Real Risk, Few Precautions (Revelation 6:12)

By WILLIAM K. STEVENS
Published: October 24, 1989
AN EARTHQUAKE as powerful as the one that struck northern California last week could occur almost anywhere along the East Coast, experts say. And if it did, it would probably cause far more destruction than the West Coast quake.
The chances of such an occurrence are much less in the East than on the West Coast. Geologic stresses in the East build up only a hundredth to a thousandth as fast as in California, and this means that big Eastern quakes are far less frequent. Scientists do not really know what the interval between them might be, nor are the deeper-lying geologic faults that cause them as accessible to study. So seismologists are at a loss to predict when or where they will strike.
But they do know that a temblor with a magnitude estimated at 7 on the Richter scale – about the same magnitude as last week’s California quake – devastated Charleston, S.C., in 1886. And after more than a decade of study, they also know that geologic structures similar to those that caused the Charleston quake exist all along the Eastern Seaboard.
For this reason, ”we can’t preclude that a Charleston-sized earthquake might occur anywhere along the East Coast,” said David Russ, the assistant chief geologist of the United States Geological Survey in Reston, Va. ”It could occur in Washington. It could occur in New York.”
If that happens, many experts agree, the impact will probably be much greater than in California.Easterners, unlike Californians, have paid very little attention to making buildings and other structures earthquake-proof or earthquake-resistant. ”We don’t have that mentality here on the East Coast,” said Robert Silman, a New York structural engineer whose firm has worked on 3,800 buildings in the metropolitan area.
Moreover, buildings, highways, bridges, water and sewer systems and communications networks in the East are all older than in the West and consequently more vulnerable to damage. Even under normal conditions, for instance, water mains routinely rupture in New York City.
The result, said Dr. John Ebel, a geophysicist who is the assistant director of Boston College’s Weston Observatory, is that damage in the East would probably be more widespread, more people could be hurt and killed, depending on circumstances like time of day, and ”it would probably take a lot longer to get these cities back to useful operating levels.”
On top of this, scientists say, an earthquake in the East can shake an area 100 times larger than a quake of the same magnitude in California. This is because the earth’s crust is older, colder and more brittle in the East and tends to transmit seismic energy more efficiently. ”If you had a magnitude 7 earthquake and you put it halfway between New York City and Boston,” Dr. Ebel said, ”you would have the potential of doing damage in both places,” not to mention cities like Hartford and Providence.
Few studies have been done of Eastern cities’ vulnerability to earthquakes. But one, published last June in The Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, calculated the effects on New York City of a magnitude 6 earthquake. That is one-tenth the magnitude of last week’s California quake, but about the same as the Whittier, Calif., quake two years ago.
The study found that such an earthquake centered 17 miles southeast of City Hall, off Rockaway Beach, would cause $11 billion in damage to buildings and start 130 fires. By comparison, preliminary estimates place the damage in last week’s California disaster at $4 billion to $10 billion. If the quake’s epicenter were 11 miles southeast of City Hall, the study found, there would be about $18 billion in damage; if 5 miles, about $25 billion.
No estimates on injuries or loss of life were made. But a magnitude 6 earthquake ”would probably be a disaster unparalleled in New York history,” wrote the authors of the study, Charles Scawthorn and Stephen K. Harris of EQE Engineering in San Francisco.
The study was financed by the National Center for Earthquake Engineering Research at the State University of New York at Buffalo. The research and education center, supported by the National Science Foundation and New York State, was established in 1986 to help reduce damage and loss of life from earthquakes.
The study’s postulated epicenter of 17 miles southeast of City Hall was the location of the strongest quake to strike New York since it has been settled, a magnitude 5 temblor on Aug. 10, 1884. That 1884 quake rattled bottles and crockery in Manhattan and frightened New Yorkers, but caused little damage. Seismologists say a quake of that order is likely to occur within 50 miles of New York City every 300 years. Quakes of magnitude 5 are not rare in the East. The major earthquake zone in the eastern half of the country is the central Mississippi Valley, where a huge underground rift causes frequent geologic dislocations and small temblors. The most powerful quake ever known to strike the United States occurred at New Madrid, Mo., in 1812. It was later estimated at magnitude 8.7 and was one of three quakes to strike that area in 1811-12, all of them stronger than magnitude 8. They were felt as far away as Washington, where they rattled chandeliers, Boston and Quebec.
Because the New Madrid rift is so active, it has been well studied, and scientists have been able to come up with predictions for the central Mississippi valley, which includes St. Louis and Memphis. According to Dr. Russ, there is a 40 to 63 percent chance that a quake of magnitude 6 will strike that area between now and the year 2000, and an 86 to 97 percent chance that it will do so by 2035. The Federal geologists say there is a 1 percent chance or less of a quake greater than magnitude 7 by 2000, and a 4 percent chance or less by 2035.
Elsewhere in the East, scientists are limited in their knowledge of probabilities partly because faults that could cause big earthquakes are buried deeper in the earth’s crust. In contrast to California, where the boundary between two major tectonic plates creates the San Andreas and related faults, the eastern United States lies in the middle of a major tectonic plate. Its faults are far less obvious, their activity far more subtle, and their slippage far slower. 
Any large earthquake would be ”vastly more serious” in the older cities of the East than in California,  said Dr. Tsu T. Soong, a professor of civil engineering at the State University of New York at Buffalo who is a researcher in earthquake-mitigation technology at the National Center for Earthquake Engineering Research. First, he said, many buildings are simply older, and therefore weaker and more  vulnerable to collapse. Second, there is no seismic construction code in most of the East as there is in California, where such codes have been in place for decades.
The vulnerability is evident in many ways. ”I’m sitting here looking out my window,” said Mr. Silman, the structural engineer in New York, ”and I see a bunch of water tanks all over the place” on rooftops. ”They are not anchored down at all, and it’s very possible they would fall in an earthquake.”
 Many brownstones, he said, constructed as they are of unreinforced masonry walls with wood joists between, ”would just go like a house of cards.” Unreinforced masonry, in fact, is the single most vulnerable structure, engineers say. Such buildings are abundant, even predominant, in many older cities. The Scawthorn-Harris study reviewed inventories of all buildings in Manhattan as of 1972 and found that 28,884, or more than half, were built of unreinforced masonry. Of those, 23,064 were three to five stories high.
Buildings of reinforced masonry, reinforced concrete and steel would hold up much better, engineers say, and wooden structures are considered intrinsically tough in ordinary circumstances. The best performers, they say, would probably be skyscrapers built in the last 20 years. As Mr. Silman explained, they have been built to withstand high winds, and the same structural features that enable them to do so also help them resist an earthquake’s force. But even these new towers have not been provided with the seismic protections required in California and so are more vulnerable than similar structures on the West Coast.
Buildings in New York are not generally constructed with such seismic protections as base-isolated structures, in which the building is allowed to shift with the ground movement; or with flexible frames that absorb and distribute energy through columns and beams so that floors can flex from side to side, or with reinforced frames that help resist distortion.
”If you’re trying to make a building ductile – able to absorb energy – we’re not geared to think that way,” said Mr. Silman.
New York buildings also contain a lot of decorative stonework, which can be dislodged and turned into lethal missiles by an earthquake. In California, building codes strictly regulate such architectural details.
Manhattan does, however, have at least one mitigating factor: ”We are blessed with this bedrock island,” said Mr. Silman. ”That should work to our benefit; we don’t have shifting soils. But there are plenty of places that are problem areas, particularly the shoreline areas,” where landfills make the ground soft and unstable.
As scientists have learned more about geologic faults in the Northeast, the nation’s uniform building code – the basic, minimum code followed throughout the country – has been revised accordingly. Until recently, the code required newly constructed buildings in New York City to withstand at least 19 percent of the side-to-side seismic force that a comparable building in the seismically active areas of California must handle. Now the threshold has been raised to 25 percent.
New York City, for the first time, is moving to adopt seismic standards as part of its own building code. Local and state building codes can and do go beyond the national code. Charles M. Smith Jr., the city Building Commissioner, last spring formed a committee of scientists, engineers, architects and government officials to recommend the changes.
”They all agree that New York City should anticipate an earthquake,” Mr. Smith said. As to how big an earthquake, ”I don’t think anybody would bet on a magnitude greater than 6.5,” he said. ”I don’t know,” he added, ”that our committee will go so far as to acknowledge” the damage levels in the Scawthorn-Harris study, characterizing it as ”not without controversy.”
For the most part, neither New York nor any other Eastern city has done a detailed survey of just how individual buildings and other structures would be affected, and how or whether to modify them.
”The thing I think is needed in the East is a program to investigate all the bridges” to see how they would stand up to various magnitudes of earthquake,” said Bill Geyer, the executive vice president of the New York engineering firm of Steinman, Boynton, Gronquist and Birdsall, which is rehabilitating the cable on the Williamsburg Bridge. ”No one has gone through and done any analysis of the existing bridges.”
In general, he said, the large suspension bridges, by their nature, ”are not susceptible to the magnitude of earthquake you’d expect in the East.” But the approaches and side spans of some of them might be, he said, and only a bridge-by-bridge analysis would tell. Nor, experts say, are some elevated highways in New York designed with the flexibility and ability to accommodate motion that would enable them to withstand a big temblor.
Tunnels Vulnerable
The underground tunnels that carry travelers under the rivers into Manhattan, those that contain the subways and those that carry water, sewers and natural gas would all be vulnerable to rupture, engineers say. The Lincoln, Holland, PATH and Amtrak tunnels, for instance, go from bedrock in Manhattan to soft soil under the Hudson River to bedrock again in New Jersey, said Mark Carter, a partner in Raamot Associates, geotechnical engineers specializing in soils and foundations.
Likewise, he said, subway tunnels between Manhattan and Queens go from hard rock to soft soil to hard rock on Roosevelt Island, to soft soil again and back to rock. The boundaries between soft soil and rock are points of weakness, he said.
”These structures are old,” he said, ”and as far as I know they have not been designed for earthquake loadings.”
Even if it is possible to survey all major buildings and facilities to determine what corrections can be made, cities like New York would then face a major decision: Is it worth spending the money to modify buildings and other structures to cope with a quake that might or might not come in 100, or 200 300 years or more?
”That is a classical problem” in risk-benefit analysis, said Dr. George Lee, the acting director of the Earthquake Engineering Research Center in Buffalo. As more is learned about Eastern earthquakes, he said, it should become ”possible to talk about decision-making.” But for now, he said, ”I think it’s premature for us to consider that question.”

Iran Prepares for All Out War: Daniel 8:4

Is Tehran Building a Devil’s Kitchen?

by Amir Taheri

December 6, 2020 at 4:00 am

Pictured: A billboard commemorating the assassinated Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh in Tehran, Iran on November 30, 2020. (Photo by Atta Kenare/AFP via Getty Images)

To hit back, or not to hit back?

This is the question that has heated up debate within Tehran’s ruling Khomeinist circles for almost a week. The debate was triggered by the assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, a shadowy figure in the top echelons of Tehran’s murky establishment.

Despite an avalanche of obituaries and reports on the event, it is not yet quite clear who Fakhrizadeh was and what he was doing.

The official narrative started by introducing him as a military figure. He was, we were told, a brigadier-general and bore that title of Deputy Defense Minister. Then the Defense Minister, Brig. Gen. Amir Hatami spoke as if he hardly knew Fakhrizadeh while praising him for his unspecified “immense services”. The narrative then switched to presenting Fakhrizadeh as a nuclear scientist and thus a victim of “enemies who do not wish to slow down Iran’s progress in peaceful use of nuclear science.”

In other words, Fakhrizadeh joins the lengthening list of Iranian nuclear scientists assassinated by unknown assailants over the past 10 years. But then Ali Akbar Salehi, the man who heads Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization (IEAO) made it clear that Fakhrizadeh was working on a parallel project not connected with the mainstream nuclear program. More intriguingly, Salehi revealed that Fakhrizadeh’s work was linked to “nuclear defense”, thus having a military aspect. Then it was the turn of Maj. Gen. Hussein Salami, chief of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) to add his layer of mystery by praising the “key role” that Fakhrizadeh played in the Islamic Republic’s missile development project. But that was not all. The Islamic Foreign Ministry spokesman Khatibzadeh brought in a shade of his own by claiming that Fakhrizadeh had been a member of the Iranian team negotiating the infamous JCPOA (the Obama “nuke deal” with the then US Secretary of State John Kerry.)

Finally, and perhaps because they realized that the persona initially depicted for the “martyr” might not generate the desired degree of sympathy, the regime’s propagandists started presenting Fakhrizadeh as a scholar, poet, philosopher, and moral guide. They even broadcast a videotaped speech in which he offers a comprehensive plan for defeating Covid-19 and curing those affected.

Whether or not Fakhrizadeh was a scholar, scientist, soldier, diplomat, philosopher, epidemiologist, and moral guide, in other words, a quintessential Renaissance man, we don’t and perhaps can never know. But two things are clear.

First, that Fakhrizadeh was a member of the inner circle of “Supreme Guide” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has created a parallel government structure that wields the reality of power while “elected” presidents and their ministers provide the façade behind which power is exercised. In a number of “special interest” domains, Khamenei relies almost exclusively on his handpicked and tested aides. Thus, when it comes to relations with Russia, for example, he relies on former Foreign Minister Ali-Akbar Velayati. On relations with China, Khamenei has just put former Islamic Majlis Speaker Ali Ardeshir Larijani in charge. Relations with Arab neighbors and Afghanistan was handled by the late Gen. Qassem Soleimani. (Not clear whether Soleimani’s successor Brig. Gen Esmail Qaani has also inherited that distinction.) Relations with Turkey and Pakistan seem to be handled by Maj. Gen. Muhammad Baqeri, Chief of Staff of the Islamic armed forces. Thus, it seems that while Salehi, and others before him, were in charge of the civilian aspect of the nuclear program, it was Fakhrizadeh who orchestrated the military part.

If that reading is correct, the second thing that becomes clear is that the Islamic Republic has always had a parallel military nuclear program, kept secret even from its own official government. Saleh says he didn’t know much about what Fakhrizadeh was doing because what he did “could not be made public even in scientific papers.”

This does not necessarily mean that the Islamic Republic has been building a bomb in secret. We have no means of verifying that. But it may indicate that the parallel project could have the limited aim of ensuring progress towards what nuclear scientists describe as “the threshold to breakout”, a point at which a nation has all the scientific and industrial means of making the bomb but stops before making it.

This is like building a kitchen and providing all the ingredients needed to make a soup but not start the cooking until you want to give a dinner party.

Such a scenario may also dispel some mysteries surrounding the Islamic Republic’s bizarre missile program. For example, why would anyone spend huge sums of money and effort to develop long-range missiles capable of carrying payloads of no more than 75 kilos of classical explosives that would do little harm to any target? However, the scheme could make sense if the payload in question comes in the form of a nuclear warhead. This is why Fakhrizadeh is presented as the man who had a crucial role in both the nuclear and the missiles projects.

Let us return to the question that started this piece. Tehran these days is full of voices calling for “revenge” and “punishment” of those responsible for Fakhrizadeh’s martyrdom. The daily Kayhan, reputed to reflect Khamenei’s views, is even calling for a full-scale attack on the Israeli port of Haifa, insisting that we should make sure that large numbers are killed. Other voices, especially from the “New York Boys” around President Hassan Rouhani, call for restraint so as not to jeopardize the hope of leading the Americans up the garden path through talks with a would-be President Joe Biden. In talks with President Barack Obama, Tehran was prepared to offer concessions on the civilian side of its nuclear project because the military side of it was never even raised. Nor did Obama pay any attention to Tehran’s missile program.

We may be proved wrong, but our guess is that Tehran will do nothing to raise the degree of tension even by one notch — something that could make it hard to sell the Americans another bill of goods.

Two facts may support that view.

First, the US is not presented as the main culprit in Fakhrizadeh’s assassination, as it was when Soleimani was obliterated. Some fingers have even pointed at Israel, followed by promises of revenge. But even then, the rival version, based on the claim that the crime may have been the work of Iranian opposition groups, is kept in circulation along with another version that the operation did not involve boots on the ground but was carried out through remote control.

Secondly, Khamenei promised “hard revenge” for Soleimani’s death but has vowed nothing but “prosecution and punishment” of perpetrators. His emphasis is on “the continuation” of Fakhrizadeh’s work.

In other words, as long as our progress towards the “threshold” isn’t halted, we can grin and bear Fakhrizadeh’s martyrdom.

Amir Taheri was the executive editor-in-chief of the daily Kayhan in Iran from 1972 to 1979. He has worked at or written for innumerable publications, published eleven books, and has been a columnist for Asharq Al-Awsat since 1987.

This article was originally published by Asharq al-Awsat and is reprinted by kind permission of the author.

Iran tells the IAE: We are nuking up

Iran tells IAEA it will accelerate underground uranium enrichment

Francois Murphy

VIENNA (Reuters) – Iran plans to install hundreds more advanced uranium-enriching centrifuges at an underground plant in breach of its deal with major powers, a U.N. nuclear watchdog report showed on Friday, a move that will raise pressure on U.S. President-elect Joe Biden.

The confidential International Atomic Energy Agency report obtained by Reuters said Iran plans to install three more cascades, or clusters, of advanced IR-2m centrifuges in the underground plant at Natanz, which was apparently built to withstand aerial bombardment.

Iran’s nuclear deal with major powers says Tehran can only use first-generation IR-1 centrifuges, which are less efficient, at the underground plant and that those are the only machines with which Iran may accumulate enriched uranium.

Iran recently moved one cascade of 174 IR-2m machines underground at Natanz and is enriching with it. It already planned to install two more cascades of other advanced models there, in addition to the 5,060 IR-1 machines that have been enriching for years in the plant built for more than 50,000.

“In a letter dated 2 December 2020, Iran informed the Agency that the operator of the Fuel Enrichment Plant (FEP) at Natanz ‘intends to start installation of three cascades of IR-2m centrifuge machines’ at FEP,” the IAEA’s report to its member states said.

Iran has breached many of the deal’s core restrictions on its nuclear activities in response to U.S. President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the agreement and his reimposition of crippling economic sanctions. Tehran says its breaches can quickly be reversed if Washington’s moves are undone.

Biden, who takes office on Jan. 20, has said he will bring the United States back into the deal if Iran resumes full compliance with its nuclear restrictions. That raises the prospect of a standoff over who should move first.

FASTER ENRICHMENT

Iran transferred the already-operating cascade of IR-2ms underground from an above-ground plant at Natanz where only a handful of those machines remain, the IAEA has said. The extra cascades would therefore have to involve some of the hundreds of IR-2m machines removed and put into storage under the 2015 deal.

While the first cascade did not increase Iran’s production of enriched uranium because it was already enriching above ground, the extra cascades would.

The IAEA’s last quarterly report on Iran last month showed Tehran had stockpiled 12 times the 202.8 kg of enriched uranium it is allowed to have under the deal, more than 2.4 tonnes.

That is still a fraction of the more than eight tonnes it had before the landmark 2015 deal, and it has not enriched uranium to a purity of more than 4.5% since then. It achieved 20% before 2015, closer to the 90% of weapons-grade uranium.

U.S. intelligence agencies and the IAEA believe Iran had a coordinated, clandestine nuclear weapons programme that it halted in 2003, the year its secret construction of Natanz was revealed by an opposition group in exile.

The deal is aimed at keeping Iran at arm’s length from being able to produce a nuclear bomb. It says it has never tried to.

Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Gareth Jones

Nuclear revenge is about to be served: Revelation 16

Revenge is a dish best served nuclear. US deterrence depends on it.

By Peter K. Hatemi, Rose McDermott | December 4, 2020

US nuclear strategy relies on a deceptively simple concept: deterrence in the form of mutual assured destruction. Adversaries will not attack the United States, the thinking goes, because they know the United States would retaliate with overwhelming force, potentially involving nuclear weapons.

The concept of deterrence assumes that both sides are rational actors who ultimately desire survival above all else. The problem is that this concept is not valid. In the age of suicide attacks and apocalyptic leaders, it is clear that this first assumption is demonstrably false. Even if one was to cast aside recent phenomena, throughout human history, revenge, not rationality, has been the primary motive for retaliation, irrespective of self-preservation. If a nuclear attack is going to come against the United States, it is not likely to be a response to a nuclear attack US leaders launch, or even the threat of one, but rather instigated in retaliation for the harms, degradation, injustice, and humiliation that opponents believe the United States has already inflicted on them.

As a result, unless US leaders start thinking about the prevention of nuclear war from a more coherent perspective that includes human motivations for revenge, they are likely to end up with exactly what they are trying to prevent: assured destruction. To avoid a nuclear attack in the future, it is critical to understand the underlying human psychological drive for retaliation depends not on a rational calculus of the likelihood of victory, but the unquestioned desire to elicit payback in the face of injury. Yet because decision makers continue to believe that global stability has derived from rational leaders and deterrence, such false beliefs now lead to a more dangerous world where complacency places humanity at greater risk in the face of increasing nuclear proliferation. The stakes are too high for such ignorance to continue.

The three flaws of deterrence. The basic notion of deterrence is that one side is prevented from attacking the other because of the expectation and belief that the retaliation it will have to absorb in response will be worse than any benefit it can obtain by initiating an assault. In this way, mutual deterrence depends on each side having a secure retaliatory force. In this view, only then can both sides ostensibly rest assured that the other would never risk launching a first strike, since it would ensure its own destruction in return. For example, it is believed that the United States and the Soviet Union deterred one another during the Cold War through a policy of mutual assured destruction (MAD). However, the international system and the nature of international security have changed greatly since then, and the incentives upon which MAD rests no longer hold.

There are at least three critical flaws with the deterrence-as-mutual-assured-destruction strategy. First, it rests on an assumption of rational decision making. Second, it largely assumes only state actors are involved; included in this assumption is perfect nonproliferation and perfect security among and between nuclear powers. Third, it requires the clear signaling of commitment and intention as well as accurate perceptions of capability and resolve. Each of these assumptions runs completely contrary to human nature, capabilities, and reality.

Flaw number one: Leaders are not rational. The rationale of deterrence is that once each side recognizes it is locked into a mutual threat of destruction, both sides will restrain themselves from doing what might otherwise come naturally. This doctrine assumes that leaders are informed, rational, self-interested actors, who always prioritize stability and survival, and that the threat of retaliatory self-destruction constrains the desire to annihilate the other. This is demonstrably untrue. It is patently obvious, and increasingly so in the modern world where greater numbers of personalistic leaders are acquiring or seeking to acquire nuclear weapons, that not all leaders are rational in any sense of the term. As Columbia University professor Robert Jervis has shown, many of the actors in international politics, including leaders of great powers, are not rational or even concerned about self-preservation. Their decisions can and have destroyed their states. Hitler provides only one iconic example of a self-destructive leader in charge of a global power.

Importantly, conflicts are not simply about material resources, territory, or strategic opportunities, but take place increasingly over factors that transcend national boundaries, such as religion, ethnicity, ideology, and other amorphous but powerful factors, including status. Such goals are often more important to leaders than even their personal survival or the survival of their people. Furthermore, most modern conflicts are characterized by deep cultural hatreds in many places around the globe, from Africa and the Middle East to Asia, Northern Ireland, and the Americas. People fight not only because they want to win, but because they want their opponents to suffer. And they are willing to punish them regardless of the cost to themselves, their families, loved ones, or anyone else. In this way, it is not only maniacal or narcissistic leaders who could prove irrational in the face of a threat and not be deterred by the prospect of death and destruction. For example, many years after the Cuban Missile Crisis, Fidel Castro admitted to former US Defense Secretary Robert McNamara that he would have used nuclear weapons against the United States during the crisis if he had had control of those weapons at the time.

Indeed, even the leaders of one of the original postwar nuclear powers, the United States, have not always been rational. Most recently, many high-level officials, including those in the military, worried realistically about President Trump’s stability; throughout his presidency they wondered whether he would start a nuclear war. Since taking office, Trump has threatened North Korea with “fire and fury,” boasted about the size of his “nuclear button,” and considered using nuclear weapons to stop a hurricane. His own chief of staff described him as “unhinged.” Trump is no exception however, and he shares many of the same characteristics as other modern world leaders who possess nuclear weapons, including some in the very nations that have threatened the United States with a nuclear attack, such as Kim Jong Un, for example.

Flaw number two: States do not act, people do; and all actors are more incentivized than ever to obtain nuclear weapons. The strategy of mutual assured destruction rests largely on a tunnel vision that assumes only state actors, and a very small number at that, will ever possess nuclear weapons. There are two fundamental fallacies to such logic. First, all states now face a future populated by non-state actors with fewer constraints, where one military general or scientist with access to nuclear weapons, or entrepreneurs looking to sell weakly guarded materials or technology, can unleash horrific levels of destruction. A. Q. Khan, a metallurgist, not only helped make Pakistan a nuclear power with stolen plans, but also touched off the creation of an underground smuggling network to sell both nuclear technologies and Chinese-designed warhead plans to rogue states including Libya and Iran. This is a perfect example of how the spread of nuclear weapons cannot be stopped by larger, powerful, or more influential states. Terrorist leaders, including Osama Bin Laden, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi have stated or implied their willingness to use such weapons against the United States; few doubted their sincerity.

Critically important, the stakes are different for non-state actors, terrorists, and other rogue players. In this nuclear age, these well-financed actors are more dangerous because, unlike great powers, they are unconstrained by financial markets, trade, treaties, institutions, or public opinion. Indeed, such non-state actors, as well as leaders of poorer states, are no longer limited by the previously exorbitant costs of fuel and delivery systems, or what used to be the tightly controlled networks of scientific knowledge necessary to create weapons of mass destruction.

Perhaps the best example of how close a nuclear power has come to a nuclear terrorist attack came in November 1995, when Chechen separatists created a crude bomb of cesium-137 and dynamite and placed it in Moscow’s Izmailovsky Park. Though the bomb was not detonated, nuclear terror was found to be part of the Chechen separatist government’s plans under Dzhokhar Dudayev. There was even a plan to capture a Russian nuclear submarine from the naval base near Vladivostok. And the plan appeared credible, since the former chief of staff of the Chechen rebels, Islam Khasukhanov, previously served as second-in-command of a nuclear submarine from that base.

The influence of non-state actors in the security realm can hardly be overestimated. It only took a handful of individuals on 9/11 to shatter the US economy, plunging the country into a 20-year unwinnable war. As the Washington Post’s publication of the “Afghanistan Papers” has shown, no US leaders from 2001 onward acted rationally in the “war on terror.” In the end, the US war on terrorism changed the United States far more than it changed radical Islam. Non-state entities do not have the institutional, organizational, or bureaucratic constraints of the United States, Russia, or the United Kingdom. Realpolitik reasoning does not apply to actors such as ISIS and Al Qaeda, which espouse religious and apocalyptic motives.

This desire for nuclear weapons is not limited to non-state actors. Rather, states are more incentivized to obtain nuclear weapons today than in the past, even in the face of sanctions. Strategists have not fully thought through the consequences of the lessons the world has learned about the provocative nature of American military action. The United States has taken military action against states that are not nuclear powers such as Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan, Panama, Serbia, Somalia, Libya, and Nicaragua, but has remained hands-off against those countries that possess nuclear weapons, such as North Korea, China, and Russia, for example. Iran may soon be added to this list. The message to the world is clear: obtaining nuclear weapons is a country’s best safeguard against the United States.

As additional states inevitably develop nuclear weapons, the strategy of deterrence is being extrapolated and applied without consideration for how such proliferation might affect its theoretical underpinning. Yet the possibilities for sub-state and rogue actors to obtain weapons of mass destruction continue to increase, and the risks of such actors attacking the United States in vengeance for past actions similarly increases. Nevertheless, most policy makers do not consider such threats because they feel secure that MAD will hold. Such blinders are likely due in part to the appearance of stability that seemed to hold during the Cold War. In this way, the strategy of deterrence is based on assumptions that represent little more than the birth defects that surrounded its creation: a world run by seemingly rational leaders of strong states interested in their own survival in the context of a limited number of nuclear powers.

Flaw number three: Misperception trumps rational deterrence. Even if we lived in a world of perfectly rational actors where only traditional states possessed nuclear capabilities and each one had perfect safeguards to limit access to nuclear weapons, there are myriad ways that misperception can lead to deterrence failure. Well-established obstacles in human psychology, both motivated as well as unconscious, including fundamental attribution errors, belief perseverance, misinformation effects, overconfidence, motivated reasoning, illusory correlations, confirmation bias, and other kinds of cognitive effects allow individuals to avoid having to change beliefs they hold dear about the nature of themselves or their enemies. Such biases also induce individuals to misperceive or deny accurate information, believe false information, engage in unwarranted value trade-offs, and block the ability to confront unpleasant realities about their own skills and capabilities and those of their opponents. In the face of these cognitive and emotional roadblocks, it can prove extremely difficult to properly assess an opponent’s values, intentions, or goals; to accurately gauge the credibility of a threat; or to fully appreciate the adversary’s perception of its own choices.

Perhaps the most recent and strongest example of misperception is the US response to the 9/11 attacks. The United States attacked Iraq, a country that had nothing to do with 9/11. The Bush administration justified its actions based on a long series of incorrect assumptions about Saddam Hussein, his potential for weapons of mass destruction, Iraq’s people, and their role in terrorism. Rather than the Iraqis greeting the United States as “liberators” in 2003 as George Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, and Richard Cheney predicted, the United States was seen as an occupier. Deterrence fundamentally depends on accuracy in exactly these sorts of perceptions, and yet this capability is precisely what is compromised in the wake of biased perception, and equally challenged under conditions of threat or time pressure such as those that typically characterize a crisis. The end result of the Iraqi conflict has been the greatly accelerated decline of the United States as a global leader, stronger Iranian power in the region, a destabilized Syria, empowered Turkish aggression against the Kurdish peoples, and increased Russian influence in the region.

Revenge is why deterrence works—and why it fails. It is critical to understand what really motivates people to act with excessive and even self-destructive force. Rather than fear of reprisal, upon which mutual assured destruction depends, the stability of deterrence rests, and always has rested, implicitly on the unassailable motivation of revenge. If states did not believe that retaliation would follow an attack, even when absolutely no benefit can result from such destruction, then deterrence would not be stable. Indeed, it is the desire for revenge that motivates destructive action in the first place. In the future, weapons of mass destruction will get into the hands of new and less constrained actors. Under such conditions, mutual assured destruction will not be a deterrent. But revenge will remain an extremely potent motivation for attack. Reducing that motivation must be a critical part of any rational defense strategy.

To be sure, revenge provides a stronger, and more stable, psychological basis for deterrence than incorrect assumptions of rationality. But it also supports a greater inclination for a first strike. Historically, leaders have launched all kinds of assaults simply out of a desire for revenge or an impulse to make those who hurt them suffer. And they often undertook these actions fully realizing the consequences.

The Crusades provide a prime example of this dynamic, but modern actors are not immune to such behavior. For example, revenge provided the primary reason Chechens resorted to terrorism and joined with Al Qaeda, eliminating any strategic hope for legitimate statehood. Shamil Basayev, the renowned field commander of the Chechen resistance, said this explicitly: “My father had been shot dead from a helicopter; my older brother had been blown up by a land mine. It was my duty to take revenge or I would lose my honor before my neighbors.” The same impulse of revenge motivated the so-called Black Widows, who participated in suicide bombings in the war. More than religious or political aims, these women specifically claimed revenge as the main motive for their actions of mass terror. Revenge also underlies much of the US response to the attacks on 9/11. The United States invaded Iraq at least partly out of revenge for Saddam Hussein’s attempt to assassinate President Bush’s father.

Once the nuclear component is taken out, it seems easier to digest that people act on the basis of revenge in all kinds of circumstances. The entire assumption surrounding why such motives do not apply in the realm of nuclear confrontation rests on the notion that because the stakes are so high, people are more likely to behave rationally, and a revenge motive won’t come into play. And yet this is absurd. Pick up most any introductory psychology textbook and it becomes clear that people are most vengeful when the stakes are highest. People blow up marriages, partnerships, bank accounts, and even risk personal injury to get back at those who have hurt them, often fully aware of and yet unconcerned with the risks to themselves or their loved ones. The belief that leaders are somehow immune to such psychological processes is idealistic. A nuclear conflagration has not yet have happened because the right conditions have not yet been met, but there are many examples of situations where the world came very close to nuclear confrontation, a few which have already been mentioned.

In sum, despite claims to the contrary, the concept of MAD actually rests on the instigator’s belief that the targeted country’s leaders will act irrationally and want revenge even if they cannot gain from it. This contradicts a rational perspective because decision making under threat, pressure, or duress is anything but rational. It often relies upon emotional motivations. If this emotional aspect of decision-making is not included and adequately acknowledged and considered in the model of deterrence, the most critical factor is neglected. If a leader has already lost everything they value in an attack, then, from a rational perspective, the leader has nothing to gain from retaliating. The leader can no longer protect or preserve anything of value. All they can achieve is the inherent sense of satisfaction that comes with delivering payback. Psychologically, this sense of satisfaction can be everything, and there is strong evidence that all humans, leaders included, behave this way outside the nuclear arena. Indeed, even though many may be loath to admit it, everyone knows the feeling of wanting to get revenge against someone who has harmed them, even if there is nothing objectively to be gained from such a response, no matter how much it costs. This—not the proposed reliance on rationality—is what has enabled deterrence to be successful for over 70 years.

The goal of retaliation has always been to punish others who threatened a community, and in many cases to actually eliminate the threat altogether. Deterrence is the byproduct of an evolutionary drive for revenge, and when an equilibrium exists, or various sides are constrained by power balances, it may hold, as it has since the inception of nuclear weapons. But this does not necessarily mean that it will continue to hold for the indefinite future. Although the natural psychology that creates a desire for revenge in the face of attack exists in everyone, individual differences still exist, and circumstances influence decision making.

What does this mean in practice? The attention on mutual assured destruction in policy may appear stabilizing, and sometimes it has been, but conditions today are vastly different than during the Cold War. When discussing close calls in the realm of nuclear war, it has become common to invoke the historical case of the Cuban Missile Crisis. But imagine replacing Kennedy and Khrushchev with Trump and Kim. Is it credible to believe that the end goals of modern leaders are similar enough to those of the past? Can we rely on past lessons to instruct future behavior? If a strategy rests on specific people, it is no strategy at all. If people are willing to pay a cost to engage in payback after an attack, and possibly destroy an entire society for revenge, then it becomes naïve to assume that the leaders of countries such as Iran, North Korea, or the United States, much less ISIS and Al Qaida, might prove as constrained as Kennedy and Khrushchev were while staring down the silo of a nuclear war.

Indeed, what is different now is that many current US adversaries are driven by revenge not for any incipient nuclear attack that they might suffer, but rather for the harms and degradation that they believe the United States has already inflicted upon them. And that is a very different kind of calculation. If adversaries attack the United States because their leaders’ irrationality mirrors US policy makers’ own, then US retaliation would no doubt be driven by revenge as well. Thus, it is the double irrationality of unstable leaders and the drive for retaliation even when there is nothing left to gain that together will undermine deterrence. These simple truths bring the entire logic of MAD crashing down.

A new strategy is needed. If the human race is to survive, there is a desperate need for a new strategy that goes beyond deterrence. All it takes is one miscalculation, or one person, and not even a leader, to start a nuclear exchange. A greater number of nuclear powers, including countries that have their own enduring rivalries, makes everyone in the world less secure. Opportunities for third parties or unstable leaders to launch an attack proliferate in a world where fissionable material is unaccounted for and the technical skills for building a bomb are increasingly available. This reality holds important implications for policy going forward. Any strategy that assumes the rationality of leaders invites catastrophic consequences. Yet the formal plan to deter rogue actors does not differ from the strategy designed to ward off established state actors, even when it is clear the motives, goals, and incentives of non-state actors do not overlap with those of state leaders. If humanity is to survive, policy makers need to undertake major changes, including a strong push to reduce nuclear weapons across the board and a deeper investment in prevention, in order to reduce the risk of accidents and inadvertent escalation.

Reduce motivations for revenge. Enemies and rivals of the United States are motivated to seek revenge against America for injustices both real and imagined. American behavior has fed into these grievances, fueling a dangerous desire for revenge. The United States requires a true change in its foreign policy approach and can no longer act as if it is the sole global hegemon without consequence or forethought. For too long after the World War II, the United States has attempted to trade off of its reputation and leverage its military and economic might to incentivize, punish, or restrain actors whose behavior was not in keeping with American interests. However, in the last two decades the international system has become littered with more failed states. The United States’ actions and inaction have played a major role in this outcome. The United States now faces increasing challenges that policy makers have not only done little to confront, but rather have invited: Russia marching into Crimea uncontested; Syria repeatedly using chemical weapons against civilians with no meaningful reprisal; and Iran bombing ships in the Persian Gulf with no retaliation are only a handful of recent examples. America’s belligerent actions, such as the war in Iraq that spiraled the Middle East into terrible instability and angered the world’s Islamic populations, served only to stoke more hatred, create a desire for revenge, and generate infinitely more enemies.

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Worse still, American intervention around the globe has not demonstrated any clear goal or agenda. Rather, displays of personal self-interest, enrichment, and the assertion of military power to pursue domestic agendas tend to dominate American action abroad. Acting with no regard for how such behavior is received or interpreted is precisely the kind of behavior that inspires attacks against the United States, motivated by a desire for revenge against intrusive and destructive actions. September 11, 2001 should have been a wake-up call to the failure of American global leadership.

If the United States is going to reduce the motivations for revenge and prevent future attacks, it needs a radical shift in its foreign policy. This is not a partisan observation: Bush led America into an unnecessary and destructive war in Iraq, but Obama’s “light footprint” and head-in-the-sand approach ignored global events and the actions of adversaries, emboldening them to attack US allies. And of course, Trump has made things immeasurably worse through his irrational and conflicting policies, including courting dictators such as Kim Jong Un, treating Putin as a friend while Russia attacked US elections, and emboldening adversaries like China. For the first time in memory, in October 2019, under Trump’s orders, the world watched US soldiers in Syria appearing to flee while Russian troops moved into an American base loaded with millions of dollars in sophisticated medical and military supplies. Abroad, these videos have been celebrated as an iconic moment when America ceded its leadership in the Middle East.

In this way, American foreign policy has created the perfect motivation to encourage others to attack by showing weakness on the one hand and antagonizing belligerents on the other. That vacillating bipolar policy must end. That means the United States needs to not only learn to accept limitations, but also to acknowledge the legitimate interests of other actors on the world stage. For example, leaders need to find a way to both constrain Iran and restart peaceful relations with it, regardless of whether or not they like the Iranians’ system of government. US leaders have to learn to incentivize all states to cooperate with the international system to make it beneficial for all to secure and not sell fissile material and technology.

The post-colonial, ego-driven, ethnocentric foreign policy that has treated other countries as American vassals can no longer hold sway. But neither can US leaders allow states to develop nuclear materials with impunity. As much as the United States may have invited many of the violations against its interests, it must still seek out and respond to nuclear threats. Reducing the motivation to attack the United States begins with ending the inconsistent and aimless foreign policy.

Abandoning past policy platforms will not be easy, nor is there a perfect solution. But the world today looks difficult and dangerous in many ways, similar to the precipitants existing prior to the First World War, with many fractured states and no clear leader. The past hegemon, America, is declining, while other states, such as China, are on the rise. The United States needs a substantive discussion about how best to formulate a goal-oriented foreign policy. It does not need to create new enemies, nor antagonize past close allies. Rather, it needs to show both strength and restraint where each is needed, and to know the difference. It should end conflicts, rather than create new ones. Such a perspective won’t stop every actor with malicious intent, but even if it stops a single bad actor, that represents a valuable success.

Invest in prevention. Even if the United States reduces others’ motivations to attack, it must still act aggressively to prevent the means for others to attack. In many respects, the United States appears to have abandoned meaningful efforts to regulate and identify the exchange of nuclear information and fissile materials. America has spent the past 20 years chasing down Islamic extremists and nominal terrorists, often instituting performative policies such as requiring largely useless activities such as the removal of shoes at the airport. What it has not done is make the level of investment needed to identify and intercept nuclear arms trading networks. One nuclear weapon would level an entire city. Look at the destruction visited on Beirut from the recent explosion of combustible materials, and yet such destruction represents roughly 7 percent of the destructive potential of the bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima. And the Hiroshima bomb pales in comparison to a modern nuclear warhead atop a Trident II submarine-launched missile, which yields 455 kilotons of power.

There is serious doubt that the United States and the International Atomic Energy Agency have an effective and systematic apparatus by which to truly investigate the sale and transfer of nuclear technology and fissile materials by China, North Korea, or the black market out of Pakistan. There is little confidence that the location of all weapons-grade nuclear material is accounted for, especially after the fall of the Soviet Union. More serious investment into looking for and identifying nuclear brokers, as well as protecting US borders and shipyards with sensors that could detect nuclear materials, is needed. America appears to be blind when it comes to the transfer of nuclear materials. And yet this constitutes a much more serious threat than lower level terrorism, not because it is more likely, but because the potential cost is so much higher.

The United States appears to lack an agency or program dedicated to infiltrating these black markets, identifying and locating high risk points and actors prior to sale, and securing materials and points of entry into the United States and bases abroad, with technology that would identify nuclear material and movement. Some of these actions are in play, but if US intelligence is anything on the level it has been for Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria, or Libya, then it represents little more than lip service. The United States has been blind to almost every major conflict in the last three decades; pretending its intelligence on nuclear materials is any better constitutes a dereliction of duty.

What is needed is an agency specifically dedicated to risks associated with nuclear materials akin to the kind of investment the National Security Agency has made against cyber threats. Just as the CIA collects and analyzes intelligence for national security, and the Defense Department is devoted to the successful conduct of war, it is time to consider an agency or sub-agency specially tasked to reducing these risks. While some of this work may be occurring in a clandestine manner, such a serious and important task deserves a separate unit designed to locate, remove, or attempt to mitigate the myriad risks that are associated with fissile materials. Policy makers simply don’t know where all the nuclear material is located. So they have to assume that there is a reasonable probability, however low, that such materials may be in the hands of dangerous actors’ intent on their use. Aggressive preventive measures are needed to find and neutralize fissile materials and get them off the market to reduce the possibility for their use in the future. In short, America should invest in protective structural apparatus for personnel and assets, both at home and abroad.

Prepare for the consequences of a nuclear attack. The COVID-19 pandemic shows the devastating consequences that can occur when predictable threats are downplayed or ignored. The coronavirus found the United States both unprepared and incompetent in the face of the challenge, even though US intelligence agencies had been briefing the president about it since the beginning of January, and the prior administration had created a detailed pandemic “playbook” to guide a response. In the case of nuclear weapons, the potential for destruction is thousands of times worse. If others are going to take revenge on America, then America needs to be prepared for the aftermath of such action. The last public preparation campaign in the United States was in the 1950s, when school-aged children were told to “duck and cover” or use their desks as a shield against a nuclear attack. That is the extent of American preparedness in this realm.

It is also critical to consider that such changes, while appearing reasonable, are unlikely to occur. In many ways, the American system of government is failing. It no longer appears capable of operating for the benefit of the public, even when threatened by external forces. Indeed, there appears to be no incentive for elected leaders to even try to look out for the public. The connection between representation and electability has been broken by the two-party system. Ideally in a democracy, there is a connection between leaders and constituents, whereby leaders hope to lift themselves up by serving their country and helping to improve the lives of their followers. But the two-party system in the United States has circumvented that connection, creating rules to consolidate power in contradiction to the implementation of effective governance. Elected leaders are more loyal to their party than to their country or their constituents, and the system ensures that they are punished by their party more than their constituents. When a government cannot protect its people, then it has failed at its most central and important task. Many argue that COVID is such an example.

There are specific kinds of measures that would better help the United States prepare for a nuclear attack. The stockpiling of medicines, the creation of shelters, plans, and drills to distribute food and water, national mobilization and response teams, and hundreds of other measures could save millions of lives if instituted before an attack.

In order to take the needed actions to reduce the motivation for revenge on the part of enemies, as well as prevent nuclear proliferation and prepare for the consequences of such revenge should it occur, it may require extracting the parties’ control of our elections, and removing the partisan veneer now laid over the US Constitution. This is no small task, given that the parties control the elections, who gets to run, debate, or even act in Congress.

In a world increasingly populated by personalistic leaders who are seeking to acquire, or have recently acquired, nuclear weapons, the danger of escalation rises. As the number of such countries increases, including those like India and Pakistan with their own enduring rivalries, everyone becomes less safe. Opportunities for third parties and unstable leaders to launch an attack or proliferate drastically increase as well. Not only are such leaders less constrained by organizational and state institutions and structures, but their goals may differ in meaningful ways from the leaders of more established or traditional nuclear powers. The lack of bureaucratic or public constraint also allows such leaders to give free reign to their more fundamental psychological goals and drives, including the desire for revenge and payback, not only in the wake of threat, but also in the face of perceived disrespect or injustice, including historical wrongs or slights, or presumed future transgressions. The psychological forces that helped keep nuclear weapons in check in the past are the very instincts that pose greater risks in a future populated by a greater number of unconstrained or unstable actors.

People use the phrase “going nuclear” so often that it has lost its power to chill. Indeed, the notion of how easily someone might lose their ability to control their behavior speaks directly to the ubiquity of the psychological impetus of revenge. Deterrence actively depends on a belief that the exact opposite is true: the implicit and universal belief that revenge will dependably motivate retaliation even when there is nothing left to be gained by exacting punishment on the attacker. The psychological drive to engage in payback, driven by any remaining public that might similarly demand retribution, will simply overwhelm national security leaders at a time of great crisis and ensure that even the most limited attack will quickly escalate into a major nuclear war. And given the environmental consequences of even a small number of nuclear weapons exchanged, even for people living on the opposite side of the globe, such an escalation would inevitably lead to a realistic threat of mass extinction.

Given these psychological imperatives, it should be clear that relying on deterrence to limit the risk of nuclear attack appears to be little more than an absurdist fantasy of the kind portrayed so well in Dr. Strangelove. This reality holds important implications going forward, because any strategy that depends on the rationality of actors, clear signaling, accurate perceptions, solely state actors, nonproliferation, and perfect security invites catastrophic consequences.

Iraq: Antichrist’s Call to Restore ‘Shiite Home’ Stirs Controversy

Iraq: Sadr’s Call to Restore ‘Shiite Home’ Stirs Controversy

Baghdad – Fadhel al-Nashmi

Friday, 4 December, 2020 – 10:00

Iraqi Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr speaks during a media conference in Najaf, Iraq (Alaa Al-Marjani/Reuters).

A call by Iraqi Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr to “restore the Shiite home” was met with wide rejection by civil movements and groups, who warned that such slogans would drag the country again into sectarian strife.

Al-Sadr accused those he described as “a group of foolish boys” of seeking to dishonor the revolutionaries with external support.

“I find that it is in the urgent interest to accelerate the restoration of the Shiite home through intensive meetings in order to draft its doctrinal honor charter…,” he said on Twitter.

The concept of the “Shiite home” goes back to 2004, when late politician Ahmed Chalabi established it to include Shiite forces and parties defending the idea of the Shiites’ right to rule the country given their majority among the population. But the idea did not gain the necessary consensus and most of the main Shiite forces rejected it.

Observers believe that Sadr’s new call falls in the context of his recent struggle with the protest groups, which have openly accused him and his political movement of being behind the attack on the sit-in squares, especially last Friday’s events, which took place in the city of Nasiriyah and led to the killing of seven protesters and the injury of 90 others.

Activists announced on Thursday that the supreme Shiite cleric, Ali al-Sistani, met with a group of protesters, who asked for his protection from the continuous attacks against them.

Sadr’s call also faces widespread rejection within the Shiite popular circles, as well as among the rest of the components.

In this context, the head of the National Wisdom Movement, Ammar al-Hakim, is not likely to welcome Sadr’s invitation, especially as he has been seeking for weeks to build a “cross-sectarian” political alliance to engage in the upcoming elections.

The Antichrist makes a gamble for power as protesters killed

The Iraq Report: Moqtada al-Sadr makes a gamble for power as protesters killed

The New Arab

Many Iraqis remain unconvinced by Sadr’s statements. [Getty]

Date of publication: 4 December, 2020

The powerful cleric’s political ambitions have been branded a cynical ploy by youth protesters who have been demonstrating against corruption, a dire economic situation, and state-backed violence.

Controversial Iraqi Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr has announced that his party will put forth a candidate to run for Iraq’s top job for the first time at the upcoming elections in June, reversing a previous pledge to not enter politics directly.

His announcement came as he called on his supporters to reinvigorate “anti-corruption” protests targeting senior Iraqi politicians.

However, this has been seen as a cynical ploy to undermine his rivals while appearing as a “man of the people”, as Sadr’s supporters have in the past weeks clashed with and killed anti-government protesters who have been demonstrating since October 2019.

Meanwhile, as rival Shia factions gear up for elections, Iraq’s Sunnis face continued disenfranchisement and discrimination as authorities close refugee camps for the internally displaced.

The IDP camps have been in existence since the country’s war against Islamic State (IS) militants that started in 2014, yet rights groups are now warning about a grim future as children are forced to live amongst corpses and rubble, further radicalising an already fractured society.

Sadr’s supporters kill anti-government demonstrators

Radical Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr has declared his bloc’s intentions to clinch a majority in next June’s polls, allowing them to nominate their own candidate for prime minister who will be beholden to Sadr.

A man of continuously shifting positions, Sadr had previously pledged that his bloc, the Sairoun coalition, would remain in parliament as a check against “corruption” by senior ministers and prime ministers, according to the Sadrists.

Moqtada al-Sadr has declared his bloc’s intentions to clinch a majority in next June’s polls, allowing them to nominate their own candidate for prime minister

However, in a tweet in November, Sadr announced that his party will heavily contest the elections and predicts they will be able to seize a majority of the popular vote, allowing them to be the first party in Iraq’s history since the US-led invasion of 2003 to appoint their own prime minister.

This will eschew the standard horse trading and compromising between the main blocs to determine the country’s top jobs that goes on after every election held since former dictator Saddam Hussein’s regime was toppled by the United States and its allies.

To that end, Sadr has summoned thousands of his supporters to descend on the streets of major Iraqi cities to call for an end to corruption.

Many Iraqis, however, remain unconvinced by Sadr’s statements. The powerful cleric’s political ambitions have been branded a cynical ploy by largely Shia youth protesters who have been demonstrating against corruption, a dire economic situation, and unchecked state-backed violence.

Read more: ‘They are still trying to silence us’: One year on, Iraq’s youth rise again

One of the figures of the post-2003 order who has been criticised by youth activists is Sadr himself after he repeatedly authorised the use of deadly violence against demonstrators.

Thousands flooded Iraq’s southern hotspot of Nasiriyah on Monday as a resident died from wounds sustained in clashes last week between anti-government protesters and Sadr’s supporters.

Ridha al-Rikaby was hit in the head by a bullet last Friday when Sadr’s followers armed with guns and knives descended on the young demonstrators who have been in Nasiriyah’s Habboubi Square since 2019, medics told AFP. He died on Monday, bringing the toll from the day of violence to eight dead and several dozen wounded.

After November’s clashes, authorities imposed a lockdown to try to stop further rallies in the southern city, sacked the provincial police chief and launched an investigation into the events. Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi dispatched National Security Advisor Qasem al-Araji and other senior officials to Nasiriyah on Monday for talks with protesters that have not borne any fruit.

“Once again, peaceful protesters are dying under the government’s nose, and the security forces can’t hold the killers accountable,” one of those taking part told AFP.

Qasim, whose real name cannot be revealed for security reasons, told The New Arab: “Sadr thinks he can use the blood of innocent civilians to win the elections. He says he’s anti-corruption, then kills the youth who refuse to allow him to appear to be the leader of the protest movement.”

Shia clerics such as Sadr enjoy immense power in Iraq. They not only operate their own political parties but usually have illegal militias at their beck and call

“This is not only cynical, it is psychotic,” Qasim added. Nasiriyah was a major hub for the protest movement that erupted in October 2019 against a government seen by demonstrators as corrupt, inept and beholden to neighbouring Iran. More than 650 people died across Iraq in protest-related violence during those rallies but there has been no accountability for their deaths.

The Iraqi government will likely be powerless to impose any sanctions or restrictions on Sadr or his supporters, let alone indict any of them for killing unarmed and peaceful protesters.

The Sairoun bloc enjoys a majority in parliament, and Kadhimi’s premiership was heavily reliant on their support. If they withdraw that support, the prime minister’s already tenuous grip on power would face a significant challenge.

Shia clerics such as Sadr enjoy immense power in Iraq. They not only operate their own political parties, but they usually have illegal militias at their beck and call, as well as their supporters actively joining the ranks of the formal security forces.

This arrangement ensures that they can interfere in politics while securing their interests via violence, and then their supporters in key security posts will shield them from prosecution or law enforcement.

Indeed, the Iraqi government has been criticised for training and grooming a US sanctioned Shia militant for a top military post, further cementing the Popular Mobilisation Force’s (PMF) grip on power. Hussein Falih Aziz is a member of the Kataib Hezbollah group, blacklisted as a terrorist organisation by Washington.

The Iraq Report: Mass execution sparks sectarian fears and international concern

Shia religious authorities also enjoy massive support from neighbouring Iran, who has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in constructing new Shia shrines to form a front for collecting endowments.

Under Shia creed, clerics can attract payments from their followers known as the Khums, or the Fifth, a tithe which entitles the highest-ranking clergymen to 20 percent of a follower’s annual income.

This has created a caste system amongst the people and the clerics, and created a class of multimillionaire men of the cloth while Iraq is at risk of reaching a 31.7 percent poverty rate this year, according to UNICEF.

Sunnis discriminated against as IDP camps close

The lot of Iraq’s Sunni population has taken a further slide as international rights monitors warn that Sunni children are being “forced to live amongst corpses and bombs” as the federal authorities in Baghdad pressed ahead with the closure of refugee camps.

Iraqi children are living in squalor among “corpses, unexploded bombs and rubble”, the Save the Children charity said last Friday after the closure of several camps for the internally displaced.

The IDP camp closures come as part of a plan to relocate around a quarter of a million people back to their areas of origin. But many of those areas are ill-prepared to resettle families who fled the extremist Islamic State group, Save the Children said.

The Iraqi government will likely be powerless to impose any sanctions or restrictions on Sadr or his supporters, let alone indict any of them for killing unarmed and peaceful protesters

More than 300 families were recently forced out of the Yahyawa camp in Kirkuk and have since returned to Mosul, Eiyadiah and Tal Afar in the Nineveh governorate in northern Iraq. Almost all of the governorate was captured by IS in mid-2014 and witnessed some of the extremist group’s worst atrocities, before it was recaptured by Iraqi forces in 2017 who themselves committed atrocities according the Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and the United Nations.

“This area was the last shelter for ISIS in Nineveh, so most of our houses were destroyed during the conflict. Our children are not safe here,” a man identified only as Ali told Save the Children after returning to Mosul. “When we came back here, the area wasn’t cleared; there were explosives,” the father-of-four explained.

“I brought down a non-exploded bomb from the rooftop of my house. Children were holding bullets but didn’t know what they were. My son came to me with a non-exploded grenade in his hand. He said, ‘Father, what is this?’ People also found a corpse in one of the destroyed houses.”

Families like Ali’s are now facing a harsh winter with inadequate shelter and little protection against the cold or the Covid-19 pandemic, and Amnesty warned in a report in November that they face further stigmatisation for coming from areas formerly controlled by IS.

IDPs have been denied documentation essential for employment, education and free movement, according to the report, over their own or their relatives’ suspected former allegiances to the self-styled caliphate.

Security forces at civil status directorates routinely harass and intimidate them, the Amnesty report says, leaving camps in which they live the only option for safe shelter, all of which are set to be closed by Mustafa al-Kadhimi’s government by March 2021.

Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty’s Deputy Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa, called on the Iraqi authorities in both Baghdad and the Kurdish-controlled Erbil to address the “continuing collective punishment of IDPs with perceived links to IS” as an integral part of any plan to close camps.

Tarnished with association, those acquitted of affiliation to the group live in fear that Iraq’s state and para-state authorities, include the Iran-backed PMF, could re-arrest them or subject them to torture on their return to their homes.

“In Iraq, nothing is bigger and more dangerous than someone calling you Daeshi [IS member]. One word and you’re gone. I used to have hope for a normal life. But now there are red sniper dots on all of us,” said one former detainee, released due to a lack of evidence by Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish government after three years.

Coupled with the problems facing the Shia youth-led protest movement and the violence Iraqis of all ethno-sectarian backgrounds seem to face from the state and paramilitary forces, the outcome of the June 2021 election is already in doubt.

At the last polls in 2018, a paltry 44.5 percent turnout was recorded. That turnout preceded the 2019 mass demonstrations and this year’s coronavirus pandemic and insecurity. With dwindling belief in Iraqi democracy, some may feel that the only alternative is to violently change a system that does not work for the Iraqi people but serves the interests of powerful religious and foreign-backed elites.

The Iraq Report is a regular feature at The New Arab.

Another Shaking Before the Sixth Seal: Revelation 6:12

Morning earthquake rattles New Jersey and Pennsylvania

By Storm Gifford

New York Daily News

Dec 03, 2020 at 9:29 PM

At least it wasn’t as devastating as 1906.

Although nowhere nearly as destructive as the great San Francisco earthquake that killed thousands of people in the early 20th century, many New Jersey and Pennsylvania residents still experienced plenty of shake, rattle and roll with a minor Thursday morning tremor, reported the U.S. Geological Survey.

The quake, which was measured at a 2.1 magnitude, struck northwestern New Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania around 7 a.m. EDT.

The tremor’s epicenter was in Milford, N.J., located approximately 65 miles west of New York City.

Hunterdon County — where Milford is located — and the eastern Pennsylvania counties of Bucks and Northampton received the brunt of the quake.

A 2.1-magnitude earthquake struck parts of New Jersey and Pennsylvania Thursday morning. (Shutterstock)

No injuries or damage was reported although some reported that the tremor jolted them.

“Shook the whole house!” claimed Shannon Weller Schlinger, whose location is unknown, on Facebook, according to NJ.com.

Another social media user, who was not identified, said the quake was felt in Upper Eddy Township, Pa. — about 35 miles northwest of Trenton.

A third person, Kelly O’Neill, wrote on Facebook, “I thought something hit my house. Definitely scared me.”

On Aug. 17, a 1.7-magnitude tremor rumbled near Milford, noted the Allentown Morning Call. Three weeks later, a small earthquake near East Freehold, N.J., also hit.

The horrific 1906 quake killed more than 3,000 people and made 225,000 people homeless, according to the Geological Survey.

It is also believed to have obliterated 500 San Francisco city blocks, noted National Archives.