com/100131188261183, March 2, 2020.

[4] See MEMRI TV Clip No. 7841 Iraqi Shiite leader Muqtada Al-Sadr: Sadrist Movement Prepared to Fight ISIS; If Sunni Extremists Bring Back Their Car Bombs, We Will Bring Back Other Things, February 24, 2020.

This Is How Russia WILL Survive a Nuclear Apocalypse (Revelation 16)

This Is How Russia Would Survive a Nuclear Apocalypse

March 1, 2020 Topic: Security Blog Brand: The Buzz

Well, some in Moscow would at least survive.

by Charlie Gao

Key point: Despite the vast number of bunkers, recent advances in fuzing technology for nuclear weapons are threatening to make the minimum civil defense standard obsolete.

According to Russia’s Ministry of Emergency Situations, in the event of a nuclear attack on Moscow, there is space in underground facilities for all of the population. While this is a very bold claim, Moscow is famous for the massive amount of bunkers it has available for Civil Defense (гражданской обороны) and the military. The average Muscovite usually has an odd story or two about how bunkers have popped up in their daily life. But what types of bunkers are there? How protected are they?

On the largest level, the bunkers in Moscow can be classified into four types: basement, metro, metro-2, and sphere. The first two types are largely used for Civil Defense. The last two are primarily used by military and government agencies.

The largest and most famous civil defense system in Russia is the Moscow Metro. The metro is specifically engineered to protect against nuclear attack, boasting not only depth but reinforcements on the tunnels and blast doors that allow for a total seal against blast pressure and fallout. These doors are usually restricted to the main stations, outlying stations may have less or no blast protection.

Newer stations are usually built with blast protection using modern military methods. Notably, the “Park Pobedy” station is built using armablocks and utilized upwards excavation for shafts. Normally, shafts are excavated downwards from the surface, but upwards excavation minimizes the likelihood of satellite reconnaissance finding the locations of shafts as the construction equipment and spillage cannot be seen if it is underground.

In addition to the metro, various other civil bomb shelters are dotted around Moscow. These shelters are usually fairly shallow and feature limited protection from the overpressure of a blast. Their presence is usually found by the presence of various chimneys and air vents that feed fresh air into these bunkers. Some of these shelters have been repurposed into businesses and parking lots. These are generally of the “basement” type.

Details for these bunkers are public knowledge, as there are documents describing the minimum specifications. All bunkers must be able to survive an airblast of up to one hundred kilopascal and have stores of food and water for two days. Air filtration systems also are standard. Power generation is also provided to run the air filtration and lighting systems.

After a period of stagnation, the government appears to be spending money on this aspect of the infrastructure again, with a program started in 2015 that builds or renovates old civil defense bunkers. Large-scale drills were undertaken in 2016, which involved over 40 million people.

Much less information is available on the military bunkers, but they tend to be deeper than the civilian bunkers. While military bunkers were first built in the “basement” and “metro” types (the Tagansky Bunker 42 complex is a good example of an early bunker in “metro” style), the military moved onto “sphere” and “metro-2” bunker types in the 1970s and 1980s.

The “sphere” style of bunker was developed as a way to improve the survivability of shallow bunkers since shallow bunkers are cheaper to build than deeper ones. To attain greater survivability, an outer bunker is made in the form of a sphere. This sphere is placed inside a shallow circular shaft. Shock absorbers are placed around the sphere connecting into an internal bunker. Those absorbers cushion the occupants from the shock waves of a nuclear explosion.

Other bunkers that use similar technology in which the central bunker is suspended on shock absorbers in a central structure might also be present, with various variations on the shape of the central bunker. “Cylinder” and “Nut bolt” (hexagonal) types are also rumored to exist.

The infamous “metro-2” bunker style is laid out similarly to the older “metro” style but is deeper underground for greater blast resistance and secrecy. It was said to be built in two phases, with the first being in the 1970s and 1980s, called D-6 ,and the second being between 1990–2000 by the TIS (OAO Трансинжстрой) firm, which also builds civilian metro stations.

However, most sources reporting on Metro-2 are speculative, with the primary ones being reports of hobbyists who may have stumbled upon some Metro-2 entrances or exits or a 1990s DIA report on the system.

Despite the vast number of bunkers, recent advances in fuzing technology for nuclear weapons are threatening to make the minimum civil defense standard obsolete. As fuzing technology improves, such as that used on the American Super Fuze, it’s more likely that pressure levels experienced by the civil defense bunkers will far exceed their design rating.

Charlie Gao studied political and computer science at Grinnell College and is a frequent commentator on defense and national-security issues. This article first appeared last year.

Mortar fired from outside the Temple Walls towards Israel, hours before elections

Mortar fired from Gaza towards Israel, hours before elections

By TZVI JOFFRE   MARCH 1, 2020 22:39

A rocket is fired towards Israel, in the southern Gaza Strip February 24, 2020

(photo credit: REUTERS/IBRAHEEM ABU MUSTAFA)

Two Hamas delegations are currently visiting Moscow and Cairo. Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh is leading the delegation to Moscow. The PIJ leadership is planning on visiting Moscow as well.

Palestinian media reported on Sunday that the Hamas terrorist groups had sent delegations to Moscow and Cairo. The delegation in Cairo is set to discuss recent clashes and the humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip with Egyptian officials.

The Hamas delegation to Moscow is headed by Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh and will discuss US President Donald Trump’s “Deal of the Century” Middle East peace plan and Russia’s role in supporting Palestinian rights, among other issues. A delegation headed by the head of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) terrorist group is also planning on visiting Moscow, but an exact date has not been announced.

Last week, almost 100 rockets were fired by the PIJ from the Gaza Strip towards communities in southern Israel. The IDF carried out widespread air strikes in response to the rocket fire and placed restrictions on entry permits and traffic through the border crossings into the Strip during the clashes, but removed the restrictions soon after a ceasefire reportedly came into effect on Monday night.

The hostilities began on Sunday when Israel killed a PIJ terrorist who had planted an explosive device and prevented Palestinians from retrieving his body in a graphic video that went viral. Israel then came under a barrage of 26 rockets, leading the IAF to carry out retaliatory airstrikes against PIJ targets in Syria and throughout the Gaza Strip following earlier rocket fire, killing at least six terrorists.

Anna Ahronheim contributed to this report

Moqtada al-Sadr: The Antichrist who could calm Iraq

Moqtada al-Sadr: The firebrand cleric who could calm Iraq – BBC News

AFP

Moqtada al-Sadr has taken the side of anti-government protesters in Iraq

When the Americans launched the invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003 and plunged Iraq into the violent chaos that continues today, few people outside the country had even heard of a little-qualified young Shia cleric called Moqtada al-Sadr.

Nearly 17 turbulent years later, he is probably Iraq’s best-known figure and certainly one of its most powerful – instantly recognisable from his scowly features, yet elusively enigmatic.

Radical, firebrand, maverick, mercurial, quixotic – these are just some of the adjectives routinely attached to a man whose actions and positions have often seemed puzzling and contradictory.

Yet they have allowed him to achieve the extraordinary feat of surviving through years of upheavals during which his followers have battled the Americans and their allies, the Iraqi army, Sunni Islamic State group extremists, and rival Shia militias.

The BBC’s Jeremy Bowen asks why people have been taking to the streets in Lebanon, Iran and Iraq

His current political manifestation, a coalition known Saeroun (loosely translatable as “On The Move”), came out top of the polls in the 2018 general election, putting Moqtada al-Sadr in pole position in the inevitable jostling to form a coalition government (nobody wins an outright majority in Iraqi elections).

• The Iraq protests explained in 100 and 500 words

As well as being a leading kingmaker, Moqtada al-Sadr is also a key player behind the upheavals currently shaking the country in protest against corruption and incompetence, themes he has been pursuing for years.

Long lineage

If he was obscure when the US-led invasion began, it was not long before he leapt into prominence.

As soon as Saddam Hussein’s grip was loosened, he set about activating the networks and legacy bequeathed him by his esteemed clerical father, Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Sadeq al-Sadr, in the teeming, deprived Shia quarters of Baghdad and the cities of southern Iraq.

It’s impossible to understand Moqtada al-Sadr’s undoubted appeal to the masses without reference to his eminent family clerical background.

AFP

The US-led invasion and occupation in the early 2000s brought Sadr to prominence

Both his father and his father-in-law, Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Baqer al-Sadr, were revered religious figures who cultivated strong social care networks among the Shia poor, and incurred the wrath of Saddam Hussein.

Both these illustrious forebears met violent deaths. Muhammad Baqer was executed by the regime in 1980 along with his sister Amina, and Muhammad Sadeq and two of Moqtada al-Sadr’s brothers were cut down in a hail of bullets in 1999 by assassins believed to be agents of Saddam Hussein.

So the concepts of sacrifice, martyrdom and social service are integral elements of the legacy inherited by the young Moqtada al-Sadr, who was only 30 at the time of the invasion.

He is often pictured between images of these two eminences, all three black-turbanned to denote a lineage stretching back to the family of the Prophet Muhammad.

At times, Moqtada al-Sadr has donned a white shroud to signal that he too is ready for martyrdom. Powerful images for the devout Shia masses.

American foe

Barely had the Americans and their allies settled in than Moqtada al-Sadr shot to prominence as the loudest voice calling for their ouster.

Words were followed by action, as he mobilised his followers into the Mahdi Army (a name with messianic Islamic connotations) which US commanders rapidly came to see as their biggest threat in Iraq.

From 2004 onwards, the Mahdi Army clashed repeatedly with US-led coalition forces and was blamed for numerous roadside bombings and other attacks. Moqtada al-Sadr also lambasted Iraqi leaders co-operating with the Americans.

His followers were deeply involved in the Shia-Sunni sectarian atrocities and general gangsterism of 2006-7. In 2008 his men fought pitched battles with Iraqi army troops sent in to tame Basra by then Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Getty Images

Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army has been rebranded as the Peace Companies

Through successive phases of turmoil since then, Moqtada al-Sadr has been adept and pragmatic in both the military and political spheres.

The Mahdi Army has been through several mutations, and is currently labelled the Peace Companies.

Politically, the Saeroun is the latest morph produced by the broader Sadrist movement.

Such shake-ups have allowed Moqtada al-Sadr to keep a grip on both spheres and prevent complacency.

In the 2018 elections he forbade any of his 34 incumbent MPs from standing again and ran a successful list which, astonishing for a supposedly Shia clerical-based outfit, included communists, secularists and Sunnis.

Critical of Iran

His decisions have often seemed fickle and bizarre, not least when it comes to relations with outside powers.

While he has been consistently against American interference in Iraq, he has often criticised Iran too, for its interference both in Iraq and in Syria. In 2017 he even visited Saudi Arabia, Iran’s regional arch-rival.

Yet he took refuge in Iran from 2007 until 2011, studying in the Qom seminaries to try to upgrade his clerical credentials; and in September this year, he was filmed sitting with the Iranian Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and the mastermind of Iran’s regional influence, Gen Qasem Soleimani – images that caused a frisson through much of Iraq.

For Patrick Cockburn, author of a biography of Moqtada al-Sadr, there is no real contradiction in all this.

AFP

Moqtada al-Sadr’s face is instantly recognisable

“He and his father have pursued a pretty consistent line as populist nationalist religious leaders in the context of Iraqi politics with its multiple power centres at home and abroad. This means that nobody is a permanent friend or a permanent enemy.”

“In Moqtada’s case, political ambivalence is exacerbated because he is, at one and the same time, leader of the biggest party in parliament, while his followers are playing a central role in the protest movement.

“He is part of the post-2003 Shia political establishment – though the rest of it does not like him – and simultaneously its chief opponent.”

As long ago as 2003, an aspiring Shia politician – the now-resigned Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi – was warned by a friend : “Watch out for Moqtada. He has the streets.”

That remains the case today.

“If there is to be a resolution of the present crisis, then Moqtada would have to be at the heart of it,” says Patrick Cockburn.

Jim Muir has covered the Middle East from the region since 1975, much of the time as a BBC correspondent.