America’s Great Double-Edged Sword

The double-edged sword: US nuclear command and control modernization

Andrew Futter

Last month the General Accountability Office announced that parts of the command and control system used to manage US nuclear weapons rely on eight-inch floppy disks, an IBM Series/1 computer, and other hardware that is more than 50 years old. So old in fact that many parts for these systems have long since ceased to be manufactured or stocked. Although the Strategic Automated Command and Control System (or SACCS)—which is used, in part, to send and receive Emergency Action Messages to nuclear weapons systems and their operators—is not the only so-called legacy system in use across the US government, it is without doubt the one that would create the most severe consequences, should it go wrong. That this system has not been fundamentally overhauled since the 1960s, while billions of dollars have been spent on a wide variety of new nuclear weapons and delivery platforms, also raises serious concerns that the system would work as expected, if and when it was ever required.

To be sure, the nuclear command and control apparatus is now undergoing a comprehensive upgrade; legacy systems and out-of-date technologies are being retired and replaced with the latest digital hardware and software. Floppy disks, primarily associated with the communications aspect of nuclear command and control, are due to be replaced with secure digital cards by the end of 2017, and the whole modernization plan is scheduled for completion by 2020. The stated aim is to take advantage of the considerable benefits offered by high-speed networking, processing power, and net-centric interoperability. This infrastructure refurbishment will also allow for the development of a full spectrum of integrated strategic missions, involving not just different nuclear attack plans, but also military operations that incorporate new conventional prompt-strike technologies, cyber capabilities, and ballistic missile defense.
The basis of these new capabilities is ISPAN, the Integrated Strategic Planning and Analysis Network, which will provide planning capabilities and support to the strategic deterrence mission and global strike program for US Strategic Command (STRATCOM). Implementation of ISPAN began in 2004, and when this and other upgrade programs are complete, they will allow rapid planning, targeting, and bespoke mission solutions for operators at STRATCOM headquarters near Omaha, Nebraska, drawing on a wide spectrum of sensors.

But even in this digital age—during which society prides and even defines itself on using the latest, fastest, most advanced technology—there are many reasons to be careful about what we wish for when it comes to modernizing the nuclear command and control system. More technological capability will not necessarily create a more secure world.

Is newer tech necessarily safer tech? The current US nuclear command and control system is relatively simple, and the nature of its technology makes that system fairly easy to protect, and fairly easy to monitor, so military leaders know if something has gone wrong. The false alarms at the North American Air Defense Command (NORAD) in 1979 and 1980—which suggested that the United States was under Soviet attack when it was not—might be held up as examples of problems with old cranky legacy systems. But the very fact that the crises were averted had much to do with the ability of system operators to find the problem swiftly, because they understood the system and its major processes. In one instance, in October 1979, a training tape was wrongly inserted into a computer; in June 1980, the problem was twice caused by a faulty circuit card. In neither case did the United States launch a military response.

The new command and control systems now in development will likely be fully digitized; as a result, those in charge may find it difficult keep pace with problems that arise much less train operators to recognize, diagnose, and fix them—and quickly. The planning and targeting system alone is likely to rely on many millions of lines of complex computer code that will be unfathomable to all but the most specialized of programmers. The challenge of monitoring such a network will be exacerbated as more sensors, more data streams, and more weapons systems are combined under one inclusive strategic umbrella. Such complexity also increases the risks of “normal nuclear accidents;” the theory that complex systems—particularly those that can never be fully tested—are bound to go wrong some of the time and involve unintended and often unforeseen consequences.

A greater reliance on complex, networked digital computers for the management of US nuclear weapons creates a second, perhaps more worrying problem: that these systems might somehow be hacked into and compromised so that they do not work or provide misleading information that might lead to nuclear use. Of course, the computers and networks that control US nuclear weapons are well protected and physically air-gapped from the wider internet (at least we hope they are), but this does not make them foolproof. Malware might be inserted into hardware and software during the procurement phase, or when systems are being updated and patched. It may also be possible to “jump the air gap” in the future. Such malware might be designed to either prevent systems working as planned, or to cause them to generate false information that could lead to erroneous decisions. It may be impossible to fully test the system against every conceivable type of threat posed by attackers, and some malware may be designed to initiate only when certain conditions are met. Consequently, while more networked sensors and computing power will potentially provide more opportunity to unmask false attack warnings, greater complexity and the need to process ever-increasing amounts of data accurately and quickly also provides more vulnerabilities that could be exploited by would-be attackers.
Attackers may also seek to compromise the communications systems more directly, or to spoof sensors and processors with incorrect or misleading data. Imagine for example, that hackers acquired launch-codes through (cyber) espionage, and had somehow broken into the nuclear control system and sent the go-codes to weapons digitally? While this may have the feel of the 1983 Hollywood blockbuster War Games, if these codes ever were 00000 as has been previously rumored, this may not be as difficult or as far-fetched as it may seem. Indeed, former launch officer Bruce Blair, now a research scholar at Princeton University, has warned that it is certainly not impossible that terrorists could have caused a nuclear launch through cyber and electronic means after launch centers lost their ability to detect and cancel any unauthorized launch attempts in October 2010.
This threat is likely to increase with the added complexity of systems being used for nuclear command and control; more lines of code and more hi-tech software and hardware will provide more vulnerabilities that might be exploited by attackers.

Why nuclear command and control should be simple, separate, and secure. The argument here is not that no modernization of the US nuclear command and control systems should be done—I am neither a nuclear nor a digital luddite—but rather that the modernized nuclear systems should be kept as simple as possible and remain distinctly separate from non-nuclear systems. Keeping nuclear and conventional command and control apparatus—and especially anything linked to fire control—separate would seem imperative to preventing inadvertent undesirable outcomes. Indeed, sharing command and control between nuclear and conventional weapons systems—now contemplated as part of the ISPAN implementation—unquestionably increases risks of misperception and perhaps unintended escalation during any future crisis. Attacks on US (or other states’) conventional command systems may be interpreted as attacks on nuclear command capabilities, for example. Modernization will also need to be complemented with training and education about these new systems, and particularly about the importance of good “cyber hygiene”, that is, steps for users to enhance cybersecurity and general good practice when it comes to using computers. It might also be useful to have operators with a background in computer programming and network security in control of these weapons systems.

In the realm of nuclear command and control, modernization is a doubled-edged sword. It will undoubtedly deliver increases in functionality, speed, and options, but it will also make these systems more complex, difficult to protect, and, possibly, more vulnerable to those seeking to interfere with them.

Keeping the nuclear command and control system simple, separate, and secure may not seem very sexy in today’s digital world of extraordinary technological advance, but it might be the best way to minimize miscalculation, accidents, and even unauthorized use of nuclear weapons. Thus, while modernization of nuclear control systems is to be welcomed, planners need to think long and hard about just what this system should do, and particularly the wisdom of commingling the apparatus used for nuclear, conventional, and, increasingly, cyber operations. Keeping this system simple and separate also helps reinforce the notion that modernization is not secretly designed to enhance nuclear usability. As the old adage goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Babylon The Great To Upgrade Its Nuclear Arsenal (Ezekiel 17)

Nuclear Command & Control System Needs Modernization

By Constance Baroudos

According to the U.S. National Security Strategy, the potential use of nuclear weapons poses the greatest danger to U.S. security. The U.S. strategic deterrent exists to deter a nuclear attack or blackmail against the United States and its allies. If deterrence were to fail, the president would make the decision whether to launch nuclear weapons based on information provided by the Nuclear Command and Control System (NCCS), and would communicate his decision through the system. NCCS must be modernized to provide survivable and reliable support of that process.
The NCCS depends on a collection of activities, processes, and procedures performed by military commanders to communicate leadership decisions to nuclear forces. Military and commercial satellite sensors transmit and receive voice, video and data through the NCCS via land-based secure and non-secure phone lines, undersea cables, and airborne relay like the E-4B National Airborne Operations Center (NAOC) and E-6B Airborne Command Post planes. The system is utilized by stakeholders at the White House, Department of Defense, Department of State, Department of Homeland Security, and other federal agencies.

The Nuclear Command and Control (NC2) is a survivable network of communications and warning systems that ensures connectivity from the president to nuclear forces provided by NCCS personnel, procedures, facilities, equipment and communications. The five functions of NC2 include force management, planning, situation monitoring, decision making, and force direction. Included in NC2 is the Integrated Tactical Warning/Attack Assessment (ITW/AA) System that evaluates details using surveillance, correlation, and warning along with independent sources of information to ensure credible assessments of ballistic missile, space and air attacks on North America and its interests.
NC2 can be transferred to the E-4B NAOC and E-6B Airborne Command Post if fixed command centers are destroyed as a result of an attack. A NAOC aircraft is ready to launch within minutes from random basing locations, ensuring the survivability of the aircraft and the mission while the E-6B serves as an airborne command post and an aerial backup of the Global Operations Center (GOC) with two additional missions: launch Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles, a standby to the land-based launch control facilities, and relay presidential nuclear control orders to Navy nuclear submarines and Air Force nuclear missiles and bombers.

The nuclear command, control, and communications system is the network that moves trusted data and advice to presidential advisors, the president, the National Military Command System, and nuclear weapons delivery platforms. It provides national leaders with situational awareness, advanced warning and command and control capabilities to ensure authorities have the maximum amount of time to make decisions, strengthening the Air Force’s ability to respond and employ forces against a target.

While the information and communication lines within NCCS are critical to the safety of the U.S. and its interests, the system needs to be modernized to ensure survivability and operate with current technology. To avoid the interruption or destruction of sensitive electronics of the system, NCCS facilities need to be built to resist the effects of a nuclear explosion and an electromagnetic pulse attack. Modern systems must also be able to operate on internet-like networks to provide survivable and reliable support, and must be protected against cyber attacks and network intrusions.

The Air Force in particular needs more money to modernize nuclear networks since they have been in place since the Cold War. Admiral Cecil D. Haney has confirmed mission success is increasingly at risk due to age and the growing complexity of the security environment. Upgrading the system will likely translate into lower costs for maintenance since new technology is less extensive to sustain. The Air Force is working towards upgrading the system to support the current intercontinental ballistic missile program as well as the future Ground-based Strategic Deterrent likely to be deployed circa 2030.

The Nuclear Command and Control System provides critical information and communication pathways to U.S. government officials, the president, and the U.S. strategic deterrent. The leader of the Free World is dependent on intelligence from NCCS to decide whether launching a nuclear weapon is the best course of action and the president will communicate his decision through the system. Since NCCS ensures crisis stability, deters attack against the U.S. and allies and maintains the safety, security, and effectiveness of the U.S. nuclear deterrent, it must be upgraded to operate with modern technology, protected against cyber attacks and network intrusions, and survive if a nuclear or electromagnetic pulse attack were to occur.

The Iranian Horn Continues To Control The Nuclear Deal (Daniel 8:4)

Khamenei Conditionally Approves Iran Nuclear Deal With World Powers

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaks during the 16th summit of the Non-Aligned Movement in Tehran, August 30, 2012. Khamenei on Wednesday approved the Iranian government’s nuclear deal with world powers, but said Iran would stop implementing it if the six powers imposed any new sanctions. Hamid Forootan/ISNA/Reuters
ANKARA (Reuters) – Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Wednesday approved the Iranian government’s nuclear deal with world powers but said Tehran should not give up core elements of its atomic program until allegations of past military dimensions had been settled.

In a letter to President Hassan Rouhani, whose pragmatist approach opened the door to nuclear diplomacy with the West, Khamenei ordered the July 14 agreement to be implemented, subject to certain security conditions the Iranian parliament stipulated in a law passed last week.

Under the Vienna agreement, Iran is to curb sensitive parts of its nuclear program to help ensure it cannot be diverted into developing bombs, in exchange for a removal of sanctions that have isolated the Islamic Republic and hobbled its economy.

Khamenei’s green light was the last procedural hurdle to carrying out a deal that ended a decade-long stand-off which raised fears of a wider Middle East war.

But the Supreme Leader has ruled out any detente with the West beyond the nuclear deal, and he said Iran would stop implementing it if the six powers—the United States, Britain, France, Germany China andRussia —imposed any new sanctions.

“Any comments suggesting the sanctions structure will remain in place or (new) sanctions will be imposed, at any level and under any pretext, would be (considered by Iran) a violation of the deal,” Khamenei said in the letter published on his website.

He said implementation of the deal should be “tightly controlled and monitored” because of some “ambiguities” in it.

“Lack of tight control could bring significant damage for the present and the future of the country,” he said, while praising the efforts of Rouhani’s negotiating team.

Possible Military Aspects

The United States and the European Union took formal legal steps on Sunday that will rescind sanctions once Iran meets certain conditions such as reducing the number of centrifuges used to enrich uranium, and its enriched-uranium stockpile.

Another condition will be a resolution of a U.N. nuclear watchdog inquiry into whether Iran conducted atom bomb research at a military complex in the past—”possible military dimensions (PMD)” to the program, as the agency terms it.

On that point, Khamenei said that until U.N. inspectors settled the PMD issue, Iran should delay sending its stockpile of enriched uranium abroad and reconfiguring a heavy water reactor to ensure it cannot make bomb-grade plutonium.

The International Atomic Energy Agency finished collecting samples from Iran’s Parchin military complex earlier this month and is expected to announce its conclusions on PMD by Dec. 15.

Iran has long denied covertly researching bombs and says its nuclear program has always been for civilian energy purposes.

“Any action regarding Arak (reactor) and dispatching uranium abroad … will take place after the PMD (possible military dimensions) file is closed,” Khamenei said in the letter.

Iran agreed with the powers to fill the Arak reactor’s core with concrete so that it could not yield plutonium, which along with highly enriched uranium constitutes the standard fuel for nuclear bombs.

Iran is also required to export more than 90 percent of its refined uranium stocks, keeping just 300 kg of the material enriched to 3.67 percent fissile purity—suitable for running civilian nuclear power plants – for 15 years.

Since the deal was struck, Khamenei, who holds together Iran’s multi-tiered, faction-ridden power structure, has ruled out normalizing relations with the United States, overriding Rouhani’s expressed wish to pursue further areas of cooperation.

In comments meant to reassure hardline acolytes particularly in the security services, Khamenei said U.S. President Barack Obama had sent him two letters pledging America had no intention of toppling the Islamic Republic’s clerical establishment.

But this was soon proved a lie … Neither on the nuclear issue nor in any other cases has America taken any position except hostility and trouble (towards Iran). Therefore any change in the future is unlikely,” Khamenei’s statement read.

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It Is All Part Of The Prophecy (Daniel 8)

We’re letting Iran and ISIS carve up Iraq

The good news: The Iraqi army, backed by Kurdish and Shiite militias, has captured parts of Tikrit, Saddam Hussein’s hometown, from the Islamic State after weeks of bitter fighting.

It may take several more weeks of bitter house-to-house fighting before IS retreats toward its heartland of Mosul in Iraq and Raqqah in Syria, but the army of the self-styled caliph has already experienced its biggest battlefield defeats.

The bad news: Iran is the biggest winner in the Tikrit fight — and IS is gaining elsewhere. 

The two are dancing toward a de facto partition of Iraq between them.

While IS was retreating on the Tikrit front north of Baghdad, its forces were making major gains east of the Iraqi capital with the aim of capturing Ramadi, Iraq’s fourth-largest Arab Sunni city.

In fact, IS (aka ISIS, or Daesh in Arabic) still controls the largest chunk of territory that any terrorist group ever has. It also continues to attract large numbers of volunteer jihadists, from Western Europe and even from China, the Philippines and Japan.

In propaganda terms, IS has also scored new gains by securing pledges of loyalty from other jihadi movements in Yemen, Libya, Somalia, Algeria and Mali. The latest came from Boko Haram in Nigeria.

Meanwhile, the general perception in Baghdad and elsewhere is that the real winners of the (as yet incomplete) victory in Tikrit were Shiite militias backed and even led by military advisers from the Quds Corps of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has tried to claim the victory for his forces, but Iran’s propaganda machine is in full gear awarding credit to the military genius of Gen. Qassem Suleimani, the celebrity Quds Corps commander.

Some Iranian officials even claim a new Persian empire is taking shape across most of the Middle East.

“Today, Baghdad is the capital of our culture and identity, and Iraq is geopolitically inseparable from Iran” says Ayatollah Ali Yunessi, special adviser to President Hassan Rouhani. “Having fought together, we must become one.”

Such talk is a propaganda boost to IS, which bases part of its claim to legitimacy on its “resistance against Iranian plots to conquer Arab lands and force Sunnis to convert to Shiism.”

Meanwhile, Iran seems to be applying the recipe it’s used in Lebanon and Yemen to beleaguered Iraq. They key ingredient: creating a parallel army that, in time, can outgrow the national army of the “host” nation.

This is just what Iran achieved with the branch of Hezbollah (Party of God) it set up in Lebanon and its sister organization, Ansar-Allah (Helpers of God), which last month seized power in the Yemeni capital Sanaa.

Iran is using the same recipe in Syria, creating the parallel army Haras al-Qowmi (Ethnic Guard) with the help of the Lebanese Hezbollah.

The Iraqi version, Hashad al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilization), is modeled on Iran’s Baseej Mustazafeen (Mobilization of the Downtrodden). At its core are four Shiite militias theoretically disbanded under ex-Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki: the Badr (Full Moon), Jaish al-Mahdi (The Mahdi Army), the Iraqi Hezbollah and Jund al-Shuhada (Army of Martyrs).

The Iranian regime knows it lacks the military power and the political support needed to seize direct control in any Arab state, least of all Iraq. This is why it plans to create a state-within-a-state situation — where the formal government in Baghdad, like the formal governments in Beirut or Damascus, will be an empty shell, with real power exercised by heavily armed and well-funded groups linked to Tehran.

These Iranian-controlled groups would command chunks of territory while letting Sunni jihadists set up shop in their own neck of the woods.

In other words, Iran is not aiming to defeat IS, let alone destroy it. All Tehran wants is to create a safe corridor through Iraqi territory to Syria and thence to Lebanon.

And IS seems to be preparing for just such an outcome by diverting resources to its eastern and southeastern fronts — with the ultimate aim of threatening Jordan and, later, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

The deadly dance of IS and the Quds Corps is facilitated by President Obama’s inability or unwillingness to define his war aims, let alone develop a credible strategy for preventing IS and Iran from dividing the Levant between them.

Debating Obama’s demand for a war authorization to deal with the situation in Iraq, Congress must start by asking the president to clearly define what he intends to do and how he intends on doing it.
If the answer is to continue with Obama’s current policy and posture, don’t expect anything good to come out it — for either the United States or Iraq.

Russia And Babylon Will End Nuclear Treaty (Daniel 7:7)

Nuclear Treaty with Russia May Be Breaking Down

Russian President Putin addresses during a joint news conference with Hungarian Prime Minister Orban in Budapest

The Fiscal Times

March 11, 2015
A high-level Russian official on Wednesday asserted again that the Kremlin has the right to move nuclear weapons into the disputed Crimean peninsula, which Russian troops invaded last year — and suggested that a key nuclear arms control agreement between the U.S. and Russia is in danger of breaking down.

On the question of sending nuclear weapons into Crimea, Russia’s Interfax news agency quoted Mikhail Ulyanov as saying, “I don’t know if there are nuclear weapons there now. I don’t know about any plans, but in principle Russia can do it.” It’s a position that other Russian officials have articulated in the past. Ulyanov’s boss, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, made similar comments in December.

More surprising was Ulyanov’s warning about the status of the Intermediate Range Nuclear Force Treaty, signed by the U.S. and the Soviet Union in 1987. The deal was designed to eliminate the two countries’ stocks of nuclear and ballistic missiles with ranges of between 300 and 3,400 miles.
The escalating rhetoric over nuclear weapons comes as tensions continue to rise in Europe. On Tuesday, Russia formally withdrew from a different treaty limiting conventional armed forces in Europe. Over the weekend, the president of the European Commission called for a Pan-European Army specifically to serve as a counterweight against Russia’s aggression.

The U.S. has repeatedly called on Russia to admit to violations of the nuclear treaty. The Kremlin, not surprisingly, has declined to do so.

The government-owned news agency ITAR-TASS reported on comments made by Ulyanov Wednesday morning. “Some actions by our U.S. colleagues cause great surprise,” he reportedly said. “In their scheme of things we are expected to say voluntarily what we have violated and to confess violations. This kind of approach does not look serious to us.”

Ulyanov charged that the U.S. is undermining global stability and making progress toward nuclear disarmament more difficult, TASS reported. Ulyanov reportedly said the presence of U.S. anti-ballistic missiles in Europe and “development of high-precision strategic non-nuclear weapons” are damaging the prospects for continued cooperation on nuclear arms issues.

“In such circumstances, the continuation of the nuclear disarmament process seems problematic,” he said.

“The discussion with the United States on this subject will go on. Its outcome is anyone’s guess,” he added before concluding with the backhanded assurance that “at this point it would be wrong to say that the treaty is falling apart.”

U.S. officials have already accused Russia of repeatedly violating the nuclear treaty by developing new weapons of the kind it specifically banned. Last month, U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter said, that in the face of continued violations, “U.S. responses must make clear to Russia that if it does not return to compliance, our responses will make them less secure than they are today.”

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Sanction Easing Leaves Ayatollah In Control (Daniel 8:3)

Middle East Countries Wary Of Iran Sanctions Easing, Not Possible Nuclear Weapons
Khamenei's Iron Fist

Khamenei’s Iron Fist
  @ErinBanco on February 26 2015 3:56 PM EST
ISTANBUL — While the U.S. and Israel focus on the implications of Iran developing its nuclear program, some of Iran’s regional adversaries are concerned about something else: the power that Iran’s economy, unshackled from sanctions by a nuclear deal with the international community, would exert in the Middle East. As negotiations in Geneva inch toward a possible deal in which Iran would freeze its nuclear energy program in exchange for a lifting of sanctions, Iran’s neighbors look worriedly at a huge nation that’s been isolated from world trade for decades and whose re-entry in it may tip the balance of economic power in the Middle East. 
With a population of more than 78 million, Iran is the Mideast’s second-largest nation after Egypt and already the second-biggest economy after Saudi Arabia. With almost two Iranians out of three under the age of 30, many of them with higher degrees, the young, well-educated nation could soon turn into an economic powerhouse.
And for countries such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Jordan, an Iran released from its current economic restrictions and able to trade freely is a threat, in sectors from mining to the automotive industry. For the governments of those Sunni-dominated nations, those economic concerns also compound ongoing concerns over the growing political influence of Shiite Iran in places such as Iraq and Syria. 
Iran has grown into its current size as an economy even under an international isolation that began in 1979, when an Islamist revolution overthrew the pro-Western regime of the Shah and the occupation of the U.S. embassy in Tehran led to the end of relationships with the U.S. Washington and the European Union took an even harsher stance in 2012, when increased sanctions imposed as Iran went forward with its nuclear program helped cause a two-year recession.
U.S. companies are prohibited from trading with Iran, and doing so remains nearly impossible  for non-U.S. companies. Any foreign company not owned by a U.S. individual that trades with Iran runs the risk of being blacklisted by the U.S. and excluded from its market.
But that could change if the U.S. and Iran reach an agreement. Recent reports have indicated that U.S. officials are considering putting forward a plan that would restrict Tehran’s nuclear capabilities for 10 years in exchange for the easing of some economic sanctions. Analysts and lawyers specializing in sanctions said one of the first parts of the sanction structure to be lifted or eased would be the extraterritorial factor, which allows the U.S. government to punish third-party entities that deal with Iran.
If Iran comes back in full onto the world oil market, an immediate effect is that Saudi Arabia’s industrial ambitions may suffer. Mohamad Aly Ramady, an economist based in Riyadh, said Saudi Arabia is using its revenue from oil and minerals extraction to help jump-start an emerging auto sector. Over the past two years, Saudi Arabia has worked with Indian-owned companies to begin car production in the city of Yanbu, but if Iran were able to export cars, it would hinder potential future sales of Saudi vehicles in the Middle East.
Iran has ranked for years in the top 15 largest car-producing nations, making 1.6 million vehicles in 2011, more than Great Britain and more than double Italy. Renewed sanctions then hit the nation over its nuclear energy program, and the ensuing economic slump slowed car production to just 740,000 in 2013. But Iran has shown it has the ability to make more cars than established industrial powerhouses, and if sanctions were eased it could sell them throughout the Middle East. That could help sink Saudi Arabia’s attempt to diversify away from a largely oil-based economy, after the kingdom has invested more than $50 billion in turning Yanbu into an industrial center.
For Jordan, the fear lies more in how a resurgent Iranian economy could translate into more regional clout.
Iran has for years intervened in volatile situations throughout the Middle East, giving cash and weapons to Shiite groups in Yemen, Lebanon, Iraq and Syria. In the latter, Iran initially propped up President Bashar al-Assad, but its intervention has turned into a fight to stop Sunni militias, including the Islamic State group, or ISIS. The humanitarian crisis created by the regime’s crackdown with Iranian support has pushed  hundreds of thousands of Syrians to flee to Jordan, which is burdening the fragile Jordanian economy.
Like Jordan, Turkey also has a major stake in the wars in Iraq and Syria, and has taken in millions of Syrian refugees since the Syrian civil war began in 2011. But the government is more worried about the possibility of Iran being able again to conduct financial transactions directly, which would cut Turkish banks out of the profitable role of intermediary.
Before the U.S. and EU implemented the latest round of sanctions, Turkey’s Halkbank, 75 percent owned by the government, was one of the main hubs for handling Iranian transactions. The few countries that still imported Iranian oil, unable to pay Iran directly, turned to Halkbank to make payments. The Turkish bank is holding on to the cash until it can pay Iranian oil sellers, and lawyers said it is profiting handsomely from millions of dollars in  interest. (The central bank’s main interest rate in Turkey is now at a relatively very high 10.75 percent.)
A deal with Iran that could end that bonanza for Turkey. But sanctions could remain in place, depending on the outcome of the nuclear talks.
The opposers of any agreement with Iran include many Republicans in Washington and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who will hold a speech before the U.S. Congress next week — at the Republicans’ invitation, not approved by the White House — in which he is expected to publicly criticize the White House’s efforts to broker a deal. Netanyahu has said before that a deal is going to result in Iran developing a nuclear weapon, which Israel would never allow.

Don’t Be Fooled: Antichrist Controls The Iraqi Government (Rev 13)

Michael Jansen: Disregarded fault lines
February 20, 2015

The murder in Baghdad a week ago of a leading Sunni tribal leader has put paid to the fiction that the current Shia fundamentalist-dominated government under Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi can ever be “inclusive.” Sunni lawmakers have blamed the murder of Sheikh Qasim Al Janabi, his son and six bodyguards on Shia militias revived since Daesh captured the western cities of Ramadi and Fallujah and the northern city of Mosul last year. The sheikh’s nephew Ziad Al Janabi, a Sunni parliamentarian, was also kidnapped but set free after a beating.

While some Shia militia groups had retreated into the background in recent years, others prospered under the tutelage of former Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki and militia leaders have been given prime posts in the government, although Abadi initially had the intention of appointing figures who would be acceptable to both Shias and Sunnis.

Hakim Al Zamili, head of parliament’s defence and security committee which was set to investigate the killings, is a Sadrist militia commander accused of operating death squads during the 2005-07 sectarian conflict and of the 2006 kidnap and disappearance of Ammar Al Saffar, a deputy health minister who had investigated Zamili’s criminal activities. The Sadrist movement and Mahdi Army militia he represents are loyal to radical Shia cleric Muqtada Al Sadr, an Iraqi nationalist whose connection with Iran is tenuous.

Interior Minister Mohammed Salem Al Ghabban was a leading figure in the Iran founded and fostered Badr Corps which fought with the Iranian army against Iraq during the 1980-88 war between these two countries. The corps has been held responsible for mass killings and sectarian cleansing of Sunnis. Abadi had suggested Hadi Al Amiri, the corps commander for the post, but this appointment was rejected as too controversial.

The presence of these men in the current Iraqi government reveals two things: Abadi is weak and at the beck and call of powerful Shia fundamentalist factions and is in no position to effect the sectarian reconciliation that Iraq requires to defeat Daesh.

While the Sadrists, Badrists, and other Shia militias are well-funded and well-armed and are assuming the job of battling Daesh that the still broken Iraqi army should have shouldered, Sunni tribesmen trying to defend their areas and fight Daesh are starved of both money and weaponry.

Last month, an eleven-member delegation of Iraqi tribal figures from Anbar province, led by Sheikh Ahmed Abu Risha, paid a visit to Washington, DC with the aim of asking the Obama administration for direct delivery of funds and arms. Their arrival coincided with a Daesh attack on Abu Risha’s compound that killed nine policemen and wounded 28 of his entourage but their pleas for aid were ignored.

Without the support of Iraq’s Sunnis, particularly those in strategic Anbar, which borders on Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, Daesh cannot be contained, routed, and finally uprooted.

This was shown by what happened when US troops reinforced by Sunni “Awakening Council” Sunni fighters fought and defeated Al Qaeda during the 2007-08 “surge.”

Once Al Qaeda was seriously reduced, neither Washington nor Baghdad attempted to uproot it. Therefore, Al Qaeda remained underground waiting for the moment to reappear.

Shia fundamentalist Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki’s policies alienated Sunnis and encouraged a minority of them to turn to Al Qaeda to wreak revenge. Maliki refused to honour pledges to “Awakening” fighters to give them jobs in the military and civil service and pay salaries and pensions. He marginalised Sunnis politically and economically, imprisoned thousands, killed scores, and abused hundreds. Along with outlawed and persecuted ex-Baathists, many Sunnis joined Daesh when it appeared on the scene in 2013.

This means Iraq’s war with Daesh is likely to be long, deadly and destructive. The Obama administration knows full well that the Iraqi government is not “national” or “inclusive” but continues to behave if this is the case. This amounts to collusion with the worst of the Shia fundamentalists put in power by the previous administration headed by George W. Bush.

As if the world has not had enough of the Bushes, George W. and his father George H.W., a third Bush, Jeb is likely to stand for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016. While he argues he will not be lumbered with the dodgy records of his elder brother (in particular) and his father, he cannot escape them. US voters may recall that the economy was weak under Bush senior and collapsed into the Great Recession under Bush junior and that both embroiled the US in wars in Iraq. These wars have transformed that country into a “failed state” and led to the emergence of Daesh.
In a 2010 CNN joint interview with George W. Jeb said, “I’m the only Republican who was in office [as governor of Florida] when he was in office as president that never disagreed with him.” Such a statement should give the world – if not the Republican party – the incentive to express concern about a third Bush in the White House.

“Jeb” who tends to leave out his last name when campaigning, seeks to sell himself as a pro-small government conservative who will curb spending and reduce taxes. He emphasises his potential domestic agenda while saying little about what he would do in and to the wide world. Jeb Bush is reported to have already raised nearly $100m (Dhs367m) for his two campaigns – to secure both nomination and presidency.

What has the 2016 US presidential race got to do with the murder of Sheikh Qasim Al Janabi? A great deal. Obama’s successor must change his failed policy on Iraq with the aim of bringing in or, indeed, imposing if necessary a truly “inclusive” government in Baghdad representative of Sunnis, secularists, and Iraq’s small minorities. This government must respect and be prepared to serve all the country’s communities. The long war against Daesh will not be won until this happens.

The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East
affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict

Shiite Forces Actually Under Antichrist’s Control (Rev 13:16)

Concern in Iraq grows over unregulated Shiite forces
Shi'ite fighters participate in an intensive security deployment against Islamic State militants in Jurf al-Sakhar
Author Ali Mamouri Posted February 17, 2015 
The popular mobilization forces have been widely controversial in Iraq since their inception in June 2014. Public opinion has focused on the legitimacy of these irregular forces, their activities and the possible illegal killings committed by them in the fight against the Islamic State (IS). In light of the dire need for these forces in the ongoing conflict on the one hand, and lapses in disciplined behavior among their ranks on the other, Iraqis remain conflicted about them.

Reports occasionally appear about violations and abuses by the mobilization forces on the battlefield and off it. At the same time, however, one cannot deny their contribution to hindering IS’ progress toward the central and southern areas of the country. In addition, the forces have also recently made offensive advances against IS, improving their reputation in the public’s eye and in the Iraqi political arena.

The popular mobilization forces were formed after Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani issued a fatwa calling on all those able to take up arms and volunteer in the security forces in the fight against IS. The forces were to fall under the umbrella of the state’s security services and within its legal frameworks and practices. In the course of events, however, some of these groups embarked on a different path, operating independently, outside judicial and governmental monitoring and supervision, somewhat along the lines of Iran’s Basij, which were founded in 1979 at the directive of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

One thing that distinguishes Iraq’s popular mobilization forces from its army units is their deep willingness to fight and to sacrifice to achieve military objectives against the enemy. They do not, however, have the professional and military training of the official forces and are not being held accountable in instances of violations.

The popular mobilization forces are in part reconstitutions of the militias formed after the US-led invasion and occupation of Iraq that fought against US troops and were often supported by Iran. Some of the groups formed independently and later gained Iranian backing, such as the Mahdi Army, which is affiliated with Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. Other groups were initially formed under Iranian supervision, such as the Badr Organization, Hezbollah in Iraq and Jaysh al-Mukhtar.

These forces expanded with the enrollment of large numbers of volunteers, especially following the fall of Mosul in June 2014. Their relations with Iran grew stronger as they began to operate under Iranian military guidance. Their close ties to Iran stem in part from an ideological kinship, but also from the militias’ lack of trust in the fighting skills of the Iraqi army, which failed to protect Mosul and has suffered significant subsequent defeats.

Sectarianism in Iraq has fueled resentment toward the popular forces. While some violations against civilians have been attributed to IS, others have accused the popular mobilization forces of committing them. The most prominent such incident was the August 2104 attack on the Musab bin Umair Mosque in Diyala that left nearly 70 Sunni civilians dead.

Also in Diyala province in the last week of January, an assault was reported to have resulted in more than 70 civilians being killed, including women and children. Dozens of people have also been kidnapped. The media office of the popular mobilization forces in Diyala has issued official denials of responsibility for these killings, instead blaming IS and calling for a comprehensive judicial investigation into the matter.

Sistani’s spokesman Ahmed al-Safi has also called for investigations and for firm measures to be taken against the perpetrators to deter similar incidents in the future. Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has announced the formation of a committee to investigate the matter, charging that the perpetrators of such crimes are “outlaws serving specific agendas” seeking to divide Iraq.

Areas of Baghdad have not been immune to the alleged transgressions of the popular mobilization forces. Clashes erupted Jan. 31 in the Karrada district between Hezbollah brigades and fighters affiliated with other popular forces after disagreements following the kidnapping of the brigades’ secretary-general, Abbas al-Mohammedawi, by unknown parties.

That same day, Abadi declared five regions in Baghdad — Adhamiya, Karrada, Khadimiya, Mansour and Saydiya — demilitarized zones in an attempt to reduce violence in the capital. He also lifted the nighttime curfew that had been imposed for years on different areas of Baghdad.

Another measure that should be taken is bringing the popular mobilization forces under government control alongside the Iraqi army. This would help prevent illegal and irresponsible behavior and allow direct judicial action against violators, eliminating the need to form investigative committees after every alleged crime or incident. In light of the struggle with IS, Iraqis are not yet willing to dissolve the irregular forces, but further indiscriminate acts of violence could further deepen the sectarian divide and strengthen IS, which feeds and thrives on such divisions.

Ali Mamouri
Ali Mamouri is a columnist for Al-Monitor’s Iraq Pulse.  He is a researcher and writer who specializes in religion. He is a former teacher in Iranian universities and seminaries in Iran and Iraq. He has published several articles related to religious affairs in the two countries and societal transformations and sectarianism in the Middle East.

Antichrist Controls His Men (Revelation 13:16)

Al-Sadr calls for control over militias
Iraqi Shi’ite radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr speaks next to Iraq’s Defence Minister Khaled al-Obeidi (R) during a news conference in Najaf, south of Baghdad, on Monday. (Reuters)

Iraq’s Power Remains In Sadr’s Hands (Revelation 13:18)

Iraqi politics: A circle from Iran to Iran

Moqtada al-Sadr - The Real Ruler of Iraq

Moqtada al-Sadr – The Real Ruler of Iraq

While the world was busy watching the Islamic State (IS) ploughing through large parts of Iraqi territory, the central government of Baghdad was getting a major face-lift. In less than one month, Iraq got a new president, new parliament speaker, and new prime minister. On paper, so much has changed. In reality, however, so much remains strikingly the same. The rights, rivalries, and rituals of Iraqi sectarianism all remain firmly intact, and so does the dramatic influence of Iran’s big neighbour, Iran.

The new Kurdish President of Iraq, Fouad al-Masoum, is old and powerless. Venerable and seasoned, he carries little weight in the hierarchy of post-Saddam Iraq. He nevertheless is a respected grandfatherly figure, thanks to a long career in politics, side-by-side by his predecessor ex-boss Jalal Talbani. Masoum, aged 76, was educated in Islamic Sharia at Baghdad University and the prestigious al-Azhar University.

Parliament Speaker Salim al-Jabouri is a middle-aged Sunni Muslim hailing from the religion-driven Islamic Party. He runs the legislative branch that last April, was packed by Iran-backed politicians, headed by ex-Prime Minister Nuri al-Malki. Although on paper, he is Iraq’s Number Two, the speaker has a thin power base – to say the least – within the Sunni community. The new Prime Minister Haidar Abadi is also from an Islamic party, al-Da’wa, and was brought to power this month with the full backing of regional heavyweights, Iran and its Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

One wonders why the country’s top brass is educated at religious schools or hailing from Islamic parties. The answer simply, is that this is the new elite that Iran has carefully been crafting for Iraq. Political Islam sells well and Iran needs it as a tool of control in Iraqi politics. Tehran has produced a cross-sectarian and multi-ethnic elite that is willing to work under Iranian influence. The formula is not new. It has been tried time and again in Lebanon. Iran’s Lebanese allies, Hezbollah, run the country – on paper – with a colourful assortment of Christian and Sunni Muslim figures. Men like Tammam Salam, Najib Mikati, and Michel Aoun all hail from prominent political families, are backed by heavyweight parties, and were educated at top notch schools.

None of them were born yesterday. All of them look good on TV and hold important jobs at different levels of government. Real power, however, lies in the hands of Hezbollah. For at least 10 years now, Hezbollah’s game has been: “We go to elections: if we win, we rule. If you win, we will make you feel that you are ruling, but we will still be ruling!” Pretty much that sums up the situation in Iraq as well. Real power lies in the hands not of the parliament speaker or president, but in those of heavyweight Iranian proxies like Ammar al-Hakim and Muqtada al-Sadr. They have arms, are demographically superior, and they control the airwaves, purse strings, and streets of Baghdad. Everybody else is just window dressing in post-Saddam Iraq.

Currently, talks are underway for creating a new Iraqi government. Abadi has learned his lesson well from the career and faults of his predecessor, Nuri al-Malki. It was Malki’s blatant sectarianism that led to the collapse of the Iraqi Army in Mosul, where four divisions with 60,000 troops were outmuscled overnight by a few thousand Islamic fighters from IS. Malki ran his country with an iron fist and at one point or another, antagonized everybody around him including the Kurds and fellow Shiite heavyweights Ammar al-Hakim and Muqtada al-Sadr. He was never on good terms with Iraqi Sunnis. He persecuted their leaders, kept them away from important jobs in government, and turned a blind eye to Shiite death squads that struck at their neighbourhoods back in 2006-2008. More importantly he did nothing about the de-Baathification laws imposed by the US after 2003 – which punished the Sunni community as a whole for having produced Saddam Hussein. He personally signed off the execution warrant of Saddam Hussein and many of his top officials. Maliki also recruited Shiite militias into the Iraqi army and sent Sunni militiamen to jail, thereby increasing their ratio in the Armed Forces. Although Sunnis under Malki got the Ministry of Defense, the powerful Interior Ministry went to the Shiites. It was used for grand persecution, torture, and arrest of Sunnis in Baghdad. Its ministers had used the post to settle old scores with the Sunnis. If Haidar Abadi is to succeed, he has to “undo” all of the above.

Of course, he needs cooperative politicians to lean on. Saddam loyalists and Saudi protégés within the Iraqi Sunni community will not do. They curtly refuse to accept Iran’s dominance of post-Saddam Iraq and will continue to work against it. Abadi needs to give independent Sunnis room to manoeuvre. He needs to empower them in government give them a role in nation-building. Bringing them to power and having them shoulder responsibility for security and nation-building is the only way to prevent them from one day tilting towards IS or any of its sister radical Sunni splinter groups, that have already sprouted and will likely mushroom in the years ahead. Iran cannot run Iraq through Shiites alone. There are places in Iraq where Shiite deliverables are low, and in some cases non-existent. Iraqi Shiites can help in Shiite districts. They can help cement Iran’s relations with Iraq’s clerical community and within cities like Najaf and Karbala. But they cannot take Iran into the “old money” of Iraqi’s Sunni community, for example. They cannot take Iran into the powerful Sunni ulema society of Baghdad. They cannot deliver when it comes to powerful Sunni families that are connected with their counterparts in the Arab world through family ties, commercial dealings, and historical ties. To do that, Iran needs to court a new assortment of Sunni faces – through a trusted Shiite politician, like Haidar Abadi.

– Sami Moubayed is a Syrian historian and former Carnegie scholar. He is the founder of the Damascus Foundation for Historical Studies and author of “Syria and the USA” (IB Tauris, 2012).
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.
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