Quakeland: New York and the Sixth Seal

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.

Babylon the Great Prepares for War Against Iran

US sends dozens of armoured vehicles to Iraq ahead of Soleimani death anniversary

Provision comes amid frequent rocket attacks targeting Green Zone which is home to US embassy and other foreign diplomatic missions

The United States announced on Wednesday that it sent Iraq’s army 30 armoured vehicles to secure Baghdad’s Green Zone, ahead of the anniversary of the killing of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani and Iraqi leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis.

“The United States is committed to helping the Iraqi military maintain the security of Iraq and Baghdad,” the US embassy in Baghdad said in a Facebook post.

“This contribution is one part of a larger plan by the U.S. Military’s Office of Security Cooperation – Iraq to support the [Special Command Division] SCD in securing the heart of Baghdad.”

The US embassy said the vehicles would be sent to the Ain al-Asad air base, where they would be used and operated by Iraqi military personnel.

“We will continue working together to guarantee a stable and secure future for the Iraqi people,” the statement added.

In the weeks leading up to the anniversary of Soleimani’s assassination, several rockets have been fired at Baghdad’s Green Zone, where the US embassy lies, although they have not caused any casualties.

EXCLUSIVE: Asaib Ahl al-Haq defying Iran to attack US in Iraq

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US President Donald Trump, who has announced plans to cut the number of troops in Iraq to 2,500 from early next year, has said he would “hold Iran responsible” if any Americans were killed in rocket attacks.

Iran, for its part, has denied any role in the incidents, and has called the US accusation “repetitive, baseless and fabricated”.

In October, Iran issued orders to its armed allies in Iraq not to attack US targets, fearing the reactions of the outgoing Trump who seeks to obstruct Iranian efforts to negotiate with his successor, President-elect Joe Biden, to return to the 2015 nuclear agreement.

Middle East Eye reported earlier this month that Asaib Ahl al-Haq, one of the most influential Iraqi armed factions backed by Iran, was rebelling against Tehran’s orders and continuing to target US interests.

Tehran and Washington have faced heightened tensions since the election of Trump in 2016, with the two sides nearly reaching the brink of war in the immediate aftermath of the US killing of Soleimani.

In recent weeks, the US has been ramping up pressure on Iran through its “maximum pressure” campaign of sanctions, in an attempt to derail Biden’s efforts to return to the nuclear deal.

Iran has also blamed the US and Israel for the killing of Iran’s top nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, and said it was an attempt to push the Islamic Republic into a war with Washington before Trump leaves office.

Preparing for the Iranian attack

Bracing for a possible Iranian-linked attack, U.S. officials warn ‘the threat streams are very real’

Dan Lamothe

The U.S. military is bracing for a possible attack on American personnel and interests in Iraq, U.S. defense officials said, days before the first anniversary of an American drone strike that killed an Iranian general in Baghdad.

The officials spoke as two B-52 bombers carried out a round-trip, 30-hour mission from Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota to the Middle East ending on Wednesday, in an effort to show American presence and military might in the region to deter Iran. The Air Force conducted similar missions twice before in the last 45 days.

“The United States continues to deploy combat-ready capabilities into the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility to deter any potential adversary, and make clear that we are ready and able to respond to any aggression directed at Americans or our interests,” said Gen. Kenneth “Frank” McKenzie, chief of U.S. Central Command. “We do not seek conflict, but no one should underestimate our ability to defend our forces or to act decisively in response to any attack.”

The latest bomber deployment, disclosed after the aircraft left the Middle East, was carried out as supporters of the Iranian regime continue to mourn Qasem Soleimani, the influential leader of Iran’s Quds Force, the elite special operations wing of the Revolutionary Guard Corps. He was killed Jan. 3 in a drone strike along with Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the leader of Kataib Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed militia that U.S. officials have said was responsible for numerous attacks on U.S. facilities in Iraq.

President Trump approved the operation amid escalating violence in the region, eliminating a longtime nemesis, Soleimani, who had coordinated attacks against U.S. troops and interests for years, according to U.S. officials and reports. Iran, expressing outrage, responded five days later by launching a ballistic missile attack that injured more than 100 U.S. troops and damaged several facilities.

When no Americans were killed in that attack, senior U.S. and Iranian officials both seemed to temporarily take pause.

But tensions have escalated again in recent weeks, as Washington prepares for a presidential transition following President-elect Joe Biden’s victory over Trump.

On Nov. 17, rockets were launched at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. Another armed group in Iraq, Ashab al-Kahf, said it was responsible.

On Nov. 27, a senior official in Iran’s nuclear program, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, was assassinated near Tehran. U.S. officials denied any knowledge of the attack, and Iran blamed it on Israel. But given the close relationship between Israel and the United States, U.S. officials have assumed that Iran also might hold the United States responsible.

One senior U.S. defense official said leaders of Iranian-backed militias in Iraq have met with Quds Force leaders and that a “fair amount of advanced conventional weaponry” has flowed over the border from Iran into Iraq. He declined to say how the United States observed those developments, citing the classified means by which he said the intelligence was collected.

“I would tell you that the threat streams are very real,” the senior official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. He characterized the situation as the “most concerning that I have seen” since Soleimani’s killing, and said there is concern of a complex attack.

The United States has reduced the number of staff at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and warned of consequences if any Americans are killed. Iraqi officials, meanwhile, have expressed concerns about a possible confrontation between the United States and Iran on Iraqi soil in the closing days of the Trump administration.

On Dec. 20, more than 20 rockets were launched at the diplomatic compound housing the embassy. At least one Iraqi civilian living nearby was killed, and vehicles and buildings on the American site were damaged, the senior U.S. official said.

The attack followed a frequent pattern in Iraq, with Iran denying involvement as U.S. officials assessed that the rockets were launched by militias coordinating with Iran. Trump responded by tweeting a warning.

“Our embassy in Baghdad got hit Sunday by several rockets. Three rockets failed to launch,” Trump wrote. “Guess where they were from: IRAN. Now we hear chatter of additional attacks against Americans in Iraq. Some friendly health advice to Iran: If one American is killed, I will hold Iran responsible. Think it over.”

Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, responded with a tweet of his own, writing that Trump had “recklessly” accused Iran of the rocket attack.

“Trump will bear full responsibility for any adventurism on his way out,” Zarif wrote.

The cycle of deployments to the Middle East in response to worries about Iran has prompted concerns about how the Defense Department uses its resources.

In an opinion piece, Kathryn Wheelbarger, a former defense official in the Trump administration, and Dustin Walker, a former Republican staff member for the Senate Armed Services Committee, wrote in the Wall Street Journal this month that U.S. commanders have long sounded a refrain for more forces in response to Iran.

“This is business as usual, and it must stop,” they wrote, citing recent deployments of B-52s and the extension of the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz in the region. “Sending the most advanced and expensive U.S. conventional forces to the Middle East in response to every potential provocation isn’t an effective or sustainable way to deter Iran’s bad behavior. Continuing this approach wastes taxpayer dollars, drains military readiness, and deprives the U.S. of ready forces needed to compete with and deter China and Russia.”

Biden has called Trump’s policy toward Iran — including withdrawal from an international deal to limit the country’s nuclear program, the imposition of economic sanctions and his bellicose rhetoric — “a dangerous failure.” Biden said that there’s a “smart way to be tough on Iran” and that he will rejoin the nuclear deal if Iran adheres to its terms.

“If Iran chooses confrontation, I am prepared to defend our vital interests and our troops,” Biden said in an essay published by CNN in September. But, I am ready to walk the path of diplomacy if Iran takes steps to show it is ready too.”

Armed Palestinian Groups in Gaza Hold Joint Exercise

Armed Palestinian Groups in Gaza Hold Joint Exercise

Rockets are fired during a military drill by Hamas and other armed Palestinian factions in Gaza City, Dec. 29, 2020. (Mahmud Hams/ AFP via Getty Images)

The Media Line Staff


Twelve armed Palestinian groups in the Gaza Strip are holding a joint military exercise on Tuesday. Among the participants are forces representing Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and Fatah. Israel’s KAN news outlet reported that the exercise was a show of unity aimed at deterring what the groups call “Israeli aggression,” and was being held at the behest of Iran. The drill included the launching of rockets toward the Mediterranean Sea and drones in Gaza’s airspace. “The occupation leadership must realize that the mere thought of an adventure against our people will be faced with full force and unity, and it will carry many surprises, God willing,” said Islamic Jihad spokesman Abu Hamzah in a speech at the opening of the exercise. He added that the Palestinian leadership in Gaza “will not allow the Zionist enemy to impose rules of engagement that it does not consent to,” and denounced “shame agreements and failed normalization ceremonies” – a reference to Israel’s growing and increasingly public ties with a number of Arab countries.

Gaza militants fire rockets outside the Temple Walls: Revelation 11

Gaza militants fire rockets out to sea in military drill

By ASSOCIATED PRESS Published: December 29, 2020

Palestinian militants watch a rocket fired during a military drill organized by military factions outside Gaza City, Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2020. Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip fired a salvo of rockets into the Mediterranean Sea on Tuesday as part of a self-styled military drill aimed at preparing for a possible war with Israel.


GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip fired a salvo of rockets into the Mediterranean Sea on Tuesday as part of a self-styled military drill aimed at preparing for a possible war with Israel.

The Islamic militant group Hamas has ruled Gaza since seizing power from rival Palestinian forces in 2007. It has fought three wars and numerous smaller skirmishes with Israel since then. A fragile, informal truce has mostly held in recent years, with only occasional exchanges of fire.

Authorities in Gaza restricted movement along the main coastal road and barred fishing for the duration of the exercises, which were to continue for a period of 24 hours and included the use of aerial drones.

The drill was held by the Joint Command Room, which brings together a dozen militant factions but is dominated by Hamas.

A masked spokesman for the militants said the “defensive maneuvers” also demonstrated their rejection of the “agreements of shame,” referring to the recent U.S.-brokered normalization accords between Israel and a number of Arab states.

The Palestinians view the agreements as a betrayal of their cause because the Arab countries recognized Israel without securing concessions in the long-moribund peace process. Hamas is a sworn enemy of Israel that has rejected past attempts at a negotiated solution to the conflict.

Israel and Egypt have maintained a crippling blockade on Gaza since Hamas seized power, which Israel says is necessary to keep the militants from building up their arsenal. Critics of the blockade view it as collective punishment of the territory’s 2 million Palestinian residents.

Biden To Weaken the American Nuclear Horn

Biden eyes cuts to Trump nuclear program as critical arms control deadline with Russia looms

Tuesday, December 29th 2020, 9:32 AM EST

Updated: Tuesday, December 29th 2020, 1:47 PM EST

By Vivian Salama, CNN

President-elect Joe Biden will explore making cuts to the country’s nuclear modernization program, potentially reversing Trump administration efforts to enhance America’s nuclear arsenal by developing new weapons. Instead, Biden intends to place greater emphasis on arms control, according to two transition officials and an outside adviser to the incoming administration.

Any significant cuts to the program would likely raise concern among hawkish Republicans and potentially some Democrats who believe that expanding America’s nuclear program is critical to US national security, particularly as the clock runs out on a post-Cold War-era nuclear agreement with Moscow, which is set to expire just 16 days after Biden takes office.

Biden intends to revisit the more than $1 trillion nuclear modernization program and explore whether the development of new weaponry warrants the expenditure, the three sources told CNN. Specifically, Biden and his top advisers will be looking at whether to reduce Pentagon spending in the overall nuclear modernization strategy and will look to reverse efforts by the Trump administration to develop a new warhead, the three people said.

The issue is partly budgetary, experts explain, with the nuclear program eating up a chunk of the Pentagon’s budget that might otherwise be allocated to evolving conventional and asymmetric weaponry. Last week, The Wall Street Journal reported that Biden was looking at trimming funding for nuclear weapons.

The nuclear modernization program is viewed as an essential element to US national security, but many experts believe it has grown bloated under President Donald Trump and now requires significant and sustained increases in overall military spending in the coming decades. Instead, the Biden team hopes to renew nuclear talks with Russia and other world powers in an effort to promote arms control, the official said.

While Biden works to appoint an arms control czar who would need to go through the tedious confirmation process, he is likely to green light a swift, short-term extension to the arms agreement with Moscow, known as New START, then approach Moscow for more substantive talks, one of the people said.

The person described it as “an important issue” to the President-Elect, a longtime nonproliferation advocate who wrote in a March 2020 essay that he would pursue the New START treaty and “use that as a foundation for new arms control arrangements.”

A broad overhaul of the country’s nuclear arsenal has been underway for half a decade, beginning under the Obama administration, which aimed to replace the planes, missiles and submarines the US military would use to launch nuclear weapons at enemy targets.

New Intercontinental ballistic missile

When Trump took office, he argued that a concrete strategy promoting the development of new US air, land and sea-based nuclear systems was overdue and he looked to develop a new land-based intercontinental ballistic missile, and new sea-based weapons, including a submarine-launched cruise missile, adding to the strategy’s original price tag. Trump’s first Defense Secretary James Mattis, his former national security adviser HR McMaster and others advocated for the expansion of the program when the Trump administration wrapped up its review of nuclear forces in February 2018.

Under the Trump administration, the US aimed to spend nearly $500 billion, including inflation adjustments, to maintain and replace its nuclear arsenal over the next decade, according to the Congressional Budget Office. This represents an increase of $100 billion, or about 23%, from the projected cost as of the end of the Obama administration. Experts estimate that nuclear modernization, at current spending levels, will soar above $1 trillion over 30 years.

Biden now calls the shots on whether to pursue plans to build the W93 submarine-launched atomic warhead, which the Trump administration has lobbied for since taking office.

“If they don’t get costs under control, they’ll have to make hard decisions about other conventional weapons programs, including Navy ship surface requests,” said Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association. “We advise the incoming administration to pause about three of the programs started under the Trump administration, including the ground-based strategic deterrent program.”

‘Excessive expenditure on nuclear weapons’

Biden said last year in a questionnaire with the Council for a Livable World that he supports America’s right to maintain “a strong, credible deterrent while reducing our reliance and excessive expenditure on nuclear weapons.” He did not say whether he will revoke support for specific projects, only going as far as to say that he does not support the development of new low-yield nuclear weapons being pursued by the Trump administration.

The Obama administration agreed to undertake the modernization program in exchange for Republican ratification of the 2010 New START nuclear arms reduction treaty with Russia — but now, that pact is in serious doubt.

Trump has repeatedly signaled his interest in leaving the three-decade old New START agreement, designed to reduce the risk of war between Russia and the West.

The agreement is set to expire on February 5, 2021.

Efforts by the Trump administration to renegotiate the pact ramped up in the weeks before the election. However, those efforts have since stalled and its fate is now uncertain, largely due to its failed effort to bring China to the negotiating table for trilateral arms talks, a prospect China has repeatedly rejected.

Trump said he’d only agree to an extension if both sides also agree to freeze all warhead stockpiles. Putin said he’d consider freezing all warhead stockpiles, although US officials say they remain skeptical of his sincerity.

This follows a decision by the administration last year to formally withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty — a landmark Cold War-era nuclear treaty with Russia that limited the development of ground-based missiles with a range of 500 to 5,500 kilometers.

Extending the New START treaty

Biden has said that he wants to extend the New START treaty with Russia and use the accord as a foundation to pursue future arms-control arrangements. But transition officials acknowledge that the relationship between Washington and Moscow has grown significantly more complicated since Biden was last in office, and particularly in recent weeks following revelations that Russia-linked hackers comprised US government software.

The treaty allows for a five-year extension, although Biden has not been approached with options on how to proceed and so it remained unclear whether he will pursue a short term extension to buy time for further negotiators, or if his team will finalize a lengthier treaty in the two-and-a-half weeks before the clock runs out, the transition official said.

In October, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned that the world is living “in the shadow of nuclear catastrophe,” fueled by growing distrust and tensions between the nuclear powers. He added that progress on ridding the world of nuclear weapons “has stalled and is at risk of backsliding,” and that strains between countries that possess nuclear weapons “have increased nuclear risks.”

Despite progress in reducing Cold War nuclear arsenals, the world’s combined inventory of nuclear warheads remains at a very high level, although the number is reducing. Approximately 91% of all nuclear warheads belong to either Russia or the US, each of which has around 4,000 warheads in their military stockpiles.

That said, the US, Russia, and the UK are reducing their overall warhead inventories, France and Israel have relatively stable inventories, while China, Pakistan, India, and North Korea are increasing the number of warheads they possess, according to the Federation of American Scientists. This is particularly troubling to the US and other allies who see an uptick in border disputes between China, India and Pakistan.

Experts note that a counterbalance to the potential scaling down of America’s nuclear program by the Biden administration is strengthening conventional military and asymmetric cyber capabilities. That will make efforts to negotiate with Moscow all the more imperative.

Beyond Moscow, Biden will also need to make tough decisions with regard to other countries whose nuclear programs have been viewed as a direct threat to the US and its allies. That includes finding ways to integrate China into future arms control and strategic stability efforts, as well as dealing with North Korea and Iran, and growing border tensions between neighboring nuclear powers India and Pakistan.

“The Biden administration will face extreme budget pressures to tackle issues from the pandemic, to green energy investments, to domestic and social justice priorities that would impact on traditional defense spending,” said Jeff Abramson, director of the Forum on the Arms Trade and a senior fellow at the Arms Control Association. “Within the first days of his administration, it will also be clear if he will take a new approach on arms sales issues.”

Antichrist fears Iraq will be battleground for Iran US conflicts

Op-Ed: Al-Sadr fears Iraq will be battleground for Iran US conflicts

TRT World Now

Thousands of Muqtada al Sadr’s supporters protest in Baghdad

Sadr wants to appear as a neutral nationalist Sadr said: “Iraq and the Iraqis are not a party to the conflict.” Sadr warned that both sides should distance their Iraq ties to US and Iranian mutual conflicts. Since the 2003 invasion and occupation by the US, Iraq has been dominated politically by groups loyal either to Iran or the US. Sadr tweeted: “Iraq has become a victim to the U.S.-Iranian conflict and has been greatly affected as if it is an arena for their conflicts.Therefore, I call on Iran to distance Iraq from its conflict, and I warn the (U.S.) occupier against continuing its conflict … Iraq and the Iraqis are not a party to the conflict”.

Protest movements have pushed the groups towards more autonomy heading into the vote next June. Sadr is trying to look to be more autonomous and more nationalist compared to those supported by Iran or the US. US assassination of Iranian general fueled tensions In early January this year the US assassinated a top Iranian general as reported by the BBC: “Iran’s most powerful military commander, Gen Qasem Soleimani, has been killed by a US air strike in Iraq.The 62-year-old spearheaded Iranian military operations in the Middle East as head of Iran’s elite Quds Force.” This greatly increased the tension between Iran and the US almost starting a war. The drone attack was in Baghdad near the airport. This set the stage for Iraq being the scene for conflict between Iran-supported militia in Iraq and US forces throughout the year.

Only two days after the US attack the Iraqi parliament passed a resolution for the government to end the presence of foreign forces in the country. No action has been taken to do so yet. Sadr’s party not part of protest movement While Sadr’s party has not been part of the protests against the government of which his party is part he still may gain support in his desire for Iraq to have an autonomous foreign policy and not the locus of conflicts between Iran and US.