Faults Underlying Exercise Vigilant GuardStory by: (Author NameStaff Sgt. Raymond Drumsta – 138th Public Affairs Detachment Dated: Thu, Nov 5, 2009 This map illustrates the earthquake fault lines in Western New York. An earthquake in the region is a likely event, says University of Buffalo Professor Dr. Robert Jacobi. TONAWANDA, NY — An earthquake in western New York, the scenario that Exercise Vigilant Guard is built around, is not that far-fetched, according to University of Buffalo geology professor Dr. Robert Jacobi. When asked about earthquakes in the area, Jacobi pulls out a computer-generated state map, cross-hatched with diagonal lines representing geological faults. The faults show that past earthquakes in the state were not random, and could occur again on the same fault systems, he said. “In western New York, 6.5 magnitude earthquakes are possible,” he said. This possibility underlies Exercise Vigilant Guard, a joint training opportunity for National Guard and emergency response organizations to build relationships with local, state, regional and federal partners against a variety of different homeland security threats including natural disasters and potential terrorist attacks. The exercise was based on an earthquake scenario, and a rubble pile at the Spaulding Fibre site here was used to simulate a collapsed building. The scenario was chosen as a result of extensive consultations with the earthquake experts at the University of Buffalo’s Multidisciplinary Center for Earthquake Engineering Research (MCEER), said Brig. Gen. Mike Swezey, commander of 53rd Troop Command, who visited the site on Monday. Earthquakes of up to 7 magnitude have occurred in the Northeastern part of the continent, and this scenario was calibrated on the magnitude 5.9 earthquake which occurred in Saguenay, Quebec in 1988, said Jacobi and Professor Andre Filiatrault, MCEER director. “A 5.9 magnitude earthquake in this area is not an unrealistic scenario,” said Filiatrault. Closer to home, a 1.9 magnitude earthquake occurred about 2.5 miles from the Spaulding Fibre site within the last decade, Jacobi said. He and other earthquake experts impaneled by the Atomic Energy Control Board of Canada in 1997 found that there’s a 40 percent chance of 6.5 magnitude earthquake occurring along the Clareden-Linden fault system, which lies about halfway between Buffalo and Rochester, Jacobi added. Jacobi and Filiatrault said the soft soil of western New York, especially in part of downtown Buffalo, would amplify tremors, causing more damage. “It’s like jello in a bowl,” said Jacobi. The area’s old infrastructure is vulnerable because it was built without reinforcing steel, said Filiatrault. Damage to industrial areas could release hazardous materials, he added. “You’ll have significant damage,” Filiatrault said. Exercise Vigilant Guard involved an earthquake’s aftermath, including infrastructure damage, injuries, deaths, displaced citizens and hazardous material incidents. All this week, more than 1,300 National Guard troops and hundreds of local and regional emergency response professionals have been training at several sites in western New York to respond these types of incidents. Jacobi called Exercise Vigilant Guard “important and illuminating.” “I’m proud of the National Guard for organizing and carrying out such an excellent exercise,” he said. Training concluded Thursday.
The rising tensions among nuclear-armed states could lead to a nuclear war
Any misunderstanding amid rising tensions among nuclear-armed states could lead to a nuclear war, and several prominent figures around the world, including UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, are warning that rhetoric and aggression needs to be brought in check to prevent such an eventuality.
He was speaking at the 10th review conference of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which has largely failed to meet its objectives since India, Pakistan, North Korea, and allegedly Israel managed to go nuclear since it was signed, while South Africa built and willfully dismantled a nuclear weapons programme since the NPT first came into being. Guterres singled out Russia for “its dangerous nuclear rhetoric and behaviour” as he noted that the world faced “a nuclear danger not seen since the height of the Cold War.” He also noted how “extraordinarily lucky” humanity has been that such a misunderstanding or miscalculation has not already happened, before going on to say that luck should not be a strategy and arguing that a world free of nuclear weapons would be safer than a world which uses them as “a shield from geopolitical tensions.”
There is evidence to back up the statement including the events around the Cuban Missile Crisis, several false alarms that were resolved only due to cool-headed political figures and military officers, or the dozens of ‘missing’ nuclear weapons around the world. The US, for example, has at least six nuclear weapons unaccounted for, and some Soviet-era sources have claimed that about 100 nuclear weapons of varying yields may have gone missing during the fall of the Soviet Union.
However, the last NPT moot in 2015 yielded no substantive agreements on how to restrict the proliferation of nuclear weapons or expanding recognition as nuclear weapons states to Pakistan and India, which have been responsible actors since making their nuclear capabilities known.
Without fully involving the known players, any efforts to eventually move towards denuclearisation will remain futile — the five permanent UN Security Council members, who are all military powerhouses and also the only ‘recognised’ nuclear powers, cannot expect the rest of the world to blindly accept their open hypocrisy as they continue to hold enough weapons to destroy the world many times over, while punishing smaller nations that believe nuclear weapons are the key to a secure existence.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 3rd, 2022.
Radical cleric Moqtada Al Sadr is once again upending Iraqi politics by asking his legion of supporters to occupy the national Parliament for the second time since 2016, this time blocking rival MPs, many aligned to Iran-backed political parties in a coalition called the Co-Ordination Framework, from convening to form government.
On Monday, the sit-in spurred a counter-protest, largely led by Asaib Ahl Al Haq, a splinter group from the Sadrist movement backed by Iran with a political party aligned to former prime minister Nouri Al Maliki — Mr Al Sadr’s arch rival.
Supporters of Iraqi Shiite cleric Moqtada Al Sadr during a sit-in at a parliament building in Baghdad, Iraq. Reuters
The group is widely accused of kidnapping, torturing and killing civilians during Iraq’s civil war and later killing hundreds of protesters in 2019.
They fought street battles with the Mr Al Sadr’s militia in Baghdad between 2012 and 2014.
Since then, rivalry has involved assassinations of members from both groups.
The recent standoff has led to fears of a new civil war — this time Shiite against Shiite.
Who is Moqtada Al Sadr?
The cleric has long claimed to fight corruption and oppression, whether that of the Saddam Hussein regime or after 2003, the US.
Through numerous protests between 2016 and 2020, he aligned his movement with Iraqi Communists and youth protest groups, calling for “a revolution of the oppressed” that could put an end to Iraq’s system of sectarian apportionment in government and usher in public service based on quality rather than identity.
His father-in-law, revered cleric Grand Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir Al Sadr, was murdered along with his wife by Iraq’s Baathists and his father, Muhammad Sadiq Al Sadr was shot dead by Baathist agents in 1999, sparking a second Shiite uprising against Saddam.
This heritage of suffering and religious piety gave him folk hero status among Iraq’s Shiite poor and he inherited a southern network of Sadrists stretching into the slums of Baghdad’s crowded, suburban Saddam City (now Sadr City).
But is the cleric really an outsider fighting corruption?
“In the background, Sadrist loyalists have embedded themselves in the bureaucracy. There has been some good reporting on this, on the ‘deep state’ and Sadrist penetration thereof,” says Nicholas Krohley, author of The Death of the Mehdi Army: The Rise, Fall, and Revival of Iraq’s Most Powerful Militia.
Mr Krohley refers to revelations over the years that Mr Al Sadr controls sections of Iraq’s Ministry of Electricity, abusing contracts to raise funds, and controls much of the Ministry of Health, a legacy of when his militia, the Jaish Al Mahdi, took control of it between 2005 and 2007.
The group was widely accused of committing sectarian murders in hospital wards, selling medicine on the black market and driving away many of Iraq’s talented health workers.
But Mr Al Sadr has tried to distance himself from this period, disbanding the Jaish Al Mahdi, withdrawing ministers and MPs from government on many occasions as an act of protest against what he deems mainstream political groups — mainly his rivals in Mr Al Maliki’s Dawa party and their Iran-backed allies in the Badr Organisation.
With the latter group, Mr Al Sadr’s supporters fought a series of bloody gun battles in Karbala in 2007 that left 50 dead.
But analysts say his outsider image is a mirage.
In reality, the cleric has always maintained a strong network of supporters in senior government positions.
When Baghdad’s Ibn Al Khatib hospital caught fire — killing nearly 90 people in a tragedy widely blamed on negligence — Mr Al Sadr’s nominated health minister Hassan Al Tamimi was removed from his post. A health official told The National that the hospital, along with most health facilities in Rusafa, where Sadr City is located, was run by the movement.
When a similar blaze occurred in July last year, killing 92 people in Nasiriyah, tribal leaders blamed local Sadrists in the health authority, giving them three days to leave the province.
The cleric has also tried to distance himself from militia crimes during Iraq’s sectarian strife between 2003 and 2008.
Sensitive to the fact that he reformed his old militia, renamed Saraya Al Salam during the war on ISIS, Mr Al Sadr said he would disband the group in 2017, but they remain active. Their commander Abu Mustafa Al Hamidawi ordered members to be “prepared for any emergency” in Baghdad on July 24.
Some analysts say Mr Al Sadr only has loose control over this armed group and at least three splinter factions have emerged.
Hakim Al Zamili, former deputy parliament speaker and deputy minister of health — arrested by the US for running sectarian death squads when working in the Health Ministry, last year said the kidnap and murder strategy his militia used had helped to “defeat terrorism”. Mr Al Zamili recently joined protesters in Iraq’s Parliament.
Al Sadr again sorry Iran
To some, the unpredictable Shiite cleric is a useful bulwark against increasingly powerful Iranian-backed political parties.
Their power soared after 2014 when Mr Al Maliki formalised Iran-backed militias as part of the security services, wrapping them into an umbrella organisation, the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF).
But it meant that two rival sets of militias — US-listed terrorist organisations such as Kataib Hezbollah and Asaib Ahl Al Haq, as well as a host of smaller groups — were now in the same formation as Saraya Al Salam.
Bitter disputes over salaries between the groups ensued, at one point leading to the assassination of a government-appointed PMF auditor.
Now the prize, after 10 months of stalled government formation, is control over Iraqi state resources — Shiite parties lead the competition for everything from PMF salaries and pensions to controlling entire state-owned companies.
Will there be a new civil war?
“None of what’s happening is usual, this has been uncharted territory since Sadr pulled his followers [MPs] out of Parliament,” says Omar Al Nidawi, programme director at US NGO Enabling Peace in Iraq Center.
“Both Sadr and the Co-ordination Framework are taking shots in the dark to see what works. The difference is the Framework seems to be finding it more difficult to agree on a united course of action. This may explain the brief protest on Monday and decision to pull back after ‘delivering the message’.”
But Mr Al Nidawi is sceptical of the prospect of full-scale war.
“We’re unlikely to see Co-ordination Framework factions decide they want to take on the Sadrists in an armed conflict.” he says.
Joel Wing, an analyst who has tracked violence in Iraq since 2008, agrees that Iraq’s intra-Shiite competition now extends beyond Iran’s reach.
“The driving force in all this escalation is Maliki not Iran. Everyone knows Maliki is an autocrat full of conspiracies who will turn on anyone and use the power of the state,” he says, referring to Mr Al Maliki’s considerable influence behind the scenes in Iraq’s politics.
But Mr Wing says there will be no winners.
“Sadr could be just as big a threat to everyone as Maliki was, if he’s in the driver’s seat,” he warns.
In the long run, “time is on Moqtada’s side”, Mr Krohley says. He notes Iraq’s rapidly growing population which swells the ranks of unemployed with each year of government failure.
This will always boost the appeal of Mr Al Sadr’s populist brand, he says.
“It’s demographics. The Sadrist base keeps growing in Iraq, in absolute and relative terms. No other political faction has had any luck in peeling away meaningful numbers of Sadrist followers. The ‘resistance’ IRGC-linked PMF types have utterly failed. So, Moqtada still sits at the head of what is, and seems very likely to remain, the dominant political force in Iraq.”
Shia cleric Al-Sadr urges protesters to leave Iraq’s Parliament
Iraqi Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr on Tuesday called on his supporters to leave the parliament building amid protests against the nomination of a new prime minister by groups close to Iran.
In a statement, al-Sadr urged protesters to evacuate the building in Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone within 72 hours. The influential leader, however, called on supporters to maintain their sit-in around the parliament HQ.
Al-Sadr also called on his supporters to gather to perform the weekly Friday prayers on Aug. 5 in the Green Zone, which houses Iraqi government offices and several foreign embassies.
Meanwhile, Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi called on pro-Sadr protesters to end their demonstrations and hold dialogue among the country’s political groups.
Tension escalated across Iraq since last week following the nomination of Mohammed Shia al-Sudani as a new prime minister by the Coordination Framework, a coalition of groups close to Iran. The move, however, triggered protests from supporters of al-Sadr.
Iraq has been in a political deadlock for nine months following the country’s general elections last October, which failed since then to agree on a new government between the rival parties. * Sohaila Barghash in Ankara contributed to this report
“The U.S. asks China to be part of the nuclear disarmament dialogue … with one purpose only, which is to deflect blame and distract attention,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Tuesday. “The size of our nuclear arsenal is not on the same level with the U.S. At the current stage, to ask China to be part of the multilateral disarmament process is not fair, nor is it reasonable.”
“The U.S. has been following a strategy of using Taiwan to contain China,” she said, per the official transcript. “Any countermeasure to be taken by China would be a justified and necessary response to the U.S. oblivion to China’s repeated démarches and the U.S.’s unscrupulous behavior.”
Hua delivered that protest, as a Chinese state media outlet emphasized, during her first appearance at the daily press briefing since “February 24, when Russia’s military operation in Ukraine started.” Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio — who aired his “strong sense of urgency that Ukraine today, maybe East Asia tomorrow” at a security conference in June — traveled to New York to participate in a conference reviewing the efficacy of the treaty on the nonproliferation of nuclear weapons, known as the NPT.
“While the number has significantly decreased since the peak of the Cold War … maintaining this decreasing trend is extremely important in getting closer to a world without nuclear weapons,” the Japanese leader told the United Nations in a Monday speech. “In this vein, Japan supports the dialogue conducted between the United States and Russia for further reduction and encourages the U.S. and China to engage in a bilateral dialogue on nuclear arms control and disarmament.”
His statement brightened the spotlight on China’s nuclear arsenal at a conference otherwise haunted by Russia’s nuclear threats.
“Any country that asks others to reject the pursuit of nuclear weapons also has to be willing to reduce — and eventually, eliminate — their own stockpiles of nuclear weapons,” Blinken said in his appearance at the conference. “We stand ready to work with all partners, including China and others, on risk reduction and strategic stability efforts. As we look to the future, we also have to strengthen agreements preventing nuclear conflict — and create new ones.”
Chinese officials have refused to contemplate restrictions on their burgeoning nuclear arsenal for years. And Beijing has touted the modernizing Chinese forces in an attempt to curtail U.S. government contacts with Taiwan, which the Chinese Communist regime regards as its sovereign territory, despite never managing to exert authority on the island.
“Making themselves an enemy of the 1.4 billion Chinese people will not end up well,” Hua wroteon Twitter. “Acting like a bully in front of the whole world will only make everyone see that the US is the biggest danger to world peace.”
In 2018, then US President Donald Trump ditched the nuclear pact under which Iran curbed its uranium enrichment work – a potential pathway to nuclear weapons – in exchange for relief from international economic sanctions.
Iran has responded to top European Union diplomat Josep Borrell’s proposal aimed at salvaging the nuclear accord, and seeks a swift conclusion to negotiations, the top Iranian nuclear negotiator said on Sunday.
Borrell said he had proposed a new draft text to revive the deal.
“After exchanging messages last week and reviewing the proposed texts, there is a possibility that in the near future we will be able to reach a conclusion about the timing of a new round of nuclear negotiations,” Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani said.
The broad outline of a revived deal was essentially agreed in March after 11 months of indirect talks in Vienna between Tehran and the administration of US President Joe Biden.
But talks broke down over obstacles including Tehran’s demand that Washington should give guarantees that no US president will abandon the deal, the same way Trump did.
Biden cannot promise this because the nuclear deal is a political understanding, not a legally binding treaty.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Monday there could be no winners in a nuclear war and no such war should ever be started.
Putin made the comment in a letter to participants of a conference on the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT), more than five months into his war on Ukraine.
“We proceed from the fact that there can be no winners in a nuclear war and it should never be unleashed, and we stand for equal and indivisible security for all members of the world community,” he said.
International concern about the risk of a nuclear confrontation has heightened since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24. In a speech at the time, Putin pointedly referred to Russia’s nuclear arsenal and warned outside powers against any attempt to interfere.