The Sixth Seal Will be in New York (Revelation 6:12)

By Simon Worrall

PUBLISHED AUGUST 26, 2017

Half a million earthquakes occur worldwide each year, according to an estimate by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). Most are too small to rattle your teacup. But some, like the 2011 quake off the coast of Japan or last year’s disaster in Italy, can level high-rise buildings, knock out power, water and communications, and leave a lifelong legacy of trauma for those unlucky enough to be caught in them.

In the U.S., the focus is on California’s San Andreas fault, which geologists suggest has a nearly one-in-five chance of causing a major earthquake in the next three decades. But it’s not just the faults we know about that should concern us, says Kathryn Miles, author of Quakeland: On the Road to America’s Next Devastating Earthquake. As she explained when National Geographic caught up with her at her home in Portland, Maine, there’s a much larger number of faults we don’t know about—and fracking is only adding to the risks.

When it comes to earthquakes, there is really only one question everyone wants to know: When will the big one hit California?

That’s the question seismologists wish they could answer, too! One of the most shocking and surprising things for me is just how little is actually known about this natural phenomenon. The geophysicists, seismologists, and emergency managers that I spoke with are the first to say, “We just don’t know!”

What we can say is that it is relatively certain that a major earthquake will happen in California in our lifetime. We don’t know where or when. An earthquake happening east of San Diego out in the desert is going to have hugely different effects than that same earthquake happening in, say, Los Angeles. They’re both possible, both likely, but we just don’t know.

One of the things that’s important to understand about San Andreas is that it’s a fault zone. As laypeople we tend to think about it as this single crack that runs through California and if it cracks enough it’s going to dump the state into the ocean. But that’s not what’s happening here. San Andreas is a huge fault zone, which goes through very different types of geological features. As a result, very different types of earthquakes can happen in different places.

As Charles Richter, inventor of the Richter Scale, famously said, “Only fools, liars and charlatans predict earthquakes.” Why are earthquakes so hard to predict? After all, we have sent rockets into space and plumbed the depths of the ocean.

You’re right: We know far more about distant galaxies than we do about the inner workings of our planet. The problem is that seismologists can’t study an earthquake because they don’t know when or where it’s going to happen. It could happen six miles underground or six miles under the ocean, in which case they can’t even witness it. They can go back and do forensic, post-mortem work. But we still don’t know where most faults lie. We only know where a fault is after an earthquake has occurred. If you look at the last 100 years of major earthquakes in the U.S., they’ve all happened on faults we didn’t even know existed.

Earthquakes 101

Earthquakes are unpredictable and can strike with enough force to bring buildings down. Find out what causes earthquakes, why they’re so deadly, and what’s being done to help buildings sustain their hits.

Fracking is a relatively new industry. Many people believe that it can cause what are known as induced earthquakes. What’s the scientific consensus?

The scientific consensus is that a practice known as wastewater injection undeniably causes earthquakes when the geological features are conducive. In the fracking process, water and lubricants are injected into the earth to split open the rock, so oil and natural gas can be retrieved. As this happens, wastewater is also retrieved and brought back to the surface.

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Different states deal with this in different ways. Some states, like Pennsylvania, favor letting the wastewater settle in aboveground pools, which can cause run-off contamination of drinking supplies. Other states, like Oklahoma, have chosen to re-inject the water into the ground. And what we’re seeing in Oklahoma is that this injection is enough to shift the pressure inside the earth’s core, so that daily earthquakes are happening in communities like Stillwater. As our technology improves, and both our ability and need to extract more resources from the earth increases, our risk of causing earthquakes will also rise exponentially.

After Fukushima, the idea of storing nuclear waste underground cannot be guaranteed to be safe. Yet President Trump has recently green-lighted new funds for the Yucca Mountain site in Nevada. Is that wise?

The issue with Fukushima was not about underground nuclear storage but it is relevant. The Tohoku earthquake, off the coast of Japan, was a massive, 9.0 earthquake—so big that it shifted the axis of the earth and moved the entire island of Japan some eight centimeters! It also created a series of tsunamis, which swamped the Fukushima nuclear power plant to a degree the designers did not believe was possible.

Here in the U.S., we have nuclear plants that are also potentially vulnerable to earthquakes and tsunamis, above all on the East Coast, like Pilgrim Nuclear, south of Boston, or Indian Point, north of New York City. Both of these have been deemed by the USGS to have an unacceptable level of seismic risk. [Both are scheduled to close in the next few years.]

Yucca Mountain is meant to address our need to store the huge amounts of nuclear waste that have been accumulating for more than 40 years. Problem number one is getting it out of these plants. We are going to have to somehow truck or train these spent fuel rods from, say, Boston, to a place like Yucca Mountain, in Nevada. On the way it will have to go through multiple earthquake zones, including New Madrid, which is widely considered to be one of the country’s most dangerous earthquake zones.

Yucca Mountain itself has had seismic activity. Ultimately, there’s no great place to put nuclear waste—and there’s no guarantee that where we do put it is going to be safe.

The psychological and emotional effects of an earthquake are especially harrowing. Why is that?

This is a fascinating and newly emerging subfield within psychology, which looks at the effects of natural disasters on both our individual and collective psyches. Whenever you experience significant trauma, you’re going to see a huge increase in PTSD, anxiety, depression, suicide, and even violent behaviors.

What seems to make earthquakes particularly pernicious is the surprise factor. A tornado will usually give people a few minutes, if not longer, to prepare; same thing with hurricanes. But that doesn’t happen with an earthquake. There is nothing but profound surprise. And the idea that the bedrock we walk and sleep upon can somehow become liquid and mobile seems to be really difficult for us to get our heads around.

Psychologists think that there are two things happening. One is a PTSD-type loop where our brain replays the trauma again and again, manifesting itself in dreams or panic attacks during the day. But there also appears to be a physiological effect as well as a psychological one. If your readers have ever been at sea for some time and then get off the ship and try to walk on dry land, they know they will look like drunkards. [Laughs] The reason for this is that the inner ear has habituated itself to the motion of the ship. We think the inner ear does something similar in the case of earthquakes, in an attempt to make sense of this strange, jarring movement.

After the Abruzzo quake in Italy, seven seismologists were actually tried and sentenced to six years in jail for failing to predict the disaster. Wouldn’t a similar threat help improve the prediction skills of American seismologists?

[Laughs] The scientific community was uniform in denouncing that action by the Italian government because, right now, earthquakes are impossible to predict. But the question of culpability is an important one. To what degree do we want to hold anyone responsible? Do we want to hold the local meteorologist responsible if he gets the weather forecast wrong? [Laughs]

What scientists say—and I don’t think this is a dodge on their parts—is, “Predicting earthquakes is the Holy Grail; it’s not going to happen in our lifetime. It may never happen.” What we can do is work on early warning systems, where we can at least give people 30 or 90 seconds to make a few quick decisive moves that could well save your life. We have failed to do that. But Mexico has had one in place for years!

There is some evidence that animals can predict earthquakes. Is there any truth to these theories?

All we know right now is anecdotal information because this is so hard to test for. We don’t know where the next earthquake is going to be so we can’t necessarily set up cameras and observe the animals there. So we have to rely on these anecdotal reports, say, of reptiles coming out of the ground prior to a quake. The one thing that was recorded here in the U.S. recently was that in the seconds before an earthquake in Oklahoma huge flocks of birds took flight. Was that coincidence? Related? We can’t draw that correlation yet.

One of the fascinating new approaches to prediction is the MyQuake app. Tell us how it works—and why it could be an especially good solution for Third World countries.

The USGS desperately wants to have it funded. The reluctance appears to be from Congress. A consortium of universities, in conjunction with the USGS, has been working on some fascinating tools. One is a dense network of seismographs that feed into a mainframe computer, which can take all the information and within nanoseconds understand that an earthquake is starting.

MyQuake is an app where you can get up to date information on what’s happening around the world. What’s fascinating is that our phones can also serve as seismographs. The same technology that knows which way your phone is facing, and whether it should show us an image in portrait or landscape, registers other kinds of movement. Scientists at UC Berkeley are looking to see if they can crowd source that information so that in places where we don’t have a lot of seismographs or measuring instruments, like New York City or Chicago or developing countries like Nepal, we can use smart phones both to record quakes and to send out early warning notices to people.

You traveled all over the U.S. for your research. Did you return home feeling safer?

I do not feel safer in the sense that I had no idea just how much risk regions of this country face on a daily basis when it comes to seismic hazards. We tend to think of this as a West Coast problem but it’s not! It’s a New York, Memphis, Seattle, or Phoenix problem. Nearly every major urban center in this country is at risk of a measurable earthquake.

What I do feel safer about is knowing what I can do as an individual. I hope that is a major take-home message for people who read the book. There are so many things we should be doing as individuals, family members, or communities to minimize this risk: simple things from having a go-bag and an emergency plan amongst the family to larger things like building codes.

We know that a major earthquake is going to happen. It’s probably going to knock out our communications lines. Phones aren’t going to work, Wi-Fi is going to go down, first responders are not going to be able to get to people for quite some time. So it is beholden on all of us to make sure we can survive until help can get to us.

This interview was edited for length and clarity.

Babylon the Great UPS the Nuclear Ante

Pentagon successfully tests hypersonic missile

by Agencies , (Last Updated 14 hours ago)

WASHINGTON: The United States announced Friday it has successfully tested an unarmed prototype of a hypersonic missile, a nuclear-capable weapon that could accelerate the arms race between superpowers.

The Pentagon said a test glide vehicle flew at hypersonic speeds — more than five times the speed of sound, or Mach 5 — to a designated impact point.

The test followed the first joint US Army and Navy flight experiment in October 2017, when the prototype missile demonstrated it could glide in the direction of a target at hypersonic speed.

“Today we validated our design and are now ready to move to the next phase towards fielding a hypersonic strike capability,” Vice Admiral Johnny Wolfe said in a statement.

Hypersonic weapons can take missile warfare, particularly nuclear warfare, to a new — and, for many, frightening — level.

They can travel much faster than current nuclear-capable ballistic and cruise missiles at low altitudes, can switch direction in flight and do not follow a predictable arc like conventional missiles, making them much harder to track and intercept.

Even as conventionally armed, non-nuclear weapons, they are viewed by analysts as raising the danger of conflict, because an adversary might not know how they are armed when launched.

The Pentagon is pressing to catch up with rivals Moscow and Beijing in the race to develop hypersonics, even as it recognizes they could dangerously raise the risks of a nuclear conflict, as countries struggle to build defenses against them.

In its fiscal 2021 budget the US Defense Department requested $3.2 billion for hypersonic programs, up from $2.6 billion in the current year. The goal is a deployable hypersonic capability by 2023, though that could be difficult.

“Delivering hypersonic weapons is one of the department’s highest technical research and engineering priorities,” the Pentagon said.

RUSSIA LEADING THE RACE

The joint Army-Navy test was carried out on March 19 from the Pacific Missile Range facility in Kauai, Hawaii. The test was for the military’s common-hypersonic glide body, or C-HGB weapon, designed to be launched from a rocket that could be land-, air- or sea-based.

“The glide body tested today is now ready for transition to Army and Navy weapon system development efforts,” said Mike White, the assistant director of the hypersonics program.

In December, Russia declared it had placed into service its first Avangard hypersonic missile, making it the first country to claim an operable hypersonic weapon.

Russian officials claimed that in tests it had reached speeds of up to Mach 27, roughly 20,500 miles (33,000 kilometers) per hour.

China is also investing significantly in their development. Last October it displayed its DF-17 hypersonic glide vehicle in its national day military parade.

The US military is meanwhile pouring money into advanced missile defense research to find ways to protect against hypersonics.

A senior NATO official warned that in a hypersonic missile strike, it may not even be clear what the target is “until there’s a boom on the ground.”

NEW ARMS RACE

In January the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists advanced its “Doomsday Clock,” its assessment of the risk of nuclear holocaust, in part due to the rising threat of hypersonic weapons.

There is increasing investment in and deployment of hypersonic weapons that will severely limit response times available to targeted nations and create a dangerous degree of ambiguity and uncertainty,” it said.

“This uncertainty could lead to rapid escalation of military conflicts. At a minimum, these weapons are highly destabilizing and presage a new arms race.”

Bringing Iran to the Nuclear Brink

Trump’s callous sanctions risk tipping Iran over the nuclear precipice

Simon TisdallSat 21 Mar 2020 10.05 EDT

Mike Pompeo’s imposition of further sanctions is another disaster for the people of Iran and could cause Tehran to raise the stakes

Displaying the sort of unthinking bellicosity that has characterised his tenure as US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo chose last week – a time of unprecedented global turmoil – to impose yet more unilateral sanctions on Iran. This was akin to pouring petrol on a burning building, then waiting to see how big an explosion ensues.

The timing of the new measures was doubly inept. Iran’s freeing of thousands of political prisoners last week raised hopes of full pardons for jailed US citizens and the British-Iranian dual national Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who has been temporarily released.

Those hopes have receded now. Meanwhile,Pompeo’s heedless intervention risked fuelling calls inside Iran to abandon not only the creaking 2015 nuclear deal but also the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT)– the cornerstone since 1970 of international efforts to curb the spread of nuclear weapons.

Iran’s leadership is under pressure from conservative hardliners after the latter’s recent election successes. This latest manifestation of Washington’s unremitting hostility may help push them over the brink. Thanks mainly to Donald Trump and his sidekick, Tehran could soon move a crucial step closer to going nuclear – the very outcome the Americans most fear.

There is little reason to feel sympathy for Iran’s political and religious bosses and their incompetent, corrupt and abusive regime. The country’s present government has proved it is not fit to govern. But its long-suffering people are a different matter. They deserve better of both their leaders and the Trump administration.

Pompeo said the new measures, targeting individuals and businesses allegedly engaged in circumventing the US oil embargo, showed Washington’s determination to maintain its “maximum pressure” campaign, begun in 2018 after Trump torpedoed the nuclear deal.

Yet the move could hardly have been more provocative, or more cruel. Iranians have endured many months of intensifying hardship as US sanctions have shrunk the economy, destroyed jobs and depressed living standards. They have been badly hit by the coronavirus, which the health ministry has said is killing one person every 10 minutes.

Callous US disregard for Iran’s Covid-19 emergency – it is effectively blocking bilateral medical aid and a request for a $5bn loan from the International Monetary Fund – suggests that Washington is not interested in confidence-building measures. “The Wuhan virus is a killer and the Iranian regime is an accomplice,” Pompeo snarled.

His animosity dashed hopes the health crisis could encourage a rapprochement of sorts. And clashes this month between US forces and pro-Iran militia in Iraq were a reminder of how the stand-off could easily go the other way.

Trump’s campaign of coercion and ostracism has failed disastrously

Washington is at odds with European allies, who deplore its dangerous brinkmanship. Britain is quietly urging an easing of sanctions. It is also reluctant to pursue Iran for breaching the 2015 deal, believing that a reimposition of UN sanctions could tip Tehran over the nuclear precipice.

The US, then, is in a hole and should stop digging. Trump’s campaign of coercion and ostracism has failed disastrously. His three-pronged aim was to ensure Iran could never acquire a nuclear weapon, to curb its ballistic missile capabilities, and to halt its “destabilising regional behaviour”. It has backfired on all fronts.

The UN’s nuclear watchdog,the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), reports Iran now has more than 1,000kg of enriched uranium, enough to make a single nuclear weapon if it so chose. As experts predicted, it has expanded production in direct response to Trump’s aggression.

Its back against the wall, Iran has continued to develop missile, drone and satellite guidance programmes capable of hitting Israel and US bases in the Middle East. These capabilities were on show when it struck US forces in Iraq in retaliation for Trump’s illegal assassination in January of a top general, Qassem Suleimani.

Regrettably Iran has shown no sign of changing its regional strategy. Its proxies remain actively engaged in the Syrian war. Its influence in Lebanon and Iraq remains strong, despite popular resentment in both countries.

Yet analysts say desperation in Tehran, coupled with deep anger over US policy and Europe’s inability to mitigate it, is so pervasive that the regime may soon decide to raise the stakes by quitting the NPT to increase its leverage, even at the risk of US and Israeli military retaliation.

“The mainstream view in Iran until recently was that withdrawing from the NPT would bring further diplomatic isolation, lead to increased sanctions, and court a US military strike … Therefore, it would be counterproductive to Tehran’s larger aspirations of regional leadership and reintegration into the international community,” wrote Mahsa Rouhi of London’s International Institute for Strategic Studies.

“But recent events have caused Tehran to re-evaluate those ambitions, as they seem increasingly far-fetched. In the past year, the prospect of withdrawing from the NPT has transformed from a fringe idea among hardliners in Iran into a real policy option.”

Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister, warned recently that if the UN security council reimposed sanctions, as urged by the US, Iran would renounce both the nuclear deal and the NPT. Faced by an economy that shrank by 9.5% last year, violent anti-regime protests, unrelenting international isolation and a lethal public health emergency,many in Tehran calculate Iran has little left to lose.

That’s not true, of course – and Iran would be wise to hold back. At present, the regime is not actively seeking to acquire nuclear weapons, and it claims it never has. But few will believe it if it defies the IAEA’s inspectors, breaks loose of remaining nuclear constraints, and continues to stockpile enriched uranium.

Trump, seeking re-election at any cost, and Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s beleaguered prime minister, may just be desperate or stupid enough to start bombing. Iranians may believe things cannot get any worse. But they could.

The Impending War Against Iran

Destruction at the Karbala airport after American air strikes last week in Iraq.Mohammed Sawaf/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

As Iran Reels, Trump Aides Clash Over Escalating Military Showdown

By Mark Mazzetti, Helene Cooper, Julian E. Barnes, Alissa J. Rubin and Eric Schmitt

Updated 8:26 a.m. ET

Sharp debates among top administration aides reveal divisions in how to confront Iran and its Shiite militia proxies in Iraq.

WASHINGTON — President Trump was getting ready to declare the coronavirus a “national emergency,” but inside the White House last Thursday, a tense debate erupted among the president and his top advisers on a far different subject: whether the United States should escalate military action againstIran, a longtime American rival that has been devastated by the epidemic.

One group, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Robert C. O’Brien, the national security adviser, urged a tough response to rocket attacks that had killed two American troops at a base north of Baghdad, arguing that tough action while Iran’s leaders were battling the coronavirus ravaging the country could finally push them into direct negotiations.

But Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper and Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, pushed back. The Pentagon and intelligence agencies did not have clear evidence that the attacks, launched by the Shiite militia group Khataib Hezbollah, had been ordered by Iran, they argued, and warned that a large-scale response could draw the United States into a wider war with Iran and rupture already strained relations with Iraq.

The military’s position prevailed, at least for the time being. Mr. Trump authorized airstrikes against five militia weapons depots inside Iraq, carried out at night to limit the possible human toll.

The meeting is a glimpse of the crosswinds buffeting the Trump administration’s policy toward Iran and its powerful proxies in Iraq less than three months after Mr. Trump took the provocative step of ordering the killing of the top Iranian commander plotting operations around the Middle East. The killing of the commander, Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, led the United States and Iran to the brink of a wider war, and in the weeks since, a deadly tit-for-tat has unfolded inside Iraq —the longtime battleground for the two powers.

This article is based on interviews with two dozen current and former American, Iraqi and Western officials across their military, diplomatic and intelligence communities, many of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal conversations and confidential assessments. Representatives for the White House, the Pentagon and the State Department declined to comment.

Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper and Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, argued that the response to rocket attacks that had killed two American troops at a military base north of Baghdad should be measured.Drew Angerer/Getty Images

American officials say there is little appetite among the president and some of his top advisers for a dangerous escalation with Iran, and leaders in Tehran are now consumed trying to tamp down the coronavirus pandemic that has devastated the country. Iran has one of the world’s worst outbreaks of the disease, and segments of the country’s aged leadership have also been infected. At least one senior aide to the country’s supreme leader has died, and field hospitals have sprouted in parking lots, stadiums and wedding halls to handle the overflow of patients.

Mr. Trump is trying to manage his own response to the worsening coronavirus crisis, even as his administration continues to wage its “maximum pressure” campaign of economic warfare and diplomatic pressure against Iran. Some American officials now admit that the killing of General Suleimani has not — as some had hoped — led Iran and its proxies to think twice about fomenting violence inside Iraq and elsewhere.

Indeed, militia groups inside Iraq seem to be trying to provoke the United States into a bloodier conflict that could prompt Iraq to evict the 5,000 remaining American troops there, a longtime Iranian goal. “Those who targeted Taji achieved a big goal: to get a reaction from Trump,” said Karim Al-Nuri, a senior commander in the Badr Brigades, the largest and most established of Iraq’s pro-Iran militia, referring to the military base in Taji, Iraq, where two Americans were killed.

In the days since the American airstrikes on March 12, Khatib Hezbollah forces have retaliated with rocket attacks on American bases — including one last Saturday that wounded three Americans at Camp Taji.

This escalation has left the United States with various undesirable options, according to American and Iraqi officials. Choosing not to respond might only invite more attacks. A moderate response — such as hitting militia weapons depots and headquarters but limiting the death toll — is only likely to bring more criticism from Iraq’s government, which is indebted to Shiite political factions. An even more aggressive American response that mistakenly kills civilians or Iraqi troops risks undermining the support of the Iraqi military.

Iran’s government has said it is still seeking revenge for the Jan. 2 killing of General Suleimani, as is Khataib Hezbollah for the death of Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the de facto leader of Iraq’s militia groups and a lifelong ally of Iran who was killed in the same American drone strike at Baghdad’s international airport.

The funeral for Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the commander of Khataib Hezbollah, who was killed alongside Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani.Sergey Ponomarev for The New York Times

“Americans assassinated our great general, and we did not and will not leave this without a response,” President Hassan Rouhani of Iran told reporters on Wednesday after a cabinet meeting in Tehran. “Our armed forces responded forcefully and targeted one of their bases with rounds of missiles, which I think the Americans will never forget,” he said, referring to Iran’s ballistic missile attack on Jan. 8 on Al Asad Air Base in western Iraq.

The Iranian Horn Isolates Itself (Daniel)

Imam Khamenei :US Anti-Iranian Sanctions ‘Made Tehran Self-Sufficient in All Areas’

Leader of the Islamic Revolution in Iran Imam Sayyed Ali Khamenei (photo from archive)

Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution Imam Sayyed Ali Khamenei says the United States’ sanctions have made Iran self-sufficient as he calls for unity in the new Iranian year which began Friday morning.

In a televised message to the nation, Imam Khamenei said Iranians put behind a difficult year, but they also made significant achievements in production.

The important point, the Leader said, was that despite all the hardships, there were a number of achievements some of which were unprecedented, adding “the Iranian nation shone brightly in the true sense of the word”.

Ayatollah Khamenei called the new Iranian year of 1399 as the “year of jump in production”, calling on officials to bring a tangible change in the lives of the people.

His Eminence said that “regarding the recent disease — the spread of the coronavirus — the sacrifices made were so exemplary that even foreigners felt obliged to admire them.”

“Primarily, these acts of sacrifice were made by medical groups, physicians, nurses, assistants, managers, and the staff working in hospitals.”

He said Iranians had suffered through a “tumultuous year” that included floods, earthquakes, sanctions, and ended with the coronavirus crisis.

Imam Khamenei urged Iranians to put a difficult year behind them and called on them to display unity for the upcoming year.

Antichrist’s Followers Defy Coronavirus Curfews To Commemorate Revered Imam

Iraq Shiites defy coronavirus curfews to commemorate revered imam

Updated 7 sec ago AFP March 21, 2020 12:12

BAGHDAD: Tens of thousands of Iraqi Shiites turned out to commemorate a revered imam on Saturday, defying curfews imposed to stem the spread of the coronavirus.

On foot, they streamed to the golden-domed mausoleum of Imam Al-Kadhim in Baghdad, where authorities kept an outer gate open to allow pilgrims into the surrounding courtyard.

The inner shrine remained closed despite some pilgrims pressing authorities to let them in, a shrine official told AFP.

“There are many fewer pilgrims than in previous years,” the official said, asking not to be identified.

“For the first time, there are no foreign pilgrims — everyone comes from Iraqi provinces.”

The anniversary typically draws millions of devout followers from around the world who visit and kiss the shrine housing the remains of Musa Al-Kadhim, who died in 799 in the custody of Abbasid caliph Harun Al-Rashid.

Many come from Iran, which is now battling one of the world’s deadliest coronavirus outbreaks.

Iraq banned travel to and from Iran last month for fear of a potential spillover.

Last week, it expanded the measures into a total flight ban until March 24 and shut shrines across the country.

The country’s top Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani has urged Iraqis not to gather in large numbers for prayers, where the risk of contamination could be high.

On Friday, his representative issued another rare statement urging Muslims to abide by medical advice on social distancing, but did not specifically tell pilgrims to stay home.

Authorities have struggled to enforce lockdowns announced in more than half of Iraq’s 18 provinces, as well as a ban on travel between provinces.

In the southern city of Nasiriyah, thousands of pilgrims packed onto a bridge with a mock coffin to honor the fallen Imam as they could not make it to Baghdad.

Influential cleric Moqtada Al-Sadr called on his followers to take part in the pilgrimage to the Imam Al-Kadhim mosque despite federal authorities urging otherwise.

The Iraqi health ministry has documented 208 COVID-19 cases and 17 deaths, but many expect the real number is much higher as only some 2,000 people have been tested in a country of 40 million.

A fully fledged outbreak would be devastating for the country, where years of conflict and underinvestment have ravaged the health care system.

Shi’a Horn Plans Attack on Israel (Daniel 8:4)

New Iraq Group Claiming Attacks on U.S. Troops Says It Can Strike Israel

By Tom O’Connor On 3/19/20 at 6:26 PM EDT

An Iraqi militia that has claimed a series of rocket attacks targeting U.S. and partnered troops has claimed its fighters were capable of striking Israel.

In one of two videos posted Tuesday and Wednesday by what appeared to be a new Shiite Muslim militia calling itself Usbat al-Thayireen, or League of Revolutionaries, a masked man wielding a Kalashnikov-style assault rifle warned recent rocket strikes against Al-Taji and Basmaya military camps “and whatever will happen far beyond that” was just the beginning.

“It is the least of the power that we can use against them,” the camo-clad figure said on the backdrop of an Iraqi flag, warning the group’s “victorious, blooming, prideful and dignified arsenal has far longer-range weapons that can kill you in the land of your spoiled child, Israel.”

He then directly addressed President Donald Trump and the friends of the two U.S. personnel who were killed alongside a U.K. service member by Katyusha rocket fire at Al-Taji last week, urging them “to leave vertically before we force them to leave horizontally.”

The remarks represent the latest threat to the U.S.-led coalition that has battled the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) since 2014. Since the U.S.-Iran fallout over a multilateral nuclear deal in 2018, Tehran-friendly Shiite Muslim militias have emerged as a dangerous adversary for both the U.S. and its allies.

A man representing a new Iraqi militia called Usbat al-Thayireen, or League of Revolutionaries, threaten further attacks on U.S. and its allies should they remain in Iraq a still from a video published March 17. Supporters of the League of Revolutionaries

The Pentagon has blamed most unclaimed rocket attacks against U.S. personnel in Iraq on another group called Kataib Hezbollah. The Iran-supported paramilitaries were designated a terrorist organization by Washington in 2009 as U.S. troops faced off with both them and Sunni Muslim jihadi groups like Al-Qaeda.

When ISIS swept through Iraq, both the U.S. and Iran stepped in to help. Kataib Hezbollah joined other mostly Shiite Muslim militias in comprising the Popular Mobilization Forces, an Iraqi state-sponsored collective that has expanded to include dozens of fighter brigades.

The Popular Mobilization Forces recently told Newsweek that “there is no affiliation” between Usbat al-Thayireen and the official militia formations.

Usbat al-Thayireen’s logo does, however, bear the signature marks of international groups supported by Iran. These include not only Iraqi militias but many others such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah, Afghanistan’s Fatemiyoun and Pakistan’s Zainabiyoun, each of whom brandishes revolutionary insignia featuring a Kalashnikov-like rifle, Quranic quote, globe, book and seven-leafed branch also seen on the standard of Iran’s own Revolutionary Guard.

This elite Iranian force’s expeditionary unit, the Quds Force, played an instrumental role in establishing ties abroad. Its longtime commander, Major General Qassem Soleimani, was assassinated alongside Popular Mobilization Forces deputy leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis at Baghdad International Airport in January amid a violent resurgence in the U.S. and Iran’s feud, a fight in which groups like Usbat al-Thayireen are on the frontlines.

Iraqi lawmakers already voted to expel foreign forces in the wake of the strike that killed Soleimani and Muhandis and the country expressed new outrage last week in the wake of U.S. airstrikes that targeted five alleged weapons depots in retaliation for the Taji attack but reportedly killed three Iraqi troops, two cops and a civilian working at an airport under construction in the holy city of Karbala. Days after the strikes, U.S. troops left a base near the city of Al-Qaim near the border where Syria, where forces backed by the U.S. and Iran were also active against ISIS.

A picture shared March 11 by the Iraqi military shows what was said to be a Kia Bongo equipped with a Katyusha rocket launcher involved in a deadly attack on U.S. and allied personnel at Taji military camp. The attack was later claimed by the Usbat al-Thayireen militia. IRAQI SECURITY MEDIA CELL

In the second video posted by Usbat al-Thayireen, the group described itself as “a martyrdom project whose mission is striking the American occupation forces, striking its bases, striking the occupations’ embassy and avenging the martyred leaders and their companions.”

“The Islamic resistance of Usbat al-Thayireen vows to strike the occupation forces’ bases and embassy in the coming days and will continue striking the occupation until it exits the country, and the matter will be taken further if the occupier does not leave, the group’s video statement said. “We say to the hypocrites who are collaborators at the evil embassy: Your days are numbered and you will face your fate very soon.”

Soleimani’s successor, Brigadier General Esmail Qaani, has vowed to carry on supporting the cross-border Axis of Resistance. Iran denies directly arming allied groups abroad but has been accused of supplying some with advanced, longer-range weapons such as ballistic missiles.

An Israeli military official recently told Newsweek that Israel was planning to preemptively strike Hezbollah positions involved in the group’s attempt to acquire and develop precision-guided munitions. The official also said the country’s armed forces were preparing to, in the event of a conflict with Iran, defend again simultaneous rocket and missile attacks from multiple theaters.