Earth Matters: Indian Point’s Final Days – Nyack News and Viewsby Barbara PuffIndian Point has been the crown jewel of the nuclear industrialist complex and closing it is a big step to a sustainable energy future. — Susan Shapiro, environmental lawyer.When scientists began exploring nuclear power in the 1950s, pollsters didn’t ask the public their opinion as support was almost unanimous. By the ’60s, there had been a few protests and opposition increased to 25%. So when Indian Point opened on September 16, 1962, it was greeted with enthusiasm, fanfare, and, in hindsight, naivete.Within a few years, increased pollution, loss of wildlife, and accidents at the plant elicited concern. In response, Hudson River Sloop Clearwater and Riverkeeper were formed in 1966. After incidents at Three Mile Island in 1979 and Chernobyl in 1986, public opinion began to turn against the use of nuclear power.In 1984, her first year as a legislator, Harriet Cornell formed the Citizens Commission to Close Indian Plant. A glance at her press releases over the years shows her convictions regarding closing the plant. In a recent speech she noted: “Were it not for the superhuman efforts of concerned individuals and dedicated scientific and environmental organizations focusing attention on the dangers posed by Indian Point, who knows what might have happened during the last 40+ years.”Simultaneously Riverkeeper began documenting incidents, including:1 An antiquated water-cooling system killed over a billion fish and fish larvae annually.2 Pools holding spent nuclear fuel leaked toxic, radioactive water into the ground, soil, and Hudson River.3 Recurring emergency shut-downs.4 27% of the baffle bolts in Unit 2 and 31% in Unit 3, holding the reactor core together, were damaged.5 The plant was vulnerable to terrorist attack.6 Evacuation plans were implausible.7 No solution for spent nuclear fuel, posing the risk of radioactive release and contamination of land.8 The plant was near two seismic zones, suggesting an earthquake over 6.2 could devastate the area.9 Asbestos exposure.These and other issues led the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to rate Indian Point in 2000 as the most trouble-plagued plant in the country. Lamont-Doherty Observatory agreed, calling it the most dangerous plant in the nation.As individuals realized the seriousness of the situation, urgency for a solution grew and Indian Point Safe Energy Coalition was formed in 2001. Comprised of public interest, health advocates, environmental and citizen groups, their goals were to educate the public, pass legislation, and form a grassroots campaign with hundreds of local, state, and federal officials.Clearwater also began monitoring the plant around that time. Manna Jo Greene, Environmental Action Director, recalls, “We were concerned when one of the planes that struck the WTC flew over the plant, including several buildings that hold huge fuel pools, filled with spent fuel rods and radioactive waste.” Had anything happened, the nuclear power industry had provided protection for themselves while neglecting surrounding communities. Powerful lobbyists, backed by considerable financing, induced Congress to pass the Price-Anderson Act in 1957. This legislation protected nuclear power plant companies from full liability in the event of an accident, natural disaster or terrorist attack.With such warnings, it’s hard to believe as late as 2010, The New York Times stated, “No one should be hoping for a too hasty shutdown.” Over time, the cost of litigation by New York State proved more fatal to the continuance of plant operations than protests, though they were a crucial factor and led to initial filings. Attorney General Schneiderman was very active in filing contentions, legal reasons the plant shouldn’t be relicensed, and won several important court cases on high-level radioactive storage.In 2016, The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation denied Entergy a discharge permit for hot water into the Hudson River, part of their once-through cooling system. This permit was necessary for continued operation of the plant and a requirement for relicensing. The New York State Department of State, Bureau of Coastal Management, denied Entergy a water quality certificate the same year, which it also needed to relicense. After more than four decades of danger to the environment and residents, Governor Cuomo announced in January 2017 the plant would finally be closing. Unit 2 would cease production on April 30, 2020 and Unit 3 would end productivity on April 30, 2021.Later that year, in March 2017, the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board allowed Entergy to renew the plant’s licenses until 2021, dismissing final points of contention between the company, New York State, and Riverkeeper. Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino attempted to sue the state and reopen the plant in April 2017 but failed.Ellen Jaffee, NYS Assemblywoman, stated, “After 46 years of operation, I am glad to finally see the closure of Indian Point. Since joining the Assembly, I have long fought for its closure. I would not have been able to pursue these efforts if not for the environmental advocates, like the Riverkeeper, who fought long and hard beside myself to close the plant. The plant’s closure must be conducted in a safe manner, where all radioactive materials will be properly disposed of, without inflicting further harm on our environment. The closure of Indian Point shows that we can reduce our impact on the environment.”Harriet Cornell said, “We have waited years for this to happen and frankly, it can’t happen soon enough. The facts have long shown there is no future for this dangerous plant.”“The closure of Indian Point marks the shutdown of dirty polluting energy,” noted Susan Shapiro.Holtec, the company chosen to oversee decommissioning of the plant, has a horrific track record. New York State Attorney General Tish James released a statement in January expressing multiple grave concerns about them. According to Riverkeeper, they have a scandalous corporate past, little experience in decommissioning, dubious skills in spent fuel management, workplace safety infractions, and health violations. Another fear is the cost will exceed a decommissioning fund set aside by Entergy, Holtec will declare bankruptcy, and the public will absorb the difference.“Entergy made huge profits from Indian Point,” said Manna Jo Greene. “They’ve hired Holtec, a company with a poor record of decommissioning, to complete the work. Entergy plans to declare bankruptcy, thereby having taxpayers foot the bill. We are not out of danger. It is a different danger.”Richard Webster, Legal Program Director at Riverkeeper, adds, “Decommissioning must be done promptly, safely and reliably. Selling to Holtec is the worst possible option, because it has a dubious history of bribes, lies, and risk taking, very limited experience in decommissioning, is proposing to raid the decommissioning fund for its own benefit, and is proposing leaving contaminated groundwater to run into the Hudson River.”State Senator David Carlucci warned, “The NRC Inspector General Report shows there is much to be done by the NRC to gain the confidence of myself and the public, as the commission is charged with overseeing the decommissioning of Indian Point and ensuring the health and safety of Hudson Valley Communities. We demand answers from NRC Chairman Kristine Svinicki. The Chairman needs to come to the Hudson Valley immediately and outline the steps being taken to address our safety and explain how the commission will properly inspect and guard the pipeline near Indian Point moving forward.”One of the gravest dangers in decommissioning is the storage of spent fuel rods. A fuel rod is a long, zirconium tube containing pellets of uranium, a fissionable material which provides fuel for nuclear reactors. Fuel rods are assembled into bundles called fuel assemblies, which are loaded individually into a reactor core. Fuel rods last about six years. When they’re spent and removed they are placed in wet storage, or pools of water, which is circulated to reduce temperature and provide shielding from radiation. They remain in these pools for 10 years, as they are too hot to be placed in dry storage, or canisters. Even in dry storage, though, they remain extremely radioactive, with high levels of plutonium, which is toxic, and continue to generate heat for decades and remain radioactive for 10,000 years.“Elected officials and government groups became involved once they understood the fatal environmental dangers nuclear energy creates for millenium,” said Susan Shapiro. “It is the only energy that produces waste so dangerous that governments must own and dispose of it.”Robert Kennedy, Jr., of Waterkeeper, explained “If those spent fuel rods caught on fire, if the water dropped, the zirconium coatings of the spent fuel rods would combust. You would release 37 times the amount of radiation that was released at Chernobyl. Around Chernobyl there are 100 miles that are permanently uninhabitable. I would include the workplaces, homes of 20 million Americans, including the Financial District. There’s no evacuation plan. And it’s sitting on two of the biggest earthquake faults in the northeast.”On April 24, 2020, Beyond Indian Point Campaign was launched to advocate for a safe transition during decommissioning. Sponsored by AGREE, Frack Action, Riverkeeper, NIRS and Food and Water Watch, they’re demanding Cuomo hire another company, opposing a license transfer before the State Public Service Commission and NRC and pushing state legislation to establish a board to supervise the decommissioning fund. When decommissioning is finished Beyond Indian Point hopes to further assist the community in the transition to renewable energy. These include wind, solar, geothermal, biomass and hydrothermal power. Sign an online petition on their website to support their work, future generations and earth at BeyondIndianPoint.com, Facebook, or Twitter.“Bravo to everyone involved in making this historic day come to pass,” said Susan Shapiro.Raised in the Midwest, Barbara Puff is a writer who lives in Nyack, NY.
In recent years, a number of major world powers have stepped up their military uses of space. While the weaponization of space has long been a touchy subject, it seems that now the gloves are off. So, could space be the next battlefield?
The weaponization of space
The debate over the militarization of space is not new. Think back to World War Two and the V2 rockets that Nazi Germany rained down upon Britain. These weapons were designed and co-developed by the German engineer (and future deputy administrator of NASA) Wernher von Braun, who later became known as the Father of Rocket Science. Once the war was over, the globe’s two superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union, spent huge amounts of money during the Cold War in a bid to deploy military technology in space.
But the race for space weaponization came to a somewhat premature end. In 1967, in the midst of the race to land on the moon, the Soviet Union, the US and the UK signed the Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies, known as the Outer Space Treaty.
That agreement, later ratified by 110 nations, prohibits the installation of nuclear weapons or any other form of weapon of mass destruction in Earth’s orbit, including stockpiling them on the Moon or any other celestial body, or in outer space.
That Treaty was at least partly responsible for keeping Earth’s orbit free from any conflict for more than half a century. Its principles meant that space was accessible to all countries, without any national claim.
Therefore, the use of space by the military was, at least on paper, limited to observation and communication applications. The military satellites launched during the past 50 years were, it was said, only intended to keep the peace.
Space as an instrument of peace
In the early days of the Cold War, both sides launched their own satellites fitted with warning systems destined to detect either the launch of anti-ballistic missiles or nuclear explosions. Much like the Treaty on Open Skies, which until recently allowed mutual aerial monitoring with observation planes, satellites are a way to make sure that arms limitation measures are enforced.
Another notable example of space being used in the balance of power is the GPS Navstar system, initially developed by the United States military to allow the assets of the nuclear deterrent triad (land-based ballistic missiles, submarines, and strategic bombers) to position themselves with precision during a potential launch.
The USSR did not stay on the sidelines and developed its own system called GLONASS. But the fall of the Soviet Union stymied its progress. It was not until 2011 that GLONASS was able to provide coverage of the entire earth’s surface.
However, the sanctity of space has been called into question as seemingly more aggressive technologies have been introduced, including the deployment of new anti-satellite weapons. In recent years, the idea of outer space as the fourth battlefield, after land, sea and air, has gained ground.
In October 2019, after spending 780 days in orbit, the United States Air Force space drone X-37B landed on Earth. The exact purpose of its two-year mission remains a secret. But the characteristics of this spacecraft leave little room for doubt when it comes to its potential. With its ability to go into low orbit and perform orbital maneuvers, the X-37B could very well carry out intrusive missions, such as listening to communications or even intercepting satellites of other nations. But the school bus-sized drone is most likely the tip of the iceberg, a showcase of the United States’ capabilities as a means of so-called space deterrence.
Challenging western dominance
With the International Space Station about to retire, one of the last areas of international space cooperation will come to an end. More than a symbol, it could also mark the beginning of an era when the hegemony of the West over space will be challenged. Russia has already announced that it will launch its own space station. And the competition is unlikely to limit itself to the scientific domain.
Meanwhile, a maneuver supposedly executed by Russia was recently denounced by France. Defense Minister Florence Parly claimed that, in 2017, the Luch satellite, also known as Olymp-K, attempted to spy on the Franco-Italian satellite Athena-Fidus. The latter provides high-speed and secure telecommunications services by satellite to the military forces and emergency services of both nations.
“As Athena-Fidus continued to rotate quietly above the earth, a satellite approached it, up close, a little too close. So close that one would have really believed that it was trying to capture our communications,” Parly said. “Trying to listen to your neighbors is not just unfriendly, this is called an act of espionage.”
At the time, the French Air Force acknowledged having previously identified similar spacecraft approaching French military satellites in 2012, 2013 and 2015.
China, long left out of international space cooperation over fears of espionage, could be the next big military player in Earth’s orbit. In April 2021, the US Office of the Director of National Intelligence published a report in which it warned of several weapons being developed by China capable of targeting the satellites of the US and their allies. “Beijing is working to match or exceed US capabilities in space to gain the military, economic, and prestige benefits that Washington has accrued from space leadership,” the report stated. “Counterspace operations will be integral to potential military campaigns by the PLA [People’s Liberation Army, China’s military – ed. note], and China has counter-space weapons capabilities intended to target US and allied satellites.”
The emergence of new doctrines
In July 2019, a year after the Olymp-K incident was made public, French President Emmanuel Macron announced the creation of a space command within the French Air Force, which would be known as the Air and Space Force. The new doctrine aims to protect France’s space assets against emerging threats.
That decision echoed a similar move across the Atlantic several months earlier. In February 2019, US President Donald Trump signed the Space Policy Directive 4, which established a Space Force as a sixth branch of the US Armed Forces. The directive cited the increasing space capabilities of its “potential adversaries”.
The two space forces launched their first joint space exercise, called AsterX, in March 2020. Among the situations studied was a satellite being approached for espionage. To counter such threats, France could acquire patrol satellites equipped with cameras and powerful lasers to keep overly curious spacecraft at bay. A prototype, called Yoda, should be launched by 2023.
Japan also created its own Space Operations Squadron in 2020. For now, the squadron consists of just 20 people, with a mission limited to ensuring that Japanese satellites are not damaged by space debris or meteorites. However, the Government plans to expand its workforce and operational scope in the coming years.
The creation of so-called Space Forces around the world raises the very real prospect of space becoming a new battlefield as global powers work to preserve their strategic interests. It’s not quite Star Wars but it will only grow as both military and civilian sectors rely increasingly on satellites.
“It’s difficult to convince them that the future is bright,” said education coordinator Asad Ashour.
Bianca Britton is a reporter for NBC News’ Social Newsgathering team based in London.
Mohammed Syed is a reporter for NBC News’ social newsgathering team.
Rima Abdelkader is a senior reporter for Social Newsgathering at NBC News in New York.May 23, 2021, 5:45 AM MDT
The airstrikes may have ended, but the trauma lives on.
As the cease-fire between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamasholds in the short-term, parents like Randa Yousef are afraid about the long-term effects the latest round of violence will have on their children.
Her daughter Kinda, 5, “used to play and laugh” at their home in Gaza City, but now “she cries and screams and calls for me,” Yousef told NBC News by phone last week.
A video she recorded during the fighting shows Kinda crying on her bed, telling her she is afraid they are going to die and their house will be destroyed.
Now even the slightest noise terrifies her and she is worried it could be another Israeli airstrike, Yousef said.
Elsewhere, in Khan Yunis — a city in the south of the long impoverished and blockaded Gaza Strip — Fadi Ali Abushammala said he used painting as a way to distract his sons — named Ali, 11; Karam, 7; and 3-year-old Adam — from the conflict. Now, they draw pictures of dead bodies.
“I asked my kid, ‘What did you paint?’ He says that ’this is a dead man and his son, his kid, is crying,’” Abushammala said Monday.Fadi Ali Abushammala and his three sons Ali, Karam and Adam at their home in the city of Khan Yunis in July 2020, 10 months before the conflict began. Fadi Ali Abushammala
Among the 243 people who died during the conflict, 66 were children, according to the Gaza Ministry of Health.
Those living in the densely populated Gaza Strip were particularly vulnerable to the bone-rattling airstrikes because there are no bomb shelters and there is nowhere for most of its 2 million people to go.
“Everyone talks about the lack of safe places,” Dr. Samah Jabr, head of the mental health unit at the Palestinian Ministry of Health, said Tuesday. “There are no bunkers. People don’t know where to hide.”
While rocket attacks from Hamas are terrifying, Israel has a comprehensive system in place to protect its citizens. All public buildings — such as malls, hospitals, houses of worship and theaters — are required to have bomb shelters, and some children’s playgrounds in the south of the country do, too.
Modern homes and private buildings are also required to have safe rooms, and cities run public shelters that are opened during times of conflict by the Israel Defense Forces’ Home Front Command.
Many of the thousands of rockets fired by Palestinian militants from Gaza were also brought down by Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile system. Israelis are also alerted to incoming munitions by sirens and app notifications. Schools send videos on how to talk to kids and explain what is happening to try to relax them.
The Israeli military said that while it pursued its aggressive military campaign, it tried to “minimize civilian casualties.”A Palestinian child stands amidst the rubble of buildings, destroyed by Israeli strikes, in Beit Hanun in the northern Gaza Strip on Saturday. Emmanuel Dunand / AFP – Getty Images
Nonetheless, Israeli psychologist Mooli Lahad, who has 40 years’ experience working on both sides of the border and around the world, said,“You have a whole generation of kids who don’t know anything but living under these sporadic and sometimes intensive bombardments.”
“We are witnessing a level of trauma and destruction that is beyond belief,” added UNICEF’s special representative to the state of Palestine, Lucia Elmi. “It’s something that we’re going to continue to see for generations to come.”
Before this wave of violence, the United Nations Children’s Fund reported that 1 in 3 children in Gaza required mental health and psychosocial support. Now, it fears the number has increased, Elmi said.
Eleven children were already receiving care for trauma as part of the Norwegian Refugee Council’s psychosocial intervention program,the independent humanitarian organization said Tuesday.
The NRC’s education coordinator in Gaza, Asad Ashour, said the escalation in violence had exacerbated the symptoms the organization was already trying to treat.
“It’s difficult to convince them that the future is bright,” he said last week.
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Both Ashour and Lahad said children on both sides of the border suffer with poor concentration, nightmares, shifts in personality, agitation and the constant fear death could be imminent for them or their friends and family.
“When you go to a park, you enjoy it. You don’t always think, ‘A missile might fall on my head,’ but for them, it’s always partially on their mind to be on guard. It’s exhausting to the system,” Lahad said.
As a result, he said he found children in Israel and Gaza “regress” by avoiding school and visiting friends, and they are less likely to try new things.
“It takes some time to realize that a sudden noise does not mean a threat,” Lahad said.
President Joe Biden said Friday there has been no shift in his commitment to Israel’s security, but insisted a two-state solution that includes a state for Palestinians remains “the only answer” to the conflict.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who has been in close touch with regional leaders, also plans to travel to the region to meet with Israeli, Palestinian, and other counterparts in the coming days to discuss “recovery efforts and working together to build better futures for Israelis and Palestinians,” Ned Price, a State Department spokesperson also said Friday.
But the unpredictability of the region and the constant threat to safety, has led Jabr of the Palestinian Ministry of Health to believe the trauma experienced by Palestinians cannot be defined as post-traumatic stress disorder.
“PTSD best describes the experience of soldiers who go back to the safety of the home and they disconnect completely from the traumatic experience,” she said.
“For Palestinians, traumatic threats are repetitive and ongoing,” she said, adding that there is no “post-trauma” and fears for safety and the feeling of helplessness carry on even after a cease-fire.
In the meantime, all mental health professionals can do is try to heal the generational scars and provide what she calls palliative care through therapy, she said.
Sat, 22 May 2021, 11:06 PM
By Parisa Hafezi
DUBAI (Reuters) -The speaker of Iran’s parliament said on Sunday a three-month monitoring deal between Tehran and the U.N. nuclear watchdog had expired and that its access to images from inside some Iranian nuclear sites would cease.
The announcement raised further questions about the future of indirect talks under way between the United States and Iran on reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.
The International Atomic Energy Agency and Tehran struck the three-month monitoring agreement in February to cushion the blow of Iran reducing its cooperation with the agency, and it allowed monitoring of some activities that would otherwise have been axed to continue.
IAEA chief Rafael Grossi is in talks with Iran on extending it.
European diplomats said last week that failure to agree an extension would plunge the wider, indirect talks between Washington and Tehran on reviving the 2015 deal into crisis. Those talks are due to resume in Vienna this week.
The IAEA had planned for Grossi to hold a news conference on Sunday but it said he was still “consulting with Tehran” and that his news conference had been postponed until Monday morning.
“From May 22 and with the end of the three-month agreement, the (IAEA) agency will have no access to data collected by cameras inside the nuclear facilities agreed under the agreement,” state TV quoted parliament speaker Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf as saying.
An unnamed official was also quoted as saying that the agreement between the IAEA and Tehran could be extended “conditionally” for a month.
“If extended for a month and if during this period major powers … accept Iran’s legal demands, then the data will be handed over to the agency. Otherwise the images will be deleted forever,” according to the member of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council.
WESTERN ENVOYS’ WARNINGS
Western diplomats have said that not extending the IAEA deal could seriously harm efforts to salvage the 2015 nuclear accord, which aims to keep Iran from being able to make nuclear arms, which Tehran says it has never wanted to build.
Iran and global powers have held several rounds of negotiations since April in Vienna, working on steps that Tehran and Washington must take, on sanctions and nuclear activities, to return to full compliance with the nuclear pact.
Iran began gradually breaching terms of the 2015 pact with world powers after former President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the deal in 2018 and re-imposed sanctions.
Without commenting on the parliament speaker’s earlier announcement, Iran’s pragmatist president, Hassan Rouhani, said on Sunday that Tehran would continue the talks in Vienna “until reaching a final agreement”.
He also repeated an earlier statement that “Washington has agreed to lift sanctions” on Iran, according to Iranian state media.
Other parties to the talks and Iran’s top nuclear negotiator have said some important issues need further discussion for revival of the nuclear deal.
To pressure President Joe Biden’s administration to return to the nuclear pact and lift sanctions, Iran’s hardline-dominated parliament passed a law last year to end its obligation to allow the IAEA short-notice inspections to check nuclear work is not being covertly put to military ends.
To give diplomacy a chance, the watchdog and Iran agreed in February to keep “necessary” IAEA monitoring and verification activities in the Islamic Republic.
Qalibaf told parliament’s open session, aired by state TV, that Iran’s ultimate authority, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, backed the law.
“Yesterday it was discussed and the decision was made. The law passed by the parliament will be implemented. The supreme leader has underlined the importance of implementing the law as well,” Qalibaf said.
(Additional reporting by John Irish in Paris and Francois Murphy in Vienna; Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle, Alexander Smith and Timothy Heritage)
Tasnim News Agency
Iran Prepared for Harsh Encounter with Threats: Top General
Major General Mohammad Hossein Baqeri on Sunday released a message on the occasion of the anniversary of liberation of Khorramshahr, a city in southwestern Iran that had been occupied by the Iraq’s Baathist army in the early 1980s under former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.
In his message, the top commander said the “policy of boosting power for defense, offense and deterrence” is always on the agenda of the Iranian Armed Forces.
The Iranian military forces maintain intelligence dominance and are fully prepared for harsh and courageous confrontation with any threat against the country’s independence, territorial integrity and national interests, he underscored.
The general also said this year’s anniversary of liberation of Khorramshahr has coincided with the Palestinian resistance forces’ victory over the fake and child-murdering Zionist regime in a new Intifada.
While the flag of Palestine has been raised across the occupied territories and Gaza, the occupiers of al-Quds have run for shelters humiliatingly as the Zionist regime’s nest, like the spider web, has become shakier than ever, he stated.
Iranian military and political officials have repeatedly warned the enemies about the dire consequences of a military action against the Islamic Republic.
In comments in April 2018, Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei said the US is aware of the crushing response it will have to face in case of taking military action against Iran.
Iraqi Shiite cleric and leader Moqtada Al-Sadr.(AFP/file photo)
Mass public gatherings have been rare in Iraq since security forces and militia groups stifled anti-government protests last year and amid regular government curfews to combat the spread of COVID-19.
Nevertheless, thousands hit the streets last week to denounce Israeli military action in Gaza despite government calls for Iraqis to stay at home during the extended Eid break. Such a gathering en masse, flouting government restrictions, and anti-imperialist in its sentiment, could have come at the behest of only one man — Muqtada Al-Sadr.
Since the toppling of Saddam Hussein in 2003, Iraqi political life has been a constantly revolving door. Few have made any impact, fewer still have remained politically relevant after circumstances have pushed them out. Sadr, however, has done the complete opposite. Having assumed the religious leadership of his forebears, he became an important figure in the Iraqi resistance to the invasion, then again to thwart the rise of Daesh, and today is the only Shiite leader with strong relations across the Arab world, and now it would seem may be warming to America. With successive Iraqi governments lacking the political support to improve the lives of Iraqis and to break free from the influence of Iran, Sadr’s role as kingmaker continues to grow, and with elections on the horizon and a Saudi-Iranian peace deal mooted, his political hour may have come.
The Sadr name had been traditionally associated with almsgiving, and Muqtada Al-Sadr’s strongest support still comes from the class of dispossessed Shiites, as in the Sadr City area of Baghdad. To many Iraqis he is a powerful symbol of resistance to foreign occupation against a background of venal and entirely interchangeable post-invasion political figures who often led rather dubious lives in exile.
Iraqi mediators have been working behind the scenes to try to bring about a diplomatic rapprochement between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Given Sadr’s critical position in the Iraqi political fabric, and indeed his relations on both sides, his anti-Iranian stance in Iraq could be central to agree
Zaid M. Belbagi
A man of contradictions, he has been vocal about Iran’s undue influence in Iraq, yet at moments of great personal insecurity he has sought refuge in the city of Qom. His clerical credentials have always been dubious given his reticence to complete the studies necessary to raise him to the station of ayatollah. Leading million strong anti-corruption demonstrations in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square has not stopped him from being at the forefront of South Korean conglomerate Daewoo’s successful bid to develop the Iraqi port of Faw. The leader whose militia acted as death squads targeting Sunni civilians surprised many when he visited the crown princes of Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi. Now, withthe remaining 2,500 American troops in Iraq shortly on their way home, the specter of Iran filling the void is all too great and Sadr finds himself in an opportune position once more.
If elections in Iraq take place as scheduled in October, there will be fierce competition between state forces and nonstate actors, particularly Iranian militias. With Prime Minister Mustafa Kadhimi keen to build bridges, he is aware that without the support of leaders such as Sadr, his government could be held to ransom by armed militia backed by Iran, and large scale protests. For many Iraqi political forces and parties, only Sadr, not the state, has the capability of standing up to nonstate actors. However, the June election in Iran will simultaneously allow the regime to switch gears and seek to come to terms with the Biden administration. Whether judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi or former parliament speaker Ali Larijani is elected president, peace with the P5+1 will be a precursor to coming to terms with America’s Gulf allies. Iraqi mediators have been working behind the scenes to try to bring about a diplomatic rapprochement between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Given Sadr’s critical position in the Iraqi political fabric, and indeed his relations on both sides, his anti-Iranian stance in Iraq could be central to agreeing to a peace that would limit Iran’s influence in the Arab world.
For many in Tehran today, the opportunity to be a regional economic power far outweighs the appeal of exporting the 1979 revolution. There is no doubt that rapprochement would be to the benefit of both sides. There are doubts, however, about Sadr’s reliability, and his ability to shift on key issues makes him a troublesome ally. Though he is for many the spiritual father of all armed Iraqi militias, his problematic relationship with Iran has put him in the complex position of “no war and no peace” — a position which, in true Sadr style, could change at any time. Peace in Iraq and the wider region will no doubt be dependent upon some movement from previously entrenched positions. What Iraq’s new Arab allies must be aware of is how much movement Sadr is politically capable of, given the colorful career of a man who is not yet 50.
• Zaid M. Belbagi is a political commentator, and an adviser to private clients between London and the Gulf Cooperation Council. Twitter: @Moulay_Zaid
Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News’ point-of-view
May 22, 2021 / 07:55 AM CDT
by: The Associated Press
Posted: / Updated: May 22, 2021 / 08:00 AM CDT
Palestinians inspect the damage of their destroyed homes after returning following a cease-fire reached after an 11-day war between Gaza’s Hamas rulers and Israel, in town of Beit Hanoun, northern Gaza Strip, Friday, May 21, 2021. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — A Palestinian official says an initial assessment shows at least 2,000 housing units were destroyed in the fighting between Israel and Palestinian militant groups in Gaza.
Naji Sarhan, deputy of Gaza’s works and housing ministry, tells The Associated Press on Saturday that more than 15,000 other units were partly destroyed in the 11-day war.
Israel launched hundreds of airstrikes on the overcrowded strip, targeting residential, commercial and government buildings. It said it was going after locations where Hamas had offices and resources.
Sarhan says four mosques were destroyed along with dozens of police offices in Gaza. He says most of the factories in Gaza’s industrial zone were destroyed or damaged.
Meanwhile, police inspected unexploded Israeli ordinance collected during the campaign. Police chief Mahmoud Salah said nearly 300 Israeli rockets and shells did not explode.
Sarhan put the estimated financial losses from the fighting at $150 million. He says assessment is still ongoing.
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — The United Nations says approximately 800,000 people in Gaza do not have regular access to clean piped water, as nearly 50% of the water network was damaged in the recent fighting.
Quoting Gaza’s public works and housing ministry, the U.N. ’s office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said nearly 17,000 residential and commercial units have been damaged or destroyed in the 11-day campaign.
These include 769 housing and commercial units that have been rendered uninhabitable, at least 1,042 units in some 258 buildings which have been destroyed and another 14,538 units that have suffered minor damage.
A cease-fire took effect Friday after an 11-day campaign that left more than 250 dead — the vast majority Palestinians — and brought widespread devastation to the already impoverished Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip
The U.N. said 53 education facilities, six hospitals and 11 primary health care centers have been damaged since May 10. One health center was severely damaged, the U.N. said, while one hospital is not operational because of lack of electricity. Schools in Gaza remain closed, affecting almost 600,000 children.
CAIRO — An Egyptian diplomat says two teams of Egyptian mediators are in Israel and the Palestinian territories to continue talks on firming up a cease-fire deal — and securing a long-term calm.
The diplomat said Saturday discussions include implementing agreed-on measures in Gaza and Jerusalem, including ways to prevent practices that led to the latest fighting.
The official did not elaborate. He was apparently referring to violence at the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the planned eviction of Palestinian families from the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in east Jerusalem.
The diplomat spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss behind-the-scenes deliberations.
The cease-fire took effect Friday. The 11-day war left more than 250 dead — the vast majority Palestinians — and brought widespread devastation to the already impoverished Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip
The diplomat also said Israel has given a green light to Gaza fishermen to return to sea Saturday as part of the cease-fire deal.
The Egyptian delegations arrived in Israel and the Palestinian territories Friday, according to Egypt’s official MENA news agency. The delegations met with Palestinian factions in Gaza directly after they arrived, MENA reported.
Hussein Sheikh, a senior aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, tweeted that one of the Egyptian delegation planned to hold talks with the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah on Saturday.
— By Samy Magdy
CAIRO — Egypt Foreign Minister Sameh Shukry has spoken with his Israeli counterpart, Gabi Ashkenazi, about stabilizing the Cairo-brokered Gaza cease-fire deal.
A statement by Egypt’s Foreign Ministry said the two diplomats on Friday discussed shoring up the deal, which has mostly brought a halt to fighting between Israel and the Palestinians. They hope that will facilitate the reconstruction of Gaza.
The statement said the ministers also agreed on the importance of coordination between the two nations, the Palestinian Authority and international partners on securing communication channels to achieve peace. It did not provide further details.
The Egyptian government, meanwhile, said it would send a 130-truck convoy carrying humanitarian aid and medical supplies to Gaza, according the presidency.
The convoy is expected to enter the territory Saturday