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.
Calls for holding Iraq’s October 10 elections on schedule grew louder when doubt set in after Muqtada al-Sadr announced his withdrawal on July 15, followed by a boycott from former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi and his al-Minbar coalition.
Nouri al-Maliki tweeted on July 29, 2021: “The elections will take place on their scheduled date on 10/10, and the position of the forces that announced their non-participation is respectable, but it is their position and it cannot be imposed on the opinion of the majority supporting holding early elections on the specified date.”
The al-Fateh alliance hastened to launch its electoral campaign on July 31, and its leader Hadi al-Amiri called on those who had withdrawn from the elections to review their decision.
The leaders of the Shiite Coordinating Committee (an influential group of Shia leaders and important players who regularly meet with the prime minister) met a few days ago and confirmed that elections must be held on their scheduled date. A source close to the meeting said that the leader of the Coalition of State Forces, Ammar al-Hakim, asked attendees to discuss the withdrawal of the Sadrist movement and the need to talk its leader Muqtada al-Sadr into reversing his decision. They agreed on the necessity of holding elections with or without the Sadrist movement.
The three presidencies (president, prime minister, and parliament speaker) met leaders of the political parties in the governmental palace on August 1, 2021. Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi briefed them on his visit to Washington and the results of the fourth round of strategic dialogue with the United States. They also discussed elections and boycotts. The leaders agreed that the elections will be held on time. They called upon the parties to reverse their decisions of withdrawal and emphasized the need to start a frank dialogue to fortify the electoral process and consolidate democracy in the country.
It is natural for the Shiite forces to insist on holding elections after Sadr’s withdrawal. It is a golden opportunity that might not be repeated; they stand a good chance to take the seats that the Sadrists could have won.
Effects of a Sadr withdrawal
Suppose Sadr continued his boycott of the elections and didn’t allow the Sadrists to participate. In that case, the total voter turnout will dwindle to very low levels that could render any election result unrecognizable.
Sadrist supporters control large areas of the electoral map. It is difficult for candidates from other parties to enter these areas, launch their electoral campaigns, or even direct their voters to the polls on election day. Clashes between Sadrist supporters and supporters of other parties cannot be ruled out.
Perhaps the most significant fear is that the Sadrist movement becomes opposition to the next government; they have done so in the past. It was not a good experience for them or the government, ending with a military confrontation. The repetition of such an experiment may lead to unimaginable results, especially since the movement has a large and effective military force controlling large areas in Baghdad, Samarra, and other territories.
Shiite power imbalance
The Shiite political map is divided into three axes. The conservatives are represented by the al-Fateh Alliance, the State of Law, and the Islamic Supreme Council. The second axis is the moderates, represented by the Coalition of State Forces (al-Nasr Alliance and the al-Hikma Movement), and the small Shiite parties represented by political personalities and independents. The third axis is represented by the Sadrist movement, which has attributes that bridge the other two axes and serve as a balancing power between them.
In the absence of the Sadrist movement from the parliament, the balance of power will shift to the conservative axis; they will have a large number of seats, possess weapons, and a military force (except for the State of Law). In addition, the conservatives enjoy direct and solid support from Iran, which heavily tilts the balance towards them.
At the same time, the absence of the Sadrist movement weakens the position of the moderate axis. This is what they fear, as they are well aware that they cannot compete with the conservatives without the Sadrist movement. They lack in numbers and capability; they are dispersed in most cases; they will not be able to effectively unite their positions. They failed to form a coalition before the elections and it would be difficult for them to unite after the vote, without the Sadrists.
Sunni and Kurdish forces stand by
The Sunni and Kurdish parties did not interfere with events in the Shiite arena, and none of the major parties within these two components made any statement or commented regarding the withdrawal of al-Sadr or the holding of elections or not.
The position of the Kurdish and Sunni parties is passive. Their failure to express their opinion indicates the weakness of their positions towards what is happening. They surrender to the fact that they do not have a say and are waiting for the decision of the Shiite parties, despite the fact that they are primarily affected by these events and by the Shiite decision whether to hold elections or postpone them.
These parties are supposed to contribute to the decision-making process that affects the future of the state. They always complain that they are not included in the decision-making by the Shiites. It is their duty to take part and influence events on the ground or state their position on an important political issue such as the withdrawal of the Sadrist movement from the electoral race. It is worth noting that the Sunni and Kurdish parties were racing to form coalitions with the Sadrists before and after the elections and explicitly rely on them to gain the posts of president and speaker of parliament.
Effect of non-participation on the Sadrists
If Muqtada al-Sadr remains outside the electoral process and the Sadrist movement doesn’t take part, the near future will be difficult for Iraq in general and the Sadrist movement and its leader in particular.
The Sadrist movement led a prominent opposition movement in the early years after 2003. Since the 2006 elections, the Sadrist movement has strengthened its parliamentary presence and extended its influence through its parliamentary bloc. It played a significant role in the formation of the previous four governments.
They engaged in military confrontation with the Iraqi government twice, once in 2004 and the second time in Operation Knight Charge in 2008. Both times they returned from the brink. They rejoined the political process with strength and adopted a clear strategy to become a significant player among the ruling elite. They become the largest parliamentary party in the 2018 elections, with 54 seats.
The exit of the Sadrist movement from the elections will significantly weaken them. They stand to become the biggest losers by alienating large chunks of their supporters in favour of the traditional opponents and losing their seats in parliament to them. Their main competitors will become the largest bloc and form the government. More importantly, if the Sadrist movement tries to launch opposition in the street, they could face very stiff resistance from the government. It could lead to military confrontation, as in the past, especially if a hard-line candidate from its rivals wins the premiership.
Elections and the chances of holding them
No political discussion these days is free from the question of whether elections will be held or not, and there are many doubts about the possibility of holding them in the absence of Sadr. Perhaps the Shiite decision to hold elections is decisive, especially since the international community sees the necessity of holding them; both America and Iran are enthusiastic about it.
It is worth noting that past elections suffered from a lack of participation and broad voter apathy. If the Sadrist movement exits from the October election, voter apathy will be greater than what we saw in 2018.
Returning to the possibility of holding elections, official procedures and statements from state officials and presidencies all indicate that the elections are taking place on October 10. However, in their private conversations, many of these officials assert that there are no elections without the Sadrist movement.
In their meeting Sunday with the presidencies, the political parties called for “the start of a frank dialogue to fortify the electoral process and strengthen democracy in the country.” Such dialogue is crucial and will pave the way for a decision binding on all political forces, whether to hold or postpone the elections.
Iraq needs political, economic, and security stability. The tense political situation in conjunction with the worrying security situation and the intensification of regional conflict puts the country on a dangerous course. The approaching elections and the holy month of Muharram in the shadow of a blazing summer are charging the electoral atmosphere in an unprecedented way. The country cannot afford the hesitation and skepticism about holding elections. A decisive decision is needed and needed fast.
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.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Rudaw.
Large numbers of Borei-class nuclear powered subs have been diving beyond 500m – with operations taking place in the Northern Sea
Russian attack submarines are running “deep penetration” missions unusually far under water, in craft capable of carrying new hypersonic weapons.
Large numbers of Borei-class nuclear powered subs have been diving beyond 500m, the limit for most attack subs, in an apparent bid to enter the Atlantic undetected.
The operations by Vladimir Putin’s Northern Fleet, accompanied by a high number of rescue vessels, have been taking place in the Norwegian Sea, which has depths of up to 4,000m.
The Borei subs are believed to be capable of carrying new Zircon 3M22 hypersonic missiles, which can cover 2.7km per second and against which there is thought to be little or no protection.
Analysts are not clear on why Vladimir Putin’s fleet are carrying out the dives (
The war-gaming, which has raised the possibility that these missiles could be carried at greater depths than previously thought, has alarmed analysts who fear Russia could be escalating preparations for conflict.
A source told the Mirror: “The reason for these extreme depth missions has eluded most analysts but it could be simply to access the Atlantic with stealth.
“There has been an increase in Russian submarine activity of late, as there has with much of Moscow’s armed forces as it tests the resolve of NATO.
“Russia is keen to exert as much power and influence as possible around the globe, in particular for the Northern Fleet, which is integral for passage into the Atlantic.”
Russian subs usually go no deeper than 400m as a working limit, with a 480m maximum and 900m “crush limit” where they would implode.
Military expert Bruce Jones said: “The mood of Russian defence has been alarming for months now.
“That is highlighted by the recent military build-up close to the Ukraine border.
“This latest move could be aimed at posturing up against NATO just to make countries feel nervous.
“But it certainly marks an escalation and now they appear to be turning their sights towards sub-surface missions.”
LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
It’s been over two months since the end of a fierce 11-day war between Hamas and Israel. We’re going to check in now on what’s happened to address the devastation inside the Gaza Strip. Israeli airstrikes, if you recall, killed more than 250 people there and left thousands without livable homes. Rocket fire from Gaza killed 13 people in Israel, where leaders now want to keep militants from misusing reconstruction supplies. NPR’s Daniel Estrin joins us now from Jerusalem to discuss where things stand. Hello.
DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Hi, Lulu.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So first, thousands of buildings in Gaza were damaged, many destroyed. So take us there. What’s the situation like?
ESTRIN: Well, a lot of the rubble has actually been cleared away. Egypt did that. Hamas has repaired roads. Fuel is back in supply for electricity. But people are still dealing with their physical injuries, and there’s a lot of trauma. The U.N. says hundreds of thousands of children there need mental health support and there’s still a lot of destruction. About 1,600 apartments and homes were completely destroyed in the war. Many homeless families are living with relatives now. Water pipelines were damaged. A couple hundred thousand people still don’t have piped fresh water.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So it’s clear they need construction materials at least. What’s the scale of what is needed there?
ESTRIN: The U.N., EU and World Bank looked into this. And they say Gaza needs almost half a billion dollars just for the short term for things like repairing infrastructure, homes, sanitation. Gaza needs short term jobs because they estimate that the conflict has pushed the unemployment rate up to 50%, which would be the highest Gaza has seen in decades. So a lot of money is needed, but so far, countries have only donated a sliver of the money that the U.N. is asking for. A U.N. official told me that the usual Western donor countries are hesitant to invest without assurances that another war is not around the corner. And then there’s just something a lot more fundamental, which is that Israel is blocking construction materials from entering Gaza right now. Everything is held up by political negotiations.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Tell me about those negotiations exactly. I mean, what are the issues?
ESTRIN: One big issue is that Israel refuses to allow reconstruction in Gaza until Hamas hands over the bodies of two Israeli soldiers killed there several years ago plus two Israeli citizens believed to be alive who crossed into Gaza by themselves years ago and are still held by Hamas. There’s another issue, which is that Israel is trying to renegotiate the way that Qatar sends millions of dollars a month to Gaza. Israel does not want that cash getting into Hamas hands. And then there’s just a bigger question of, how do you actually carry out reconstruction in a place like Gaza, which is under blockade by Israel and Egypt? Israel and international countries want to make sure that if they send, you know, cement and materials to rebuild homes, that that doesn’t get diverted to Hamas militants for them to make tunnels and rockets. Remember, Hamas fired thousands of rockets into Israel in the latest conflict. Most of them were intercepted by missile defenses but not all of them. And Israelis had to duck into shelters day after day. There is trauma in Israel too.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah, and there’s been a cease-fire in place. Is that solid, or are there concerns that, if negotiations don’t progress, that thing that donors are worried about, another round of fighting could start?
ESTRIN: There are those concerns. The cease-fire is very tenuous. We’ve seen a few times where Palestinian militants have flown fiery balloons into Israel, setting fire to fields. And Israel has responded with some limited airstrikes. But right now, Israel’s new government is this unstable coalition. Their interest is to stabilize Gaza, you know, relax restrictions gradually, just enough to reduce pressure to prevent a renewal of violence but not enough to advance big relief projects for Gaza, which could be politically controversial in Israel and could destabilize the Israeli government. And then there are just a lot of unanswered questions about what happened during the conflict. Human Rights Watch has raised questions. AP’s building was targeted and still asking for an independent investigation.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: That’s NPR’s Daniel Estrin in Jerusalem. Thank you very much.
ESTRIN: Thank you.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.
Aug. 1 marks the 75th anniversary of the signing of the Atomic Energy Act of 1946, which was the first law addressing the development and control of nuclear power in the United States.
The quiz below, from the Ashbrook Center at Ashland University, Ashland, Ohio, provides an opportunity for you to test your knowledge of the Atomic Energy Act, the history of nuclear power and weapons in the United States and the advent of the atomic age.
1) Which explosion of an atomic weapon ushered in what was referred to as “the atomic age”?
A. The Trinity explosion
B. The Hiroshima explosion
C. The Nagasaki explosion
D. The Castle Bravo explosion
2) What federal government organization was established by the Atomic Energy Act of 1946?
A. The Strategic Air Command
B. Department of Energy
C. Atomic Energy Commission
D. Nuclear Regulatory Commission
3) The Atomic Energy Act of 1946 was updated to allow for the development of commercial nuclear power in what year?
4) Which of the following famous American scientists was involved in nuclear physics?
A. Enrico Fermi
B. J. Robert Oppenheimer
C. James Rainwater
D. All of the above
5) Which of the following historic events brought the United States and Soviet Union to the brink of nuclear war?
A. Falkland Islands War
B. Cuban Missile Crisis
C. Vietnam War
D. Strategic Arms Limitation Talks
6) In an effort to stem the spread of nuclear weapons, 62 countries, including the US, signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty in what year?
7) The largest nuclear accident in the United States took place in 1979 at what nuclear plant?
A. Crystal River
B. Indian Point
C. Hoop Creek
D. Three Mile Island
8) Which of the following countries does not possess nuclear weapons?
9) Which U.S. president studied nuclear physics and was a trained nuclear engineer?
A. Gerald Ford
B. George W. Bush
C. Jimmy Carter
D. Barack Obama
10) As of 2021, how many commercially operating nuclear power plants are operating and in how many states?
A. 32 plants in 19 states
B. 46 plants in 24 states
C. 56 plants in 28 states
D. 93 plants in 34 states
ANSWERS: 1-A, 2-C, 3-A, 4-D, 5-B, 6-B, 7-D, 8-A, 9-C, 10-C
ABOUT THE WRITER: David Hadley is a member of the Ashbrook Center faculty. He wrote this for InsideSources.com
A combination of artificial intelligence and machine learning is helping researchers and scientists discover and uncover activities at Iran’s nuclear facilities, says Allison Puccioni from the Center for International Security and Cooperation (CISAC) in a new report. According to the report, it is possible that Iran is between 18 and 24 months away from completing a new underground centrifuge assembly hall next to its nuclear facilities in Natanz.
The center’s report, whose findings were published by the Defense One website, said that Iran is now able to expand its ability to enrich uranium despite a number of failures and other setbacks that Iran has blamed on sabotage. The new facility, located south of the main facility in Natanz, is being built deep within a mountain, hidden from imaging satellites.
Experts from the Center for International Security and Cooperation used artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies to help them collect data from satellite imagery of the work underway at the new underground centrifuge site and process it, including tracking of the excavations. The work started between August and September of last year. A very large number of trucks arrived at the site during the first three months, almost 10 times the number that had arrived previously, due to the digging work at the site.
The experts estimated that the Iranians will start building the centrifuge assembly hall in the near future, and apparently start operating the centrifuges in 18 months to two years. The Center for International Security and Cooperation said that the combination of satellite imagery and various data sources, including open sources on social media, along with artificial intelligence, enable much more comprehensive tracking of what is being done at Iranian nuclear sites.
In conclusion, the center said that is Iran is working hard to maintain its nuclear enrichment capability and reinforce its capability to develop nuclear weapons.
July 10, 2021 02:32
BAGHDAD: Iran’s expeditionary Quds Force commander brought one main directive for Iraqi militia faction leaders long beholden to Tehran, when he gathered with them in Baghdad last month: Maintain calm, until after nuclear talks between Iran and the United States.
But he was met with defiance. One of the six faction leaders spoke up in their meeting: They could not stay quiet while the death of his predecessor Qassim Soleimani and senior Iraqi militia commander Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis in a US drone strike went unavenged.
Militia attacks have only been increasing against the US in military bases in both Iraq and Syria. Three missile attacks in the last week alone resulted in minor injuries, stoking fears of escalation.
The details from Esmail Ghaani’s visit, confirmed to The Associated Press by three Shiite political officials and two senior militia officials, demonstrate how Iranian-aligned Iraqi militia groups are asserting a degree of independence, sometimes even flouting orders from Tehran. Iran now relies on Lebanon’s Hezbollah for support in reining them in, and there is potential that Iran’s new president could play a role in doing the same.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the private meetings.
Iran’s influence, sustained by ideological ties and military support, has frayed because of the US killing of Soleimani and Al-Muhandis last year, because of differing interests and because of financial strains in Tehran. With nuclear talks restarting following US President Joe Biden’s inauguration this year, these differences have come to the fore.
“Iran isn’t the way it used to be, with 100 percent control over the militia commanders,” said one Shiite political leader.
Increasing rocket and drone attacks targeting American troops in Iraq and Syria have alarmed Western and coalition officials. There have been at least eight drone attacks targeting the US presence since Biden took office in January, as well as 17 rocket attacks, according to coalition officials.
The attacks are blamed on the Iranian-backed militias that make up the bulk of Iraq’s state-supported Popular Mobilization Forces. The Biden administration has responded by twice targeting Iraqi militia groups operating inside Syria, including close to the Iraqi border.
“What is taking place now is when Ghaani asks for calm, the brigade leaders agree with him. But as soon as he leaves the meeting, they disregard his recommendations,” said another Shiite political leader.
The loudest of the defiant militia voices has been Qais Al-Khazali, leader of the Asaib Ahl Al-Haq faction, which also maintains a political party. On June 17, only days after Ghaani’s meetings with the militias, he said in a televised address that they would continue to target the US “occupier” and that they will not take into consideration nuclear talks.
“And that decision is an Iraqi one,” he said.
The coalition has formally ended combat operations and reduced troop levels significantly in the last year. Only 2,500 US troops remain in Iraq and discussions are ongoing with NATO to transfer to an advisory mission. Iraq still needs coalition support in surveillance and intelligence gathering and airstrikes against Daesh group targets.
Some argue the ongoing attacks benefit Iran by maintaining pressure on the US.
During talks with Shiite political officials during his visit, Ghani said Iran doesn’t interfere in their political work, but that military matters were different. “These must be approved by the Revolutionary Guard,” one political leader recounted him saying.
Still, Ghaani did not reprimand the militia groups during the meeting. Instead, he told them he understood their concerns.
Iran has struggled to fill in the gap left in the absence of Soleimani and Al-Muhandis, who were commanding figures able to push factions into line and resolve disputes among them.
“Ghaani has a different style and capabilities,” said Michael Knights, a fellow at The Washington Institute. He has a looser framework, establishing broad red lines on some matters, while “other things are ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,” he said.
Along with asking for less, cash-strapped Iran has been giving less as well. Assistance to the groups has been significantly downgraded since US sanctions began crippling Iran’s economy last year.
Divisions among factions have deepened, with growing competition among militias and Shiite politicians.
Ghaani came to meet the militia leaders to mend tensions that were sparked weeks earlier when Iraqi authorities arrested a paramilitary commander, Qassim Musleh, prompting a standoff between PMF fighters and security forces. Ghaani brought a letter from Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, criticizing the PMF for its reaction, saying it weakened their position.
To apply pressure on the factions, Iran has come to rely on Hezbollah leader Hasan Nasrallah in Lebanon, a figure the militias highly respect. Almost weekly, various factional leaders hold face-to-face meetings with him in Lebanon, said Shiite political leaders.
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, elected in June, also may be a unifying figure for the militias, which hold him in high esteem, political and militia officials said. When Raisi visited Baghdad in February, he met with PMF commanders and told them, in fluent Arabic, “Our flesh is your flesh, and our blood is your blood.” Ghaani communicates with brigade leaders through an interpreter.
“The resistance will grow in power and will see its best of times due to the election victory of Raisi,” said Abu Alaa Al-Walae, commander of Kataib Sayyid Al-Shuhada, in a recent interview.