US President Joe Biden and Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi on Monday will seal an agreement formally ending the U.S. combat mission in Iraq by the end of 2021, more than 18 years after U.S. troops were sent to the country.
Coupled with Biden’s withdrawal of the last American forces in Afghanistan by the end of August, the Democratic president is completing US combat missions in the two wars that then-President George W. Bush began under his watch.
Biden and Kadhimi are to meet in the Oval Office for their first face-to-face talks as part of a strategic dialogue between the United States and Iraq.
The shift is not expected to have a major impact since the United States has already changed the focus of its 2,500-stong force to training Iraqi forces.
US diplomats and troops in Iraq and Syria were targeted in three rocket and drone attacks earlier this month. Analysts believed the attacks were part of a campaign by Iranian-backed militias.
The senior administration official would not say how many U.S. troops would remain on the ground in Iraq for advising and training.
Kadhimi is seen as friendly to the United States and has tried to check the power of Iran-aligned militias. But his government condemned a U.S. air raid against Iran-aligned fighters along its border with Syria in late June, calling it a violation of Iraqi sovereignty.
The United States plans to provide Iraq with 500,000 doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine under the global COVAX vaccine-sharing program, the senior administration official said.
Russia has begun building an upgraded version of its top-secret aerial command center nicknamed the “Doomsday” plane, the state-run RIA Novosti news agency reported Monday.
The country’s existing “Doomsday” planes, the Ilyushin Il-80s, were developed in the 1980s and are designed to evacuate the Russian president and other top officials in the event of a nuclear conflict and allow them to send orders to forces on the ground. The planes are almost windowless save for those in the cockpit in order to safeguard from the effects of a nuclear blast.
A new version of the plane, modeled after the Ilyushin Il-96-400M, is currently being manufactured in the southern Russian city of Voronezh, RIA Novosti reported, citing an unnamed source in the military-industrial complex.
“The Russian Aerospace Forces will receive two air command posts based on the Il-96-400M. One is in production,” RIA Novosti quoted its source as saying.
The new planes, like their predecessors, will be able to refuel mid-flight and will be accompanied by fighter jets.
In addition to being more technologically advanced than the Il-80, the Il-96-400M is expected to be able to fly for twice as far as the Il-80, RIA Novosti reported. Its radio system will also be able to deliver nuclear launch orders to strategic aviation, mobile and silo missile launchers and submarines within a 6,000-kilometer radius.
Many details about the Il-80 are unknown as information about the planes and their contents are classified as state secrets.
In a rare disclosure late last year, the Kremlin said sensitive equipment had been stolen from one of the Il-80s during upgrade work.
The manufacture of the Il-96-400M comes as Russia has unveiled a slew of hypersonic weapons systems in recent years, edging to the front of the global pack in the new military technology’s development. Analysts say these weapons, while impressive, are unlikely to be game-changers — but instead will add to Russia’s leverage in arms control negotiations with the United States.
As far as Australia is concerned, the growing torrent of threats and bullying from Beijing mean that we need to have a much clearer understanding from our American ally about extended deterrence—not just nuclear deterrence but also conventional deterrence against Chinese long-range theatre missiles with conventional warheads.
In May, the editor-in-chief of Beijing’s Global Times newspaper, which generally reflects the views of the Chinese Communist Party, threatened Australia with ‘retaliatory punishment’ with missile strikes ‘on the military facilities and relevant key facilities on Australian soil’ if we were to send Australian troops to coordinate with the US and wage war with China over Taiwan.
The key phrase here is ‘long-range missiles with conventional warheads’. But it’s virtually impossible, even with the most sophisticated intelligence methods, to detect reliably any difference between a missile with a conventional warhead and one with a nuclear warhead. This is made more difficult by the fact that China co-locates its conventional and nuclear theatre missile forces.
But why the emphasis on ’conventional warheads’? This may be Beijing trying to show that it still adheres to its ‘no first use’ declaratory policy on nuclear weapons. But it may also be aimed at restraining any US strikes on China in retaliation for a missile attack on Australia.
However, Beijing is not only naive about how Washington might be prevailed upon to accept the difference between conventional and nuclear strikes. There’s the additional problem that some of the ‘relevant key facilities on Australian soil’ would be important for the US’s understanding of the nature of such a conflict and whether escalation could be controlled. For example, taking out the joint US–Australian intelligence facilities at Pine Gap near Alice Springs might be seen in Washington as an attempt to blind the US to any warnings of deliberate nuclear escalation by Beijing.
During the Cold War, this sort of danger was well understood. In my experience in the late 1970s and 1980s, Moscow made it clear to us that attacks on Pine Gap, Nurrungar and North West Cape would only occur in the context of an all-out nuclear war. The Soviet leaders knew that blinding Washington in the early stages of a nuclear exchange would be a foolish act, not helping any prospects of the management of escalation control.
The problem with Beijing is that it has no experience in high-level nuclear arms negotiation with any other country. It doesn’t understand the value of detailed discussions about nuclear warfighting. This is a dangerous gap in Chinese understanding about war—especially as its strategic nuclear warheads, which number in the low 200s according to the Pentagon, are barely credible as a second-strike capability and its submarines armed with strategic nuclear weapons are noisy.
However, US estimates suggest that China is planning to double its strategic nuclear forces and recent media reports claim that Beijing is building more than 100 new silos for intercontinental ballistic missiles in the northwest of the country. If true, this is a strange development because ICBMs in fixed silos are becoming more vulnerable with the increased accuracy of nuclear strikes. China’s recent ICBMs have been road-mobile for precisely this reason. The only rational explanation for new fixed-silo ICBMs is that they’re designed for a new launch-on-warning posture, which suggests new developments in China’s early warning capabilities.
In addition to its strategic nuclear warheads, Beijing has about 2,000 theatre nuclear missiles capable of targeting much of the Indo-Pacific. The majority of them are nuclear-armed, but some of the optionally conventionally armed variants (such as the 4,000-kilometre-range DF-26) can reach the north of Australia.
The main point here for Australia is that unless we acquire missiles with ranges in excess of 4,000 kilometres, we won’t be able to retaliate against any attack on us. But, in any case, for a country of our size to consider attacking the territory of a large power like China isn’t a credible option.
So, resolving the threat posed by the Global Times depends on Washington making it clear to Beijing that any missile attack on Australia, as America’s closest ally in the Indo-Pacific region, would provoke an immediate response by the US on China itself.
America has an overwhelming superiority in being able to deliver prompt global conventional precision strikes.
Beijing also needs to understand that because of the density and geographical distribution of its population, it is the most vulnerable among continental-size countries to nuclear war. The virtual conurbation that extends from Beijing in the north via Shanghai to Guangzhou and Shenzhen in the south would make it particularly susceptible to massive destruction in an all-out nuclear war.
The US has 1,500 deployed strategic nuclear warheads and another 5,000 stockpiled or ‘retired’. (Russia has a similar number of strategic nuclear warheads, totalling about 6,800.) America has more than enough nuclear warfighting capabilities to take on both China and Russia. In the Cold War, the Pentagon planned on destroying a quarter of the Soviet Union’s population and half its industry. For comparison, a quarter of China’s population is about 350 million. In such a nuclear war, China would no longer exist as a functioning modern society.
It might be time we considered acquiring a missile system capable of defending us against ballistic missile attack. The first step could be to fit this capability to the air warfare destroyers, while noting that a nationwide capability would need to be much more extensive.
But in the final analysis, we depend upon the United States—as the only military superpower in the world—to deter China from escalation dominance and its threatened use of ballistic missiles against us.
Paul Dibb is emeritus professor of strategic studies at the Australian National University. He is a former deputy secretary of the Department of Defence and former director of the Defence Intelligence Organisation. Image: Greg Baker/AFP/Getty Images.
In his message to the world’s Muslims during the time of Hajj, Imam Khamenei referred to America’s ignorance in its presence in Afghanistan stating that, “This ignorance led America to be humiliated in Afghanistan. After that raucous invasion 20 years ago and after having used weapons and bombs against defenseless people and civilians, it felt it had become stuck in a quagmire and eventually withdrew its forces from that country.”
This is a certain reality that America was humiliated in Afghanistan many times. The peak of this humiliation was when Joe Biden confessed that he no longer wanted to see American soldiers being killed there after twenty years of occupying Afghanistan. Being ashamed of more than 2,400 soldiers being killed and approximately 21,000 being wounded, Biden withdrew all American forces from Afghanistan in such a way that the American people witnessed the greatest failure of their country in contemporary times after the Vietnam War. Biden said, “I am now the fourth United States president to preside over an American troop presence in Afghanistan: two Republicans, two Democrats. I will not pass this responsibility on to a fifth.”
The Afghans’ fight to free their country from the occupation of the arrogant NATO forces and particularly their continuous resistance to the White House occupation was another factor that led America to be humiliated.
America was also humiliated when they sat across from the Taliban leaders in Doha. They sat humbly before the Taliban asking them for their own soldiers’ security while they had come to Afghanistan to fight the Taliban terrorists and provide security for Afghanistan! Even though they had come to Afghanistan under the slogan of defending women’s rights, in Doha they approved of and accepted the Taliban as a supporter of women’s rights. In referring to the Islamic laws that support women’s rights, they expressed hope that the Taliban movement would fulfill its commitment to women.
America was also humiliated by the Taliban after announcing the withdrawal of its forces from Afghanistan. The Taliban accused the US of violating the Doha agreement and said, “The US has violated the Doha peace agreement by postponing the withdrawal of its forces from Afghanistan. Based on the Doha peace agreement, American forces should have left Afghanistan by May.”
The US’s humiliation of being accused by the Taliban terrorist group of breaking their agreement will remain in the history of that country.
The US was also humiliated in its own country. The occupation of Afghanistan cost the American taxpayers two billion dollars. Now a fundamental question that remains for the American people and particularly its intellectuals is, “If Taliban was a terrorist group, which was the reason for the US and NATO forces occupation of Afghanistan for twenty years, then why did you enter into negotiations with this group and why did you agree to withdraw your military forces?” Another question raised by intellectuals is, “How is it that after spending two trillion dollars in Afghanistan, not only terrorism was not defeated, but the terrorist group ISIS entered Afghanistan too?” One Afghan official said that if the Americans had given 20 cents of each dollar (they spent in Afghanistan) to us, we would have been able to build our country and train our forces. Indeed, if America had spent that two trillion dollars on building hospitals, schools, and universities, funding development projects and fighting narcotics and the farming of narcotics, would it have withdrawn from Afghanistan “humiliated”?
The US withdrawal from Afghanistan proved that this country is no longer the superpower of the world and cannot impose its will on nations. During the twenty years of its occupation of Afghanistan, the Americans were continuously exposed to humiliation. The US’s inhumane measures, which led to the destruction of Afghanistan, and the shameless actions of their soldiers in the Afghan prisons that were in opposition to human rights, not only led to the humiliation of the White House internationally, it also incited the endless hatred of the Afghan people toward the occupiers.
The Afghan people’s resistance shattered the US’s grandeur and the same will happen in the case of the US crimes against the people of Palestine, Yemen, Syria, and Iraq, because the resistance forces in the region have found the courage to defend their rights against the aggression of the US and its allies.
In his message on the occasion of Hajj 2021, the Leader of the Islamic Revolution referred to the US’s continuing plots against regional countries. He advised that the vigilant Afghan nation remain watchful concerning America’s tools for gathering intelligence, its soft-war weapons in this country and to vigilantly fight them.
One of the soft-war weapons used by NATO and the US in Muslim countries is transforming the culture of these countries. The West plans to spread the Western lifestyle in Afghanistan by promoting the culture of liberalism. At the same time, they wish to surreptitiously, slowly, quietly alienate the Muslim people of this country from their Islamic culture. These goals have been proposed by the Foreign Ministers of Western countries in international summits under the title of creating a civil society in Afghanistan. In claiming to defend women’s rights, they imply that not wearing the Islamic covering is a factor for women’s development in Afghanistan. The strategic plan of the NATO policy makers in Afghanistan, which will continue in Afghanistan even after the withdrawal of the military forces, is to use modern communication tools for institutionalizing the cultural superiority of the West in this country. Due to their strong religious roots, the people of Afghanistan will never accept the spread of the secular culture of the West or its promiscuity and unrestraint. In this area, the religious scholars and intellectuals should enter the field to protect the Islamic culture and identity of their country.
On the other hand, America does not want the Afghan crisis to be solved and they want the withdrawal of US forces from this country to create a new round of crisis and insecurity. Following the US withdrawal, its mission in Afghanistan is likely to be taken over by third party countries such as Saudi Arabia and Turkey and terrorist groups such as ISIS or the military branch of Taliban. The US forces will be replaced by intelligence services in Afghanistan and the Pentagon is interested in continuing its political presence and role as an advisor in Afghanistan. The people of Afghanistan should restore the national unity they had when fighting in the way of God. The government and ethnic groups, particularly the Taliban, should realize that the crisis in Afghanistan cannot be solved by military means. The best action to be taken is to declare a ceasefire and to continue internal negotiations. In this way, the legal structures may be kept and based on the people and the influence of different ethnicities and groups, a Government of National Reconciliation can be established.—————– The views, opinions and positions expressed on Op-Ed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions or positions of abna24.com.
The SPC was directly responsible for guiding Sadrist government officials, managing daily affairs of the Sadrist parliamentary bloc, and giving directions to attend or boycott, and vote on parliamentary decisions and legislation. Sadr’s decision also led to the suspension of the electoral machine and the complete halt of Sadrist electoral activity. The absence of the Sadrist bloc in parliament means the entire legislature is paralyzed, as it is now challenged to achieve a quorum for any session or vote.
Many leaders of political blocs issued statements calling on Sadr to reverse his decision. Observers believe that the absence of his movement from the electoral landscape will complicate the political scene further and require some tough choices, including proceeding with the elections without them and the increased possibility of the Sadrist masses returning to the street as opposition.
Their non-participation in the electoral process means losing a large bloc and an essential ally of the other political blocs. The majority of political parties are directly dependent on alliances with Sadr to confront political rivals and putting up a united front that leads to the formation of the government, especially since the Sadrists didn’t ask for the position of prime minister. In the past, this made them a desirable partner for coalitions, especially since they did not have a robust political presence that would enable them to obtain one of the three main posts of president, prime minister, or parliament speaker.
The participation of the Sadrist movement was decisive in the formation of the past four governments, starting with the second Nuri al-Maliki term in 2010, then the election of Haider al-Abadi in 2014, and then their bilateral alliance with the al-Fateh bloc to form the government of Adel Abdul-Mahdi in 2018, followed by the inauguration of Mustafa al-Kadhimi as prime minister in May 2020. It is clear that without the Sadrists, the Shiite political balance will be impaired.
Escalation against the Sadrists
Muqtada al-Sadr made his famous statement on November 22, 2020: “If I live and life remains… I will follow the events closely and meticulously. If I find that the elections will result in a (Sadrist) majority in the parliament, they will obtain the premiership. I will be able to complete the reform process.” This was followed by the statement of his spokesman, Salah al-Obaidi, on December 29, 2020: “There is an intention and ambition to obtain 100 seats in the upcoming elections, to take control of matters.”
After these two statements, the Sadrist movement became a clear target of the competing political blocs who took these statements seriously and intensified their hidden and declared anti-Sadrist media campaigns. Since that time, a significant media attack has emerged against the movement’s symbols, including their leader, their leadership, and the ministries that are considered to be the Sadrist movement’s share in the government, such as the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Electricity and the Iraqi Central Bank.
Despite the Sadrist movement’s attempt to distance themselves from these institutions and claim that they are not involved with appointing ministers, the campaign on social media, especially Twitter and Facebook, was brutal. It intensified personally against Muqtada al-Sadr after the fire in al-Hussein Hospital in Nasiriyah in the night of Monday, July 13, 2021, which killed, by some reports, 92 people. This fire came after a similar one in Baghdad’s Ibn al-Khatib Hospital on April 27, 2021, which killed 82 people. Many blamed these failures on the Sadrist movement and its leader, who in turn blamed corruption in state institutions and the absence of reform.
With the approaching scorching summer and high temperatures, the high-pressure transmission towers of the Ministry of Electricity were subjected to systematic destruction; 135 towers were blown up within a week, which led to the collapse of the power network, depriving many cities of national electricity, which increased the suffering of the people, who in turn directed their anger at the Sadrist movement and the ministry, which they consider to be affiliated with them. This led to the minister’s resignation.
The Sadrist movement considers these attacks as politically motivated and their at members tried to mount a defence. But they did not succeed in standing in front of the massive tidal wave of criticism, especially since the Sadrists are considered the weakest in the media compared to the rest of the parties. They don’t have prominent and influential media channels. The personal Twitter and Facebook accounts of Muqtada al-Sadr are their most powerful platform, followed by the accounts of those close to him, such as Muhammad Salih al-Iraqi, or members of parliament who are active in influential WhatsApp groups defending the Sadrist viewpoint among elites.
One foot in government, the other in opposition
The Sadrist movement is used to playing in both the government and opposition arenas at the same time. They participated in the formation of governments and receiving positions for one or two years, then withdrew the ministers and announced their opposition, as happened in both Maliki governments in 2007 and 2013. The movement played a significant role in ousting Maliki and helping Haidar al-Abadi form his government in 2014. Yet they withdrew their ministers a year later and led an opposition campaign to storm the Green Zone and occupy the parliament building.
The movement led the formation of the Adel Abdul-Mahdi government in 2018 and was allocated four important ministries in his government. They stipulated that the prime minister choose technocratic ministers. They imposed one of their own as secretary-general of the General Secretariat of the Council of Ministers, and took several deputy minister posts. However, the movement joined the anti-government protests in October 2019 and effectively contributed to Abdul-Mahdi’s resignation.
The Sadrist movement also led the campaign to form the current government and they had a significant role in installing Mustafa al-Kadhimi as prime minister. They reserved four ministries, namely health, electricity, finance, and water resources, and demanded that any minister nominated for a post must be finalised with them. Nonetheless, Muqtada al-Sadr declared on July 15: “I announce that I withdraw my support for all members of this government and the future government, even if they claim to belong to us.”
It is worth noting that the Sadrist movement has not yet announced its opposition to the current government but rather “withdraws a hand.”
Sadrist withdrawal and postponement of elections
Perhaps the most posed question in Iraq’s corridors of power is whether elections will be held or not. This question is asked by all leaders, political pundits, diplomats, and those interested in Iraqi affairs. Many observers doubt the possibility of holding elections in October, especially after Muqtada al-Sadr announced his withdrawal.
The lack of participation of the Sadrist movement means losing the votes of a significant segment within the Shiite house, decisive electoral voters numbering more than one million. These elections will not represent the vast majority of the people. Suppose we add in the boycotts by civil movements, the October protest movement parties, and the reluctance of voters in general. In that case, we will be facing elections that would be lacking legitimacy due to the low rate of public support and voter participation. And this means that any government that emerges from these elections will not represent the vast majority of the people.
According to sources present at a meeting between Kadhimi and Shiite blocs this week, the PM told them there will be no elections without the participation of the Sadrist movement. Others might not share this view. Still, in reality, it is the only scenario, as the absence of the Sadrist movement creates a significant imbalance and a great void in the Shiite political arena. The Sadrists have dominated the Shiite scene since 2010. Their hegemony increased with each election as their seats in parliament rose from 32 to 44 and then 54, and with it their political influence.
It is worth noting that Sadr, in his statement mentioned above, wished “these elections success and the arrival of all the righteous and the removal of the corrupt.” This may mean that with the elections will be held and he wishes them success. Observers believe that appointing both the head of the SPC and his deputy as advisors means that there will be continuity of the work of SPC indirectly. At the same time, neither the movement nor the candidates from the movement formally informed the Independent High Electoral Commission of their withdrawal. This means that the final decision for the withdrawal of the Sadrist movement has not yet been made.
Observers believe that the Sadrist movement will not run in the elections without a clear sign of support from their leader Muqtada al-Sadr. As the election date approaches, it has become imperative to resolve the issue of participation. Perhaps the solution is to start a purge campaign by Sadr targeting corruption within the movement, cutting the way of his political competitors, and holding to account those who exploit the name of the movement for personal interests. This campaign may be an appropriate response to accusations against the Sadrist movement and a door for the movement’s return to the political scene.
The country needs clarity from the Sadrist movement and its leader, especially since Iraq faces a very complex political scene and is suffering from several formidable challenges. Political paralysis in the parliament and the government will not help Iraq in any way.
Farhad Alaaldin is the chairman of the Iraqi Advisory Council. He was the political adviser to former Iraqi President Fuad Masum, the former chief of staff to the KRG prime minister from 2009 to 2011, and former senior adviser to the KRG prime minister from 2011 to 2012.
JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli warplanes struck a target in the southern Gaza Strip, the Israeli military announced early Monday, saying it was responding to the launches of incendiary balloons that caused at least three blazes in southern Israel.
The airstrike came several hours after the incendiary balloons were launched into Israel by activists linked to Gaza’s ruling Hamas militant group. Photos and video posted on social media showed them sending the balloons into Israel. On one of them was written the message: “Time is running out.”
The launches came two months after an 11-day war between Israel and Hamas. The Islamic militant group is upset that Israel has done little to ease a crippling blockade on the territory since the fighting ended, and over delays in indirect negotiations with Israel to resume Qatari financial aid to Gaza.
Israeli media reported at least three fires set in southern Israel, breaking a three-week lull in the launches of the balloons.
Israel’s new prime minister, Naftali Bennett, has compared the balloon launches to rocket fire and has ordered airstrikes following previous instances as well.
In an initial response, COGAT, the Israeli defense body that oversees Palestinian civilian affairs, announced Sunday that Israel was cutting the fishing zone for Gazan fishermen in half, from 12 nautical miles to six nautical miles. Reducing the fishing area is a common Israeli response to fire emanating from Gaza.
Israel and Egypt have maintained a blockade of Gaza since Hamas, a group sworn to seek Israel’s destruction, seized power in 2007. The blockade includes Israeli control over the territory’s coast and airspace.