Earthquakes Can Happen in More Places Than You ThinkBy Simon WorrallPUBLISHED AUGUST 26, 2017Half 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.There are other places around the country that are also well overdue for an earthquake. New York City has historically had a moderate earthquake approximately every 100 years. If that is to be trusted, any moment now there will be another one, which will be devastating for that city.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 101Earthquakes 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.You Might Also LikeDifferent 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.
Ozersk map: Where is Ozersk? (Image: DX)
Ozersk’s inhabitants were told they were “the nuclear shield” and “saviours of the world” and they were treated accordingly.
While the rest of the Soviet population suffered from famine and poverty, City 40 was a paradise.
Residents lived in private apartments with luxury food such as caviar on offer and the best schools and healthcare the Soviet Union could provide.
This was a sinister deal put together by Joseph Stalin in Moscow. He was prepared to treat Ozersk’s residents in exchange for their secrecy and loyalty.
Ozersk has the appearance of an eerie ghost town (Image: WIKICOMMONS)
Barbed wire fencing situated around Ozersk (Image: WIKICOMMONS)
Remarkably, that deal is largely still in place.
As Samira Goetschel explains, City 40 residents believe they are “chosen ones” and that life in the forbidden city is prestigious.
They claim they are intellectuals who “get the best of everything for free”.
Ms Goetschel notes that this “has had deadly consequences” as the Kremlin has frequently withheld the impact of extreme exposure to radiation on the health of the city’s inhabitants.
She writes: “While accurate data is not available thanks to the authorities’ extreme secrecy and frequent denials, the gravestones of many young residents in Ozersk’s cemetery bear witness to the secret the Soviets tried to bury alongside victims of the Mayak plant.”
City 40 has witnessed a number of nuclear incidents ‒ including the 1957 Kyshtym disaster, the world’s worst radioactive accident prior to Chernobyl.
And Ms Goetschel claims that one of the nearest lakes to the Mayak plant is so heavily contaminated with plutonium that locals call it the “Lake of Death” or “Plutonium Lake”.
She adds that half a million people in and around Ozersk have been exposed to five times more radiation than those living near the Chernobyl plant, in Ukraine.
Today, while foreign visitors are essentially locked out, local residents are only permitted to exit the city with a special pass.
Ms Goetschel is an award-winning filmmaker based in the US.
She is the producer and director of the City 40 documentary and spoke to The Guardian in 2016.
By ROBIN WEBB
SOUTH FLORIDA SUN SENTINEL
NOV 22, 2020 AT 2:35 PM
With just a little more than a week left in hurricane season, the National Hurricane Center is once again monitoring an area of low pressure that has resurfaced in the Atlantic basin.
The disturbance, located to the northeast of the Caribbean on Sunday, has a 20% chance of developing in the next five days, likely somewhere between the Bahamas and Bermuda, according to the National Hurricane Center. It is expected to move in a northeastward direction.
The 2020 hurricane season became the busiest in recorded history when Tropical Storm Theta formed on Nov. 9. Only 2005 has had more hurricanes on record, at 15, Colorado State University hurricane researcher Phil Klotzbach said.
This hurricane season has been marked by storms — such as Hannah, Laura, Sally, Teddy, Gamma, Delta and Zeta — that have “rapidly intensified,” meaning a gain of at least 35 mph in wind speed in a 24-hour period. Iota, the most recent named storm, doubled that mark in the overnight hours of Nov. 15, when it intensified from a Category 2 hurricane to a Category 4. It dissipated over western El Salvador last week.
Meanwhile, a study on hurricanes in the North Atlantic was published this month in the scientific journal Nature.
The study found that these hurricanes are “staying stronger after making landfall, which suggests these storms could cause greater destruction in areas farther from the coast in the future,” according to AccuWeather.
The next named storm would be Kappa.
Tasnim News Agency
In a meeting of IRGC commander in Tehran on Sunday, Major General Hossein Salami said the US government is not known as a superpower anymore, as it is “aging” and its power has been depleted.
Like a person on a diet and suffering from osteoporosis, the US has been shattered from inside and Washington’s external influence has also dwindled and its range of operation has been restricted, the commander added.
Highlighting the major economic problems that have plagued the US and the waning American military power, General Salami said the “robust eroding resistance” from Iran over the past four decades has pulled the US out of its strategic base, grappled with it, and defeated Americans several times.
The undeniable fact is that the US, as the symbol of Western power, is experiencing a downfall, he said.
In comments in November 2018, Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei highlighted the diminishing influence of the US government in all areas of power, saying Washington has even discredited “liberal democracy” which is known as the basis of Western civilization.
There is a consensus among major international experts that the US power is dwindling in all areas, the Leader underscored, adding that, conversely, the Iranian nation is moving forward and has a bright future.
Ayatollah Khamenei also branded the US government as the loser of confrontation with the Islamic Republic over the past 40 years, saying the fact in confrontation between the US and Iran is that “the victorious side in this challenge has been the Islamic Republic of Iran and the loser has been the US.”
By Post Editorial Board
Joe Biden’s victory has touched off new fears of war with Iran, yet there’s a way for him to tamp down tensions: Let the regime know, in no uncertain terms, that America will stand with its allies, reject appeasement — and never return to that failed Obama-era nuke deal.
Iran triggered some of the fears when a UN nuclear watchdog confirmed that Tehran has begun operating underground centrifuges and has enriched and stockpiled uranium in violation of that 2015 deal.
An Iranian-backed group also fired rockets at the US embassy in Iraq. And Iranian officials warned Arab neighbors that President Trump would soon be gone and they’d no longer be able to “buy security.”
Since the Obama-Biden folks turned a blind eye to Iran’s evil to reach the nuke deal, the regime may think Biden’s victory means it can again get away with such belligerence again — and perhaps even extort concessions in the process.
Iran’s neighbors are worried: Saudi Prince Turki Al Faisal Al Saud warned Biden not to “repeat the mistakes of the first deal.” Officials from Bahrain and Israel also sounded alarms.
Who can blame them? The years since the deal was signed proved Tehran won’t change: Despite having sanctions lifted, reaping billions and even, in effect, getting a green light on eventual nukes, it nonetheless built up its missile arsenal and sparked violence in Syria, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Israel and elsewhere.
News also broke last week that Iran had been giving safe refuge to Al Qaeda’s No. 2, Abu Muhammad al-Masri — until August, when Israel and the United States worked together to take him out. Why, Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren rightly asks, would America rejoin a deal that “gives tens of billions of dollars to those who harbor the murderers of 3,000 Americans” on 9/11?
The Obama administration tried to discourage Israel from even covert action against the Iranian menace. Team Trump helped enable it. What will Biden choose?
Fear of escalating hostility and ramped up nuke development may also be worrying Trump, who reportedly sought options to stop Iran. The prez was probably right to reject a military strike, but Biden can do much good by letting the mullahs know: He won’t be a patsy. And a change in the White House won’t weaken America’s resolve.
20 Nov, 2020 18:36
Tehran has insisted its nuclear activity is “peaceful” and “legal” after France, Germany and the UK accused it of seriously violating the 2015 nuclear deal by plowing ahead with uranium enrichment using advanced centrifuges.
The allegations follow reports citing the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) this week, claiming that Iran had started uranium enrichment and that it is constructing a new centrifuge assembly factory at its Natanz enrichment plant.
Also on rt.com Iran jumpstarts enrichment by pumping uranium gas in advanced underground centrifuges in Natanz – report
The “E3 Group” of European states expressed “concerns” in a joint statement on Thursday at the growth of Iran’s low-enriched uranium stockpile, which a recent report from the UN nuclear watchdog said had reached 2,443kg — 12 times the limit set out in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPoA) on the Iranian nuclear program.
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh responded to the accusations on Friday, saying that Iran’s nuclear program is “peaceful” and “totally legal, legitimate, and within the framework of international law.”
The joint statement criticizing Iran comes amid increasingly fraught US-Iran relations, with Tehran warning Washington on Tuesday of a “crushing response” amid reports that US President Donald Trump had considered taking out Iranian nuclear sites.
Also on rt.com Iran threatens US with ‘crushing’ response after claims Trump mulled attack on its nuclear sites
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo then announced on Wednesday that the US would hit Iran with a fresh round of sanctions, including punishments for nuclear activity, in the “coming weeks and months.”
The JCPOA agreement was signed by Iran, China, France, Germany, Russia, the UK, the EU and the US in July 2015, though Trump announced that he was pulling the US out of the deal in May 2018.
Quakeland: On the Road to America’s Next Devastating EarthquakeRoger BilhamGiven recent seismic activity — political as well as geological — it’s perhaps unsurprising that two books on earthquakes have arrived this season. One is as elegant as the score of a Beethoven symphony; the other resembles a diary of conversations overheard during a rock concert. Both are interesting, and both relate recent history to a shaky future.Journalist Kathryn Miles’s Quakeland is a litany of bad things that happen when you provoke Earth to release its invisible but ubiquitous store of seismic-strain energy, either by removing fluids (oil, water, gas) or by adding them in copious quantities (when extracting shale gas in hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, or when injecting contaminated water or building reservoirs). To complete the picture, she describes at length the bad things that happen during unprovoked natural earthquakes. As its subtitle hints, the book takes the form of a road trip to visit seismic disasters both past and potential, and seismologists and earthquake engineers who have first-hand knowledge of them. Their colourful personalities, opinions and prejudices tell a story of scientific discovery and engineering remedy.Miles poses some important societal questions. Aside from human intervention potentially triggering a really damaging earthquake, what is it actually like to live in neighbourhoods jolted daily by magnitude 1–3 earthquakes, or the occasional magnitude 5? Are these bumps in the night acceptable? And how can industries that perturb the highly stressed rocks beneath our feet deny obvious cause and effect? In 2015, the Oklahoma Geological Survey conceded that a quadrupling of the rate of magnitude-3 or more earthquakes in recent years, coinciding with a rise in fracking, was unlikely to represent a natural process. Miles does not take sides, but it’s difficult for the reader not to.She visits New York City, marvelling at subway tunnels and unreinforced masonry almost certainly scheduled for destruction by the next moderate earthquake in the vicinity. She considers the perils of nuclear-waste storage in Nevada and Texas, and ponders the risks to Idaho miners of rock bursts — spontaneous fracture of the working face when the restraints of many million years of confinement are mined away. She contemplates the ups and downs of the Yellowstone Caldera — North America’s very own mid-continent supervolcano — and its magnificently uncertain future. Miles also touches on geothermal power plants in southern California’s Salton Sea and elsewhere; the vast US network of crumbling bridges, dams and oil-storage farms; and the magnitude 7–9 earthquakes that could hit California and the Cascadia coastline of Oregon and Washington state this century. Amid all this doom, a new elementary school on the coast near Westport, Washington, vulnerable to inbound tsunamis, is offered as a note of optimism. With foresight and much persuasion from its head teacher, it was engineered to become an elevated safe haven.Miles briefly discusses earthquake prediction and the perils of getting it wrong (embarrassment in New Madrid, Missouri, where a quake was predicted but never materialized; prison in L’Aquila, Italy, where scientists failed to foresee a devastating seismic event) and the successes of early-warning systems, with which electronic alerts can be issued ahead of damaging seismic waves. Yes, it’s a lot to digest, but most of the book obeys the laws of physics, and it is a engaging read. One just can’t help wishing that Miles’s road trips had taken her somewhere that wasn’t a disaster waiting to happen.Catastrophic damage in Anchorage, Alaska, in 1964, caused by the second-largest earthquake in the global instrumental record.In The Great Quake, journalist Henry Fountain provides us with a forthright and timely reminder of the startling historical consequences of North America’s largest known earthquake, which more than half a century ago devastated southern Alaska. With its epicentre in Prince William Sound, the 1964 quake reached magnitude 9.2, the second largest in the global instrumental record. It released more energy than either the 2004 Sumatra–Andaman earthquake or the 2011 Tohoku earthquake off Japan; and it generated almost as many pages of scientific commentary and description as aftershocks. Yet it has been forgotten by many.The quake was scientifically important because it occurred at a time when plate tectonics was in transition from hypothesis to theory. Fountain expertly traces the theory’s historical development, and how the Alaska earthquake was pivotal in nailing down one of the most important predictions. The earthquake caused a fjordland region larger than England to subside, and a similarly huge region of islands offshore to rise by many metres; but its scientific implications were not obvious at the time. Eminent seismologists thought that a vertical fault had slipped, drowning forests and coastlines to its north and raising beaches and islands to its south. But this kind of fault should have reached the surface, and extended deep into Earth’s mantle. There was no geological evidence of a monster surface fault separating these two regions, nor any evidence for excessively deep aftershocks. The landslides and liquefied soils that collapsed houses, and the tsunami that severely damaged ports and infrastructure, offered no clues to the cause.“Previous earthquakes provide clear guidance about present-day vulnerability.” The hero of The Great Quake is the geologist George Plafker, who painstakingly mapped the height reached by barnacles lifted out of the intertidal zone along shorelines raised by the earthquake, and documented the depths of drowned forests. He deduced that the region of subsidence was the surface manifestation of previously compressed rocks springing apart, driving parts of Alaska up and southwards over the Pacific Plate. His finding confirmed a prediction of plate tectonics, that the leading edge of the Pacific Plate plunged beneath the southern edge of Alaska along a gently dipping thrust fault. That observation, once fully appreciated, was applauded by the geophysics community.Fountain tells this story through the testimony of survivors, engineers and scientists, interweaving it with the fascinating history of Alaska, from early discovery by Europeans to purchase from Russia by the United States in 1867, and its recent development. Were the quake to occur now, it is not difficult to envisage that with increased infrastructure and larger populations, the death toll and price tag would be two orders of magnitude larger than the 139 fatalities and US$300-million economic cost recorded in 1964.What is clear from these two books is that seismicity on the North American continent is guaranteed to deliver surprises, along with unprecedented economic and human losses. Previous earthquakes provide clear guidance about the present-day vulnerability of US infrastructure and populations. Engineers and seismologists know how to mitigate the effects of future earthquakes (and, in mid-continent, would advise against the reckless injection of waste fluids known to trigger earthquakes). It is merely a matter of persuading city planners and politicians that if they are tempted to ignore the certainty of the continent’s seismic past, they should err on the side of caution when considering its seismic future.
Associated PressNovember 21, 2020
SRINAGAR, India (AP) — The Indian army says one soldier was killed and another wounded by Pakistani shelling along the highly militarized frontier dividing Kashmir between the two rivals. An Indian army spokesperson accused Pakistani troops of firing mortar rounds and other weapons Saturday along the Line of Control in southern Rajouri district. He called the incident an unprovoked violation of a 2003 cease-fire accord and said that Indian troops retaliated. Pakistan did not comment immediately. The reported attack comes a week after nine civilians and six soldiers were killed as Indian and Pakistani soldiers exchanged artillery fire along the de facto border.
Posted: Nov 21, 2020 / 02:52 PM CST / Updated: Nov 21, 2020 / 03:26 PM CST
JERUSALEM (AP) — Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip fired a rocket toward Israel on Saturday night, setting off air-raid sirens in the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon, the Israeli military announced.
Israeli police said the rocket caused damage to a structure in the Ashkelon area, roughly 10 kilometers (6 miles) north of Gaza, but there were no injuries. No other details were provided.
The launch raised the likelihood of an Israeli reprisal in Gaza.
Israel holds Gaza’s Hamas rulers responsible for all rocket fire out of the territory and usually strikes Hamas targets in response.
Israel and Hamas, an Islamic militant group that seeks Israel’s destruction, are bitter enemies that have fought three wars and numerous skirmishes since Hamas seized power in Gaza in 2007.
U.S. troops’ presence in Iraq is not making relations with Iran any better. It’s actually spurring Iran to more violence, showing its time to withdraw.
After the Trump administration’s consideration of military strikes on Iran for its nuclear program, the rocket attacks in Iraq’s Green Zone, where the U.S. embassy is located, on Tuesday have the potential to draw the United States closer to a conflict with Iran. But President Trump should keep military retaliation off the table. Military action has incentivized — not deterred — Iran and its proxies in the past, endangering U.S. personnel.
Military force hasn’t made American personnel safe. In the last bout of hostilities with Iran, Kata’ib Hezbollah, an Iran-aligned militia group in Iraq, conducted a rocket attack in December 2019 which killed a U.S. contractor. In response, the U.S. hit Kata’ib Hezbollah hard, striking five of the group’s facilities. If military action could deter further attacks, that should have been the end of it. But it wasn’t.
Escalating tit-for-tat attacks
Instead, a cycle of escalation ensued, with Kata’ib Hezbollah supporters attacking the U.S. embassy that same month. The U.S. then pursued the most aggressive option on the table, killing Iranian general Qassem Soleimani and the leader of Kata’ib Hezbollah, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis in January. Rather than prevent further attacks, the move prompted Iran’s direct retaliation, with Iran’s ballistic missile attack injuring over 100 U.S. personnel.
What happened in the aftermath of this standoff also underscores the failure of a military response to solve the problem. Attacks continued throughout the year, only stopping in October when Kata’ib Hezbollah pledged to stop attacks if the U.S. withdrew. Tuesday’s rocket attacks came after Pentagon officials said they would withdraw only 500 of the 3000 troops in Iraq.
What can be learned from this and what is the solution?
Neither the American strikes on Kata’ib Hezbollah nor the strike against Soleimani ended the attacks on U.S. personnel. Both ultimately escalated the situation and made an Iran-U.S. war more likely. The longer U.S. forces stay in Iraq, the longer they are in harm’s way. And as was seen in the previous tit-for-tat last December, a single American death acts as a flash-point that risks a war.
There is still good news:Middle East peace accord, economic recovery and space travel
Thankfully, Tuesday’s attack produced no U.S. casualties. That warrants a sigh of relief but not celebration. U.S. personnel are still needlessly endangered for a mission that is largely accomplished. With ISIS’s territorial control gone and its leadership decapitated, the U.S. has little to benefit from staying in Iraq and a lot to lose. The role of preventing an ISIS resurgence should now fall to the Iraqi Security Forces, a role the U.S. military already envisions as the end goal.
Iraqis are the best counterweight to Iran
Military action proved counterproductive against both Kata’ib Hezbollah and Iran, so the solution is a full military withdrawal. This is not an abandonment of the region, but a shift from a militaristic role to one based on diplomacy. The U.S. can and should still engage Iraq in areas of overlapping interest and to share intelligence for counterterrorism purposes.
The inevitable criticism of this move is that Iran would fill the U.S. gap. But the militarized U.S. presence actually drives Iraqis closer to Iran. In the aftermath of the Soleimani killing, Iraqi lawmakers symbolically voted to oust U.S. forces while populist Muqtada al-Sadr led hundreds of thousands in an anti-American rally. This is the same Muqtada al-Sadr who analysts predicted would be a strong anti-Iran influence in Iraq. Withdrawing would redirect this nationalist sentiment against Iran. The natural counterweight to Iran in Iraq is not the U.S. It’s Iraqis.
Middle East:ISIS is using the COVID distraction to rearm and regroup
The U.S. has not established deterrence with Iran. U.S. military presence in Iraq risks harm to personnel which in turn can bring the U.S. into a war with Iran. The costs are high and the benefits are nonexistent with the defeat of ISIS. The Iraqis are the ones best suited to preventing ISIS from reemerging and opposing a vassalization of their country by Iran. Therefore, it behooves both Trump and Biden to declare that that end has finally come.
Geoff LaMear is a fellow at Defense Priorities and a Marcellus Policy Fellow at the John Quincy Adams Society where he researches Iranian proxies.