Shia scholar says political leaders had written to him with a ‘charter for reform’ to rid Iraq of corruption.
The populist Shia Muslim scholar, Moqtada al-Sadr, has said he and his supporters would take part in Iraq’s October general election, reversing a decision last month to stay out.
Al-Sadr’s bloc is part of a coalition that holds the most seats in parliament now, and is likely to be one of the frontrunners in the vote, which was called early by Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi as a response to popular protests that took place in 2019.
Al-Sadr said in a televised address on Friday that the about-face came after a number of political leaders, whom he did not identify, had written to him with a “charter for reform” to rid Iraq of corruption and mismanagement.
Taking part in the elections is “now acceptable”, he said, flanked by dozens of officials from his Sadrist movement.
He urged supporters to go to the polls and vote in the election scheduled for October 10. A vote for his movement, he said, would mean an Iraq liberated from foreign meddling and rampant corruption.
“We will enter these elections with vigour and determination, in order to save Iraq from occupation and corruption,” al-Sadr said.
Al-Sadr, whose political manoeuvres have at times puzzled observers, had said in February he backed early elections overseen by the United Nations.
He commands a loyal following of millions of Iraqis, is one of the most powerful political leaders in Iraq and has grown his influence over state institutions in recent years.
Al-Sadr loyalists hold official posts with control of a large portion of the country’s wealth and patronage networks. Detractors accuse al-Sadr and his supporters, like other Iraqi parties, of being involved in corruption within state institutions – a charge Sadrists reject.
An unpredictable and wily political operator, al-Sadr opposes the presence of US troops, of which some 2,500 remain in Iraq, and rejects the influence of neighbouring Iran – a position at odds with many rival Shia politicians and armed groups who are loyal to Tehran.
Militias loyal to al-Sadr fought the US-led occupation of Iraq and he retains a devoted following among the country’s majority Shia population, including in the poor Baghdad district of Sadr City.
The parliamentary vote is set to be held under a new electoral law that reduces the size of constituencies and eliminates list-based voting in favour of votes for individual candidates.
Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhemi, who came to power in May last year after months of unprecedented mass protests against a ruling class seen as corrupt, inept and subordinate to Tehran, had called the early vote in response to demands by pro-democracy activists.
Al-Sadr’s supporters have been expected to make major gains under the new electoral system.
His Sairoon bloc is currently the largest in parliament, with 54 out of 329 seats.
Plagued by endemic corruption, poor services, dilapidated infrastructure and unemployment, Iraq is facing a deep financial crisis compounded by lower oil prices and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Al-Sadr has appeared under pressure in recent weeks, with pro-Iran groups and individuals attacking him on social media and accusing him of responsibility for Iraq’s recent woes, including electricity shortages and two deadly hospital fires.
Since the 2000s, the United States has been developing nuclear weapons as part of their Conventional Prompt Global Strike (CPGS) program, though American hypersonic progress has accelerated in recent years. The quickened pace of research and development is directly related to similar initiatives overseas, primarily from Russia and China.
Somewhat counterintuitively, American hypersonic weapons and hypersonic weapon defenses will likely be more accurate than those fielded by Russia and China. This is because they are not designed for use with nuclear warheads. Consequently, the United States’ hypersonic and counter-hypersonic arsenal will be more technically challenging to build than that of the United States competitors.
Where We’re At
The United States has multiple hypersonic weapons programs currently in development, as per a recent congressional report. These are the U.S. Navy’s Conventional Prompt Strike (CPS); the U.S. Army’s Long-Range Hypersonic Weapon (LRHW); the U.S. Air Force’s AGM-183 Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW) and Hypersonic Attack Cruise Missile (HACM); and DARPA’s Tactical Boost Glide (TBG), Operational Fires (OpFires), and Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept (HAWC).
Most of these American initiatives expect to reach operational deployment next year or in 2023. However, the U.S. Navy’s Conventional Prompt Strike will reach operational deployment later, with Zumwalt-class destroyers in 2025 and on Virginia-class submarines by 2028.
Russia has two hypersonic weapon projects in development, the 3M22 Tsirkon, and the Avangard. If reports hold, Russia has already fielded the Kinzhal hypersonic air-launched ballistic missile. The three programs are capable of varying speeds—all hypersonic—and are expected to be fully operational by the early-mid 2020s.
China has already extensively tested its DF-17, a medium-range ballistic missile that Beijing designed specifically to carry hypersonic glide vehicles. In addition, China’s DF-ZF, also specifically designed to carry hypersonic glide vehicles, has also been tested around ten times. Lastly, China’s Xing Kong-2, another hypersonic weapon, will likely be ready by mid-2020.
There is no doubt that the United States, China, and Russia have made the most progress in hypersonic weapons development, but they are not alone. Several other countries—including Germany, France, India, Japan, and Australia, to name a few—are also developing their own domestically-made hypersonic weapons technology. However, their programs are in much earlier stages than China, Russia, and the United States.
Still, other countries—South Korea, Israel, and Iran—have shown an interest in fielding a hypersonic weapons capability, though their progress in the field has been much more limited.
Caleb Larson is a Defense Writer with The National Interest. He holds a Master of Public Policy and covers U.S. and Russian security, European defense issues, and German politics and culture.
NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) – Hurricane Ida closed in on the coast Sunday (Aug. 29), threatening to bring devastating wind damage, torrential rain and life-threatening storm surge to virtually all of Southeast Louisiana on the 16th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.
The National Hurricane Center reported in its 10 a.m. advisory that Ida was sustaining 150 mph winds and had slowed to 13 mph at it drew within 60 miles of the Mississippi River’s mouth and within 85 miles of New Orleans.
Forecasters predicted a slightly slower northwestern motion for the mammoth storm would continue through Sunday evening, with hurricane-force winds slamming the region for hours. Landfall still was expected in Terrebonne Parish by early afternoon.
Hurricane-force winds still were being detected 50 miles outward from the storm’s center, with tropical storm-force winds raging 150 miles from the core. A NOAA tide gauge in Shell Beach reported a water level that already was 5.6 feet above mean high water, an approximation of the inundation in that area.
The threat of tornadoes remains a major concern even after the storm comes ashore. The NHC said tornadoes were most likely to form through Monday throughout Southeast Louisiana, Southern Mississippi, Southwest Alabama and the western Florida panhandle.
Just days after the Taliban took Kabul, their flag was flying high above a central mosque in Pakistan’s capital. It was an in-your-face gesture intended to spite the defeated Americans — and a sign of the real victors in the 20-year Afghan war.
Pakistan was ostensibly America’s partner in the war against Al Qaeda and the Taliban. But it was a relationship rived by duplicity and divided interests from its very start after 9/11. Pakistan’s intelligence service nurtured and protected Taliban assets inside Pakistan through the course of the war.
Beit Hanoun, Gaza Strip — From the shell of their sitting room, its wall blown open by Israeli missiles, Zaki and Jawaher Nassir have a window into their neighborhood’s upheaval.
In one building’s skeleton, children play video games atop a slab of fallen concrete. In another, a man stares out from beside a bed covered in debris.
Until this neighborhood was hammered by the fourth war in 13 years between Israel and Hamas, the Nassirs often sat by their window, watching children play.
Now they watch demolition workers hack away at the wreckage so they and their neighbors can start rebuilding — again.
“We have no peace in our lives and we expect that war can happen again at any time,” Zaki Nassir says.
The story of the Nassirs, their neighbors and the toll of four wars is Gaza’s story.
Since 2008, more than 4,000 Palestinians have been killed in the conflicts, over half of them civilians. The Israeli death toll stands at 106.
The Islamic militants, who reject Israel’s right to exist, have fired thousands of rockets across the border. Israel, which considers Hamas a terrorist organization, has repeatedly hit the Strip with overwhelming firepower that, despite its high-tech precision, continues to kill civilians.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has likened Israel’s periodic offensives to mowing an unruly lawn. But the wars have done more than $5 billion in damage to Gaza’s buildings and infrastructure.
Gaza’s crisis is rooted in events that came long before Hamas seized control in 2007.
More than half its population are from Palestinian families who fled or were driven from what is now Israel during the 1948 war over its formation. But the recurrent fighting and the blockade of recent years have made life in Gaza far worse.
“It’s not (just) about you are losing a building. You are losing the hope that things will get better,” says Omar Shaban, who runs a Gaza think tank. “Forty percent of the population was born under siege.”
The Nassirs are all too familiar with that narrative of despair. But they resist it, even after a fourth war.
“This is what we have,” Zaki Nassir says. “We have to live.”
Five decades ago, Zaki Nassir’s father moved his family to a plot of farmland in what was then a village. Today, homes built on that tract are filled with Nassirs.
Life in Beit Hanoun deteriorated sharply after Israel withdrew settlers and troops in a 2005 disengagement.
After winning Palestinian elections in 2006, Hamas clashed with the rival Fatah party the following year and seized control of Gaza. In 2008, Israel launched a major offensive after heavy fire by militants.
About 2½ weeks into that war, Israel’s military declared a pause in the fighting so residents could gather supplies. Khaldiya Nassir was preparing the family’s remaining vegetables when her husband, Adham — Zaki Nassir’s nephew — announced he was going out to get flour.
On his way home, a woman flagged him down, pleading for help with her wounded daughter. As the 38-year-old Adham carried the girl from their house, he was wounded in the neck and back by a spray of gunfire.
Evacuated to an Egyptian hospital, Adham died three weeks later. His wife blames Israeli special forces.
Afterward, Khaldiya Nassir set aside much of the orphans’ assistance her family received to build a home filled with personal touches. After the latest war, much of it will have to be torn down, U.N. inspectors say.
“Everything is gone,” she says. “We cannot afford any more fear.”
The Nassirs were largely spared by the next conflict, in 2012. But their neighborhood’s reprieve ended when war returned, less than two years later.
In 2014, three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped in the West Bank and found dead weeks later. Members of Hamas eventually claimed responsibility and Israel arrested scores of its leaders in the West Bank.
Militants responded by firing rockets into southern Israel, igniting a crackdown that exploded into a seven-week war. In Beit Hanoun, residents were told to evacuate to shelters.
Some 3,000 people took refuge at a school, including one of Zaki’s sisters, Wafaa Sihueil, and her husband Thaer.
When the war ended in late August, the Sihueils and others returned to a war-scarred neighborhood. Zaki and Jawaher found their home littered with shrapnel, with cracks crossing the ceiling and a hole that funneled in rainwater. In his brother’s home next door, an incendiary shell had scorched the ceiling black.
Three doors down from the Nassirs, neighbors Fauzi and Neama Abu Amsha told their sons that they were staying put, insisting that at 63 and 62, the Israeli military would never see them as a threat. Jawaher Nassir, seven months pregnant, worried she might not be strong enough to flee on foot.
“When we got to the school we found there was no room for us,” she recalls. “We had to stay in the stairwell.”
They returned home 51 days later to find their home littered with shrapnel, with cracks crossing the ceiling.
When neighbor Akram Abu Amsha returned, his parents were not in their hiding place under the stairs. Then he and his brothers looked for them in a narrow alley, readily visible to drones.
“We found them in pieces,” he says.
This May protests erupted over the anticipated eviction of Palestinian families from homes in east Jerusalem and Israeli restrictions on Ramadan gatherings. A clash with Israeli soldiers at the holy city’s Al-Aqsa mosque touched off the latest war.
Three nights into the fighting, the Nassirs and their neighbors hunkered down, the sound of shelling cutting through the dark.
A little after 12:30 a.m. on May 14, shouts outside warned of military fire to the east. Neighbor Itzhak Fayyad, 46, ran upstairs to reassure sleeping relatives just as the first Israeli missile exploded into the courtyard. The force flung him out a fourth-floor window, shattering his right leg.
Across the yard, the shockwaves flattened Jamal Nassirs’ grocery. Inside, bricks shaken loose from the wall fell on Jalal Nassir, leaving his back twisted in pain.
“May nobody, neither Jews nor Arabs, ever experience such a night,” Itzhak’s brother, Khalil Fayyad, says.
The Israeli Defense Force told the Associated Press it targeted the area because it sat atop an underground tunnel belonging to Palestinian militants. The Air Force had used “precision weapons” to demolish the tunnel, while avoiding civilian casualties, it said.
While missiles did not hit any homes directly, the force blew walls and ceilings apart and left deep craters. Inspectors say many facing the courtyard will have to be torn down and rebuilt or require major repairs.
Until then, the Nassirs and their neighbors return each morning despite inspectors’ warnings not to spend time in the wreckage. Even after four wars in 13 years, and with every expectation that conflict will erupt again, they are staying put.
Tehran, Iran – Shortly before Iran and the United States, along with other world powers, are expected to head back to Vienna for nuclear talks, Supreme Leader Ali Hosseini Khamenei said “predatory wolf” President Joe Biden is no different from his predecessor.
He also slammed the European signatories to the deal, saying, “they are like the US as well, but in words and rhetoric they are always demanding, as if it was Iran that for long ridiculed and undermined negotiations”.
The supreme leader’s remarks came during his first visit with President Ebrahim Raisi’s cabinet, which gained a sweeping vote of confidence by the country’s hardline parliament on Wednesday.
On Friday, Iran’s new foreign minister, Hossein Amirabdollahian, had his first phone call with the European Union’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, during which Borrell called on Iran to commit to a date to come back to Vienna for talks on restoring the nuclear deal.
While Iran has said it will at some point come back to continue six rounds of talks that ended on July 20, a specific date has yet to be determined.
While the Biden administration has said it wants to return to the nuclear deal, the US president is still enforcing Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign as he has refused to lift any sanctions before an agreement is reached in Vienna.
Iranian and American officials have so far clashed on how and what sanctions need to be lifted, and how Iran needs to scale back its nuclear programme again. Iran is currently enriching uranium to 60 percent, its higher ever rate.
Khamenei’s remarks on Saturday appeared to be a double down on Iran’s position before the two countries, in addition to European powers and Russia and China, head back to Vienna.
The supreme leader specifically directed Raisi’s cabinet to plan for managing the country’s ailing economy with the assumption that US sanctions will remain in place.
“Diplomacy must not be influenced and linked with the nuclear issue because the nuclear issue is a separate issue that must be resolved in a manner suitable and deserving of the country,” he also said.
Instead, Khamenei said Raisi and his team must focus on boosting “economic diplomacy”.
The appointment of Amirabdollahian, a veteran diplomat with a focus on regional affairs, is indicative of that orientation. The foreign minister, who is now in Baghdad to participate in a significant regional summit orchestrated by Iraq, has said he aims to craft an “Asia-centric” foreign policy agenda.
The supreme leader on Saturday said the best example that the US is a wolf and “at times acts as a cunning fox” is the current situation in neighbouring Afghanistan.
Khamenei expressed his sorrow at the suicide bombing outside the Kabul airport on Thursday, which killed dozens of Afghans and 13 US personnel, saying “these problems and difficulties are the work of Americans that for 20 years occupied the country and imposed a variety of cruelties on its people”.
“The US didn’t take a single step for the advancement of Afghanistan. If today’s Afghanistan is not behind in terms of social and civil developments compared to 20 years ago, it is not ahead.”
As the Taliban has taken control of almost all of Afghanistan, Khamenei said Iran supports the people of the country because, as before, governments come and go but the people remain.
Ex-National Security Advisor John Bolton is eyeing up Pakistan, viewing the end of war with Afghanistan as a chance to start another, this time with its nuclear-armed neighbor – a “dramatic change” to “wake people up,” he hinted.
Invited onto the Washington Post’s ‘Please Go On’ podcast on Friday to expand on his proposed “solutions” to the “problem” of Afghan withdrawal as set out in an op-ed for the paper earlier this week, Bolton began by sneeringly dismissing the idea that the US could ever truly leave Afghanistan in the first place.
“All of Central Asia is like a big pile of pickup sticks,” he told the interviewer, “and they say, ‘Hey, we’re going to take that American stick out of Afghanistan and nothing else will happen anywhere else.’ Completely wrong, and we’re seeing the consequences of it now.”
“I think there are things that are going to happen that we can’t even foresee at the moment that aren’t going to be good,” the mustachioed warmonger continued threateningly.
Bolton warned the return of the Taliban to power in Afghanistan – something that had been anticipated and even planned for months, yet somehow in his view the equivalent of an unconscionable sneak attack – could lead to the sudden radicalization of Pakistan’s government, which, given its stockpile of nuclear weapons, would clearly be unacceptable. Some of those weapons could fall into the hands of terrorists, he suggested, who could carry them anywhere – even across the Mexican border. Any inkling that Islamabad “appears ready to transfer nuclear capabilities to terrorists” should result in “preventive action,” he declared.
While admitting this would be “highly unpalatable” (and essentially admitting he had no way of knowing how a move like that might be telegraphed), he laid out a range of tactics more likely to bring about the radicalization of the Pakistani government than to prevent it. “Make it clear to civilian leaders that Pakistan will pay a very dear price” if “they don’t cut off aid to the Taliban,” he suggested, arguing the US should make its own aid to Islamabad contingent on their cutting off aid to the Afghan Taliban. Washington should also ditch Pakistan from the “major non-NATO allies” list, impose sanctions, and accelerate its “tilt toward India” – Pakistan’s long-time nemesis.
As if all this wasn’t likely enough to boost anti-US resentment in the region, Washington should put China on notice that any misuse of Pakistan’s nukes would be considered Beijing’s fault, Bolton said, further drawing out the scope of preemptive punishment. He acknowledged Washington might lose out to China in the race to influence Pakistan due to Beijing’s ability to build Pakistan’s ports and construct “beautiful roads” and pipelines capable of carrying oil and gas directly into China without having to pass through any US-controlled areas.
And as for the withdrawal itself, Bolton blamed the last three presidential administrations for failing to normalize the expenditure of trillions of dollars and thousands of lives on a doomed nation-building project, noting that while “withdrawing from Afghanistan” polled well among Americans, it didn’t poll as well when respondents were told the Taliban would be rushing in or that Al-Qaeda would set up shop again. Complaining that forever-wars aren’t “like D-Day every day,” Bolton sulked that the country just needed to get to know them a little better.
“Sometimes there’s a utility in a dramatic change to wake people up,” he said ominously. “That may be helpful as well.”
Bolton expressed concern over ISIS-K, the local chapter of the Islamic State terrorist group (IS, formerly ISIS), observing that the Kabul airport could easily be taken out of commission if a plane was taken down on its main runway.
Asked if “heads should roll” – metaphorically, presumably – over the exit snafu, Bolton laid the blame completely at President Joe Biden’s feet, declaring “This is his decision, and he’s going to have to bear the consequences. It’s a disaster.”
Pakistan’s National Security Advisor Moeed Yusuf responded to Bolton’s call for essentially moving the Afghan war across the border (the area being too good of a vantage point over Iran to give up, according to Bolton, who called Washington’s perch in Afghanistan a good “insurance policy”) with a plea for the two countries to repair their relationship, noting they had common goals.
For Islamabad to reach out an olive branch to the US so soon after being drone-bombed by them under former President Barack Obama might come as a surprise, though both nations do have an interest in keeping IS and other terrorist groups out of Pakistan. The group took credit on Thursday for the suicide bombing at the gates of Kabul airport that left at least 175 dead, including 12 Americans.