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.
Few analysts believe that Moscow intends to invade. But as Russia’s military buildup proceeds, the tension is rising in war-weary Eastern Ukraine.
April 20, 2021Updated 8:13 a.m. ET
Ukrainian soldiers north of Luhansk, in eastern Ukraine, on Friday. Moscow has used the pretext of a separatist conflict to pressure the country after its Westward-looking revolution.Brendan Hoffman for The New York Times
MARIUPOL, Ukraine — There are the booms that echo again, and parents know to tell their children they are only fireworks. There are the drones the separatists started flying behind the lines at night, dropping land mines. There are the fresh trenches the Ukrainians can see their enemy digging, the increase in sniper fire pinning them inside their own.
But perhaps the starkest evidence that the seven-year-old war in Ukraine may be entering a new phase is what Capt. Mykola Levytskyi’s coast guard unit saw cruising in the Azov Sea just outside the port city of Mariupol last week: a flotilla of Russian amphibious assault ships.
Since the start of the war in 2014, Russia has used the pretext of a separatist conflict to pressure Ukraine after its Westward-looking revolution, supplying arms and men to Kremlin-backed rebels in the country’s east while denying that it was a party to the fight.
Ukrainian border guards patrolling the Sea of Azov on Sunday, with a Russian ship visible in the distance.Brendan Hoffman for The New York Times
Buildings in Avdiivka, a frontline industrial town in eastern Ukraine. The residential area is exposed to shelling.Brendan Hoffman for The New York Times
Few Western analysts believe the Kremlin is planning an invasion of eastern Ukraine, given the likely backlash at home and abroad. But with a large-scale Russian troop buildup on land and sea on Ukraine’s doorstep, the view is spreading among officials and wide swathes of the Ukrainian public that Moscow is signaling more bluntly than ever before that it is prepared to openly enter the conflict.
“These ships are, concretely, a threat from the Russian state,” Captain Levytskyi said over the whir of his speedboat’s engines as it plied the Azov Sea, after pointing out a Russian patrol boat stationed six miles offshore. “It is a much more serious threat.”
Many Ukrainian military officials and volunteer fighters say that they still find it unlikely that Russia will openly invade Ukraine, and that they do not see evidence of an imminent offensive among the gathered Russian forces. But they speculate over other possibilities, including Russia’s possible recognition or annexation of the separatist-held territories in eastern Ukraine.
Ukrainians are awaiting President Vladimir V. Putin’s annual state-of-the-nation address to Russia on Wednesday, an affair often rife with geopolitical signaling, for clues about what comes next.
“I feel confused, I feel tension,” Oleksandr Tkachenko, Ukraine’s culture and information policy minister, said in an interview.
Mr. Tkachenko listed some invasion scenarios: a three-pronged Russian attack from north, south and east; an assault from separatist-held territory; and an attempt to capture a Dnieper River water supply for Crimea.
A member of the Right Sector, an ultranationalist Ukrainian militia, at the group’s base on Saturday.Brendan Hoffman for The New York Times
Dmytro Kotsyubaylo, a Right Sector commander. Asked what he expects to happen next, Mr. Kotsyubaylo responded: “full-scale war.”Brendan Hoffman for The New York Times
Russia, for its part, has done little to hide its buildup, insisting that it has been massing troops in response to heightened military activity in the region by NATO and Ukraine.
Ukrainian officials deny any plans to escalate the war, but there is no question that President Volodymyr Zelensky has taken a harder line against Russia in recent months.
Mr. Zelensky has closed pro-Russian television channels and imposed sanctions against Mr. Putin’s closest ally in Ukraine. He has also declared more openly than before his desire to have Ukraine join NATO, a remote possibility that the Kremlin nevertheless regards as a dire threat to Russia’s security.
Interviews with frontline units across a 150-mile swath of eastern Ukraine in recent days underscored the fast-rising tensions in Europe’s only active armed conflict. Officials and volunteers acknowledge apprehension over Russia’s troop movements, and civilians feel numb and hopeless after seven years of war. At least 28 Ukrainian soldiers have been killed in fighting this year, the military says.
“We live in sadness,” said Anna Dikareva, a 48-year-old postal service worker in the frontline industrial town of Avdiivka, where people scarcely flinch when shells explode in the distance. “I don’t want war, but we won’t solve this in a peaceful way, either.”
For much of last year, a cease-fire held.
Mr. Zelensky, a television comedian elected in 2019 on a promise to end the war, negotiated with the Kremlin for step-by-step compromises to ease the hardships of frontline residents and look for ways out of a conflict that has killed more than 13,000 people. But Russia’s insistence on policies that would essentially give it a say in eastern Ukraine’s future was unacceptable to Kyiv.
“The hope that Zelensky had to solve this issue, it didn’t happen,” said Mr. Tkachenko, the information minister and a longtime associate of the president.
Instead, the fighting has picked up again.
A Ukrainian soldier, nicknamed “the professor,” returning from a frontline position near Avdiivka on Saturday.Brendan Hoffman for The New York Times
Wounded Ukrainian soldiers at a military hospital in Severodonetsk, a city in the Luhansk region.Brendan Hoffman for The New York Times
The Ukrainians’ labyrinths of trenches and fortifications along the roughly 250-mile front is by now so well established that in one tunnel near Avdiivka, the soldiers put up multicolored Christmas lights to spruce up the darkness. The town lies just a few miles north of the city of Donetsk, the separatists’ main stronghold.
At their hillside battle position, overlooking a separatist position in a T-shaped growth of trees, the soldiers described the sound of separatist drones that they said carried land mines dropped about a mile behind the line. Since December and January, they said, sniper fire from the other side increased, and they could see the separatists digging new trenches.
The lettering above the skull on their shoulder patches read: “Ukraine or death.”
“The enemy has activated lately,” said one 58-year-old soldier, nicknamed “the professor,” who said he would not give his full name for security reasons.
In Avdiivka, a volunteer unit of Ukraine’s ultranationalist Right Sector keeps a pet wolf in a cage outside the commander’s office. The commander, Dmytro Kotsyubaylo — his nom de guerre is Da Vinci — jokes that the fighters feed it the bones of Russian-speaking children, a reference to Russian state media tropes about the evils of Ukrainian nationalists.
Residents in Mariupol and other areas said that they were so exhausted from the war that they did not even want to consider the possibility that the fighting would flare up again.Brendan Hoffman for The New York Times
Students at a military school in Kreminna, in eastern Ukraine, on Friday.Brendan Hoffman for The New York Times
Both sides have accused each other of increasing numbers of cease-fire violations, but Mr. Kotsyubaylo said that — to his regret — his fighters were allowed to fire only in response to attacks from the separatist side.
On the video screen above his desk, Mr. Kotsyubaylo showed high-definition drone footage depicting the quotidian violence taking place just 400 miles from the European Union’s borders. In one sequence, two of his unit’s mortar rounds explode around separatist trenches; a naked man emerges, sprinting. In another, an explosion is seen at what he said was a separatist sniper position; the clearing smoke reveals a body coated with yellow dust.
Asked what he expects to happen next, Mr. Kotsyubaylo responded: “full-scale war.”
Mr. Kotsyubaylo said he believed Russia’s troop movements north and south of separatist-held territory were a ruse meant to draw Ukrainian forces away from the front line. He said he expected Russia instead to launch an offensive using its separatist proxies in the self-declared Donetsk and Luhansk “people’s republics,” allowing Mr. Putin to continue to claim that the war is an internal Ukrainian affair.
“If Russia wanted to do it in secret, they would do it in secret,” Mr. Kotsyubaylo said of the massing troops. “They’re doing everything they can for us to see them, and to show us how cool Putin is.”
Under the peace plan negotiated in Minsk, Belarus, in 2015, both sides’ heavy weaponry is required to be positioned well behind the front line.
Ukrainian tanks and other heavy weaponry at a railway depot on Monday.Brendan Hoffman for The New York Times
Under the peace plan negotiated in Minsk, Belarus, in 2015, both sides’ heavy weaponry is required to be positioned well behind the front line.Brendan Hoffman for The New York Times
Ukraine’s artillery is now stationed in places like a Soviet-era tractor yard in an out-of-the-way village reached by treacherous dirt roads an hour’s drive from Mariupol. Col. Andrii Shubin, the base commander, said he was ready to send his artillery guns and his American-provided weapon-locating radar trucks to the front as soon as the order came.
Ukrainian officials say that they are not repositioning troops in response to the Russian buildup, and that any current troop movements are normal rotations.
On Monday, dozens of tanks and armored vehicles could be seen on the move in the southwest of the government-controlled area of eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk region. Soldiers relaxed on cots at a village train station under graffiti that used an obscenity to refer to Mr. Putin.
Around the region, from Mariupol’s fashionable waterfront to the shrapnel-scarred streets of Avdiivka, many residents said that they were so exhausted from the war that they did not even want to consider the possibility that the fighting would flare up again.
Lena Pisarenko, a 45-year-old Russian teacher in Avdiivka, said she had never stopped keeping an emergency supply of water on hand in pots and bottles all over her apartment and her balcony. During the shelling at the height of the war, she created a ritual to keep her children calm: They would play board games and drink tea while three candles burn down three times. Then it was time for bed.
Another woman passing by, Olga Volvach, 41, said she was paying little mind to the recent escalation in shelling.
“Our balcony door isolates sound well,” she said.
The Mariupol waterfront, in southeastern Ukraine, on Sunday.Brendan Hoffman for The New York Times
Maria Varenikova contributed reporting from Mariupol, Ukraine.
Its missile arsenal was designed to be an asymmetric kind of threat because Iran has a weak conventional army and weak air force.
Iran’s massive missile arsenal is growing and combined with its drones and cruise missiles makes for a destabilizing force multiplier, the International Institute for Strategic Studies said Tuesday in a report.
“Iran’s ballistic-missile systems, supplemented by cruise missiles and UAVs, are intended not only for deterrence, but for battle, including by Iran’s regional partners,” it said. “In a new report, the IISS provides a detailed assessment of Iran’s missiles, and the manner and purposes for which it has been proliferating them.”
The IISS was founded in 1958 and is a world-leading authority on global security.
“Nuclear issues are the exclusive focus of the negotiations on the restoration of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (Iran nuclear deal with world powers), which have taken place in Vienna,” the report said.
However, while Western powers are focusing on the nuclear-enrichment issue now, there is also interest in “follow-on” talks about Iran’s missile program. It is not clear if Iran is interested, since it has bragged in the past about its growing collection of missiles, their precision and ranges, and it has said they are not up for negotiation.
Iran is a world leader in ballistic missiles, alongside Russia, China and North Korea, from whom it has received know-how and collaboration.
Iran’s missile arsenal was designed as an asymmetric threat because it has a relatively weak conventional army and weak air force.
Iran has exported shorter-range missiles to its proxies in the region. Iranian 107-mm. rockets have been sent to proxies in Iraq to be fired at US troops, and they have been seized in the past en route to Hezbollah.
Iran sent ballistic missiles to its proxies in Iraq in 2018 and 2019, according to reports. It has moved missiles and kamikaze drones and technology to Yemen’s Houthi rebels. They have used these to strike deep into Saudi Arabia at ranges of almost 1,000 km.
Iran used cruise missiles and drones to attack Abqaiq, Saudi Arabia, in September 2019. It used its Fateh-110 missiles to strike Kurds in Koya in 2018. Last year, it used its Qiam ballistic missiles to attack US forces at Ain al-Asad airbase in Iraq after the US killed Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force head Qasem Soleimani.
“To inform the public policy debate on the latter matters, the IISS has produced a fact-rich technical assessment of Iran’s current missile and uninhabited aerial vehicle (UAV) capabilities and its proliferation of these technologies to Iran’s regional partners,” the report said, adding that it has drawn exclusively from open sources to document some 20 types of missiles. “For now, all of Iran’s ballistic missiles apparently adhere to a self-imposed range limit of 2,000 km. Iran’s priority is to improve precision, notable in several missile systems.”
The report also looks at Iran’s “missile doctrine.” This is important to understand Iran’s long-term plans to threaten the region with its array of missiles.
Iran now focuses on “improved precision to be able to deny potential foes their military objectives,” the report said. “Iran’s missile proliferation efforts have profoundly destabilizing consequences for the region because they serve as powerful force multipliers for unaccountable non-state actors, the IISS report concludes.”
The IISS warns that Iran has supplied these systems to others.
This “demonstrate[s] a greater willingness to take risks, as well as a more offensive outlook for Iran’s missile program in general,” it said.
The report looks at Iran’s drones in conjunction with the missile threat.
“Iran is expanding its capacity to strike across the region through the continuing development and introduction of armed UAVs and cruise missiles,” the report said. “For example, in September 2019, the 700-km.-range 351/Quds-1 missile was used to strike the Saudi Aramco Khurais oilfield facility; the attack was claimed by Yemeni Houthi rebels but likely planned and executed by Iran.
“Iran uses four complementary strategies to provide its non-state actor allies with UAVs, artillery rockets and ballistic missiles: direct transfers, upgrades to existing missiles and rockets, the transfer of production capabilities, and provision via third parties.”
IISS claims that “the advances made over the past decade on the Shahab-3, Ghadr-1 and Safir programs suggest that Iran has developed and applied a rigorous engineering-management process to organize its efforts and created the industrial infrastructure to support liquid-fuel missile production.”
This should be a wake-up call for the region and countries that are negotiating with Iran, because the missile and UAV threat will only grow in the coming years.
By Rachel Marsden 8 hrs ago 0
PARIS — China signed a 25-year, $400 billion cooperation agreement with Iran late last month that could result in Chinese bases in the Middle East and increase Beijing’s global economic hegemony. All because the Washington establishment couldn’t bring itself to stop drinking its own anti-Iran Kool-Aid.
There are few special-interest causes in Washington as persistent as the anti-Iran lobby. Journalists are regularly bombarded with rhetorically loaded press releases, statements and op-eds from think tanks and former establishment fixtures about the so-called dangers of even engaging with the Iranian “regime” — which would simply be labeled a “government” if these insiders weren’t so hell-bent on marginalizing Tehran because perhaps one day it could have nukes. Meanwhile, these same anti-Iran critics — better known as neoconservatives, whose identity is rooted in 1960s leftist interventionism, which has now infected both sides of the political aisle — don’t seem to mind that Iran is surrounded by foes that are already well-equipped in that regard. Israel has nuclear weapons, and it’s widely assumed that Saudi Arabia does, too. Ty processed l ml Look, if the Iranians ever did manage to develop a nuclear weapon, it’s not like Iran could ever use it without being turned into a parking lot by the U.S. and Israel. Why does everyone in Washington assume that Iran is that suicidal?
Why doesn’t China care about Iran’s nuclear potential as much as the U.S. does? Some might answer that China isn’t a target of Iran’s ire, while America is. But why is the U.S. so much more fearful of Iran when it’s on the opposite side of the planet, whereas China, which is almost next door, not only shrugs it off but considers Iran a potential military partner? Iran could have become a strategic partner of the U.S. after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Most of the terrorists responsible for those attacks were from Saudi Arabia, which is Iran’s sworn enemy. Instead, the U.S. buddied up to the nation from which most of the terrorists hailed, invaded Afghanistan and overstayed its welcome so long that Iran started to think that it was turning into a foreign occupation. China doesn’t have the same complicated history of Middle East military adventurism, which the U.S. has long used as a lever to pry open the door to the ultimate goal of expanding its economic footprint. Not only will China benefit from doing business with a resource-rich nation with an educated population whose literacy rate has exploded in recent years, but it will create a new foothold for China — not just economically but militarily. Have U.S. leaders considered the full implications of this? China and Russia, whose space agencies are linked to their militaries, announced plans last month to build a joint base on the moon. What makes anyone think they won’t cooperate with Iran to counter the many U.S. bases in the Middle East? Normalizing relations with Iran in light of the existential threat of Chinese economic dominance was one of the few praise-worthy accomplishments of former President Barack Obama’s administration. Then, Donald Trump canceled Obama’s Iran policy when Trump bought into the neocon propaganda himself. It’s inexcusable that establishment Washington is still giving in to the warped mindset of neocons, to the detriment of much more critical American interests.
By Wei Dongxu
A screengrab of US Strategic Command’s Twitter post
US Strategic Command issued a posture statement preview on Tuesday, saying “The spectrum of conflict today is neither linear nor predictable. We must account for the possibility of conflict leading to conditions which could very rapidly drive an adversary to consider nuclear use as their least bad option.” This is not only a warning signal meant for US policymakers, but also a tactic to try to trap its “adversaries,” such as China and Russia, into a nuclear arms race.
This posture statement preview is mainly aimed at Russia because it has updated its nuclear weapons with brand new nuclear strike approaches. For instance, the Petrel, a nuclear-powered, nuclear-armed cruise missile, is claimed to have virtually unlimited range. And Poseidon, a massive nuclear torpedo, can reportedly carry a nuclear warhead with a yield of up to 100 megatons to most parts of the world while remaining extremely deep beneath the surface.
As the US does not possess weapons with such capabilities, it is anxious.
The preview sends two messages. The US hopes to promote its defense capabilities to counter Russia’s new weapons as well as boosting its own innovation in nuclear weapon development. Meanwhile, it shows that the US attaches great significance to its own nuclear power, and it will keep investing in and upgrading its nuclear arsenal. This is a warning toward the outside would.
As a matter of fact, the possibility of an outbreak of direct nuclear conflict between the US and Russia is very low, as both countries have a considerable number of powerful nuclear weapons. If there is a nuclear clash, it will be catastrophic for both countries. Therefore, the US will definitely not make a nuclear threat against a major nuclear power. It might only aim at small- and medium-sized regional military powers. The US will probably use tactical nuclear weapons rather than weapons of mass destruction.
However, the Pentagon, including US Strategic Command, is exaggerating the possibility of a nuclear war with its rivals. They are hyping that such a nuclear war is just around the corner to get more funds to build up the US’ nuclear arsenal and develop new weapons.
Nevertheless, ties between the US and Russia do confront challenges, and the biggest stems from the breakdown in military communication. Washington has withdrawn from agreements such as the Treaty on Open Skies and the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. That being said, there is basically no military communication mechanism between Washington and Moscow. As the hostility and suspicion toward each other spirals up, some senior officials from the Pentagon consider Russia to be increasingly dangerous. In their opinion, some of Moscow’s innovations regarding nuclear weapons are directed against Washington, and the weapons may even be used against the US at any time.
So this preview is made based on mistrust and suspicion toward Russia. Such sentiment could lead to a nuclear arms race.
Besides, the US Strategic Command has also been hyping up the possibility of a nuclear war with China. In February, head of the command Charles Richard warned that “there is a real possibility that a regional crisis with Russia or China could escalate quickly to a conflict involving nuclear weapons.” As China develops its conventional military power and Moscow restores its, Washington’s conventional forces are losing their overwhelming advantage compared with the other two.
Out of fear that the US could be defeated in a future large-scale conventional war, the country is turning to focus more on nuclear options. This reflects the US’ lack of confidence in its conventional military forces.
The US does want to provoke a nuclear arms race. The cost of a full-scale nuclear upgrade is astronomical. If more advanced nuclear weapons are produced, maintenance and security costs are also high. The US has enough budget, plus it enjoys its dollar hegemony and can print money at any time when needed, so it hopes to provoke the race and draw China and Russia in. Such a race will consume a large proportion of their military spending, and might even undermine their economic strength.
However, China and Russia are not buying it. Taking China as an example, its nuclear weapons are designed for defense. It is not interested in competing with the US in terms of quantity or performance of the nuclear weapons. This US strategy once wore down the Soviet Union during the Cold War. China will not be fooled by the same trick.
The author is a Beijing-based military analyst. firstname.lastname@example.org
Al Bawaba NewsApril 19, 2021
Iraq’s Muqtada al-Sadr. Photo Credit: Tasnim News Agency.
Informed Iraqi sources said that the Sadrist movement has begun to prepare for the upcoming Iraqi elections and that it will present itself to the US as a “moderate” movement and the best option in the Iraqi Shia community.
The sources told The Arab Weekly that the Shia political spectrum is now divided between the pro-Iranian Popular Mobilisation Forces, accused by the US of responsibility for attacks targeting its forces in Iraq; the Dawa Party, which is internally splintered and the remnants of smaller formations, such as the Al-Hikma groups.
In this context, the Sadrist movement finds itself to be the strongest and most influential political faction, despite the fact that many forces within the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) were originally offshoots of the Sadrist movement.
An Iraqi source familiar with the movement’s internal discussions said, “The time for propaganda against American occupation is gone after the Sadrist movement had a taste of power. It has benefited from the quota system through the appointment of cabinet members in various positions and subsequently gained a level of influence within Iraqi state institutions that is similar to that wielded by the Dawa Party.”
He added that, “The leader of the movement, Muqtada al-Sadr, realises that the options of the United States are limited. There is no way to deal with the PMF, which is almost completely under the thumb of the Iranian Quds Force, nor with the Dawa Party, whose fortunes are eroding and which stands accused by many of its followers of corruption, nor with the smaller Shia groups that enjoy more popularity in the media than among political activists. The Sadrist movement has become the ‘moderate tendency’ despite all that happened during the past few years.”
On Monday, Iraqi President Barham Salih signed a decree to hold early elections on October 10.
Despite the endeavours of Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi to co-opt a large segment of the Shia electorate within the civil state, the Sadrist movement is betting on its popularity among the poor in major popular neighbourhoods of Baghdad, in addition to segments of the population in the central Euphrates and southern Iraq regions that are dissatisfied with the government.
Kadhimi has yet to flesh out his personal political plan even though time is running out for him.
It is unclear whether he will enter the election race as a separate political movement or whether Iran will allow him to operate politically outside the Shia grouping that is loyal to Tehran. This is especially so because the Iranians consider him to be close to Washington and to the West and hold him responsible for opening the door for the return to Iraq of the pan-Arabist policies.
The Kadhimi government has vowed to ensure “a fair voting election process under international supervision, far from the influence of arms,” but it would be difficult for the PMF militias to leave the scene without putting up a struggle.
The position of the Sadrist movement in relation to the political system in Iraq has evolved from attacking it for lack of legitimacy, when not prohibiting it altogether, to infiltrating Iraqi state institutions, the army and security services and exerting partial control over the powers of the prime minister.
The United States does not seem totally opposed to the option of backing to Sadr, as long as he is able to curtail the domination of the Popular Mobilisation Forces over the state, or confront Kadhimi’s reluctance to thwart the PMF’s daily challenge to the authorities in line with the Iranian policy of targeting US forces in Iraq with “light” strikes that do not provoke President Joe Biden’s administration and push it to a tough response against Iran or its militias.
Sadr often tries to suggest that he is outside the Iranian orbit in Iraq and that he deals with Tehran as an equal.
He stresses also that his late father, Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr, saw himself as an Arab standing up to Iran’s hegemony over the supreme Shia authority of Iraq and whoever assumed it.
With the elections approaching, Nuri al-Maliki, who heads the State of Law coalition, is seeking to flirt with Sadr and bring him into the fold of Iran’s allies, minimising his differences with the populist leader.
Maliki said, “my hand is extended to whomever wants to reconcile with me, and I do not want disputes, and I do not want the continuation of the dispute, neither with Muqtada al-Sadr nor with anyone else,” denying “the existence of mediation for reconciliation with Sayyid Muqtada al-Sadr.”
Iraqi observers believe that Sadr may achieve good results in the upcoming elections by billing himself a “moderate” and keeping his distance from Iran. But he will nevertheless remain part of the “Tehran system” which controls the Iraqi scene and uses it regionally for its own purposes.
Iraqi political analyst and writer Mustafa Kamel, believes, “Sadr is Iran’s most dangerous agent in Iraq (…) and the role assigned to him is limited to reshuffling cards and providing a lifeline to the political system, and this is the secret of his fluctuating positions and wavering between right and left.”
Talking to The Arab Weekly, Kamel added that Sadr might win the elections “not because he enjoys support among the Iraqis, as he is widely rejected by them, but because overt and covert bargaining, influence-peddling and foreign interferences might push him to the fore”.
He pointed out that, during the past few years, Arab efforts have been devoted to polishing Sadr’s image but he has failed to play a national leadership role as he quickly reverted to his usual sectarian and chaotic course.
Wednesday 14th Apr 2021
GAZA will not be broken, ruling party Hamas said today, after Israel launched another wave of air strikes on the Palestinian enclave, the second in a matter of days.
The Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) claimed that it had struck “Hamas terror targets including a training facility, an anti-aircraft missile launcher post, a concrete production plant and terror tunnel infrastructure.”
It alleged the attack was responding to a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip, although did not state who launched it.
Israel holds Hamas, which is the ruling party in Gaza, responsible for all rockets launched from its territory.
Tel Aviv often claims to have struck military targets, however most of its missiles are reported to have struck civilian infrastructure and agricultural land.
No casualties were reported as a result of either Thursday’s or Saturday’s air strikes, which took place in the first week of the holy month of Ramadan.
“Gaza still fights and doesn’t break,” a Hamas spokesman said after the latest attack.
Gaza is home to two million people and has been subjected to a siege, with Israel having imposed a blockade of its land and sea borders in 2007 when Hamas was first elected.