The Ramapo Fault and the Sixth Seal (Revelation 6:12)

http://www.ldeo.columbia.edu/news/2004/images/ramapo_factsheet_img_0.gif

Living on the Fault Line

Posted June 15, 2010 by Wayne J. Guglielmo

The couple checked with Burns’s parents, who live in nearby Basking Ridge, and they, too, had heard and felt something, which they thought might have been an earthquake. A call by Burns some 20 minutes later to the Bernardsville Police Department—one of many curious and occasionally panicky inquiries that Sunday morning, according to the officer in charge, Sergeant John Remian—confirmed their suspicion: A magnitude 2.6 earthquake, its epicenter in Peapack/Gladstone, about seven miles from Bernardsville, had hit the area. A smaller aftershock followed about two and a half hours later.

After this year’s epic earthquakes in Haiti, Chile, Mexico, Indonesia, and China, the 2.6 quake and aftershock that shook parts of New Jersey in February may seem minor league, even to the Somerset County residents who experienced them. On the exponential Richter Scale, a magnitude 7.0 quake like the one that hit Haiti in January is almost 4 million times stronger than a quake of 2.6 magnitude. But comparisons of magnitude don’t tell the whole story.

Northern New Jersey straddles the Ramapo Fault, a significant ancient crack in the earth’s crust. The longest fault in the Northeast, it begins in Pennsylvania and moves into New Jersey, trending northeast through Hunterdon, Somerset, Morris, Passaic, and Bergen counties before terminating in New York’s Westchester County, not far from the Indian Point Energy Center, a nuclear power plant. And though scientists dispute how active this roughly 200 million-year-old fault really is, many earthquakes in the state’s surprisingly varied seismic history are believed to have occurred on or near it. The fault line is visible at ground level and likely extends as deep as nine miles below the surface.

During the past 230 years or so, New Jersey has been at the epicenter of nearly 170 earthquakes, according to data compiled by the New Jersey Geological Survey, part of the United States Department of Environmental Protection. The largest known quake struck in 1783, somewhere west of New York City, perhaps in Sussex County. It’s typically listed as 5.3 in magnitude, though that’s an estimate by seismologists who are quick to point out that the concept of magnitude—measuring the relative size of an earthquake—was not introduced until 1935 by Charles Richter and Beno Gutenberg. Still, for quakes prior to that, scientists are not just guessing.

“We can figure out the damage at the time by going back to old records and newspaper accounts,” says Won-Young Kim, a senior research scientist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in Palisades, New York, directly across the New Jersey border. “Once the amount and extent of contemporary damage has been established,” Kim says, “we’re then able to gauge the pattern of ground shaking or intensity of the event—and from there extrapolate its probable magnitude.”

Other earthquakes of magnitude 5 or higher have been felt in New Jersey, although their epicenters laying near New York City. One—which took place in 1737 and was said to have been felt as far north as Boston and as far south as northern Delaware—was probably in the 5 to 5.5 range. In 1884, an earthquake of similar magnitude occurred off New York’s Rockaway Beach. This well-documented event pulled houses off their foundations and caused steeples to topple as far west as Rahway. The shock wave, scientists believe, was felt over 70,000 square miles, from Vermont to Maryland.

Among the largest sub-5 magnitude earthquakes with epicenters in New Jersey, two (a 3.8 and a 4.0) took place on the same day in 1938 in the Lakehurst area in Ocean County. On August 26, 2003, a 3.5 magnitude quake shook the Frenchtown/Milford area in Hunterdon County. On February 3 of last year, a 3.0 magnitude quake occurred in the Morris County town of Mendham. “A lot of people felt this one because of the intense shaking, although the area of intensity wasn’t very wide,” says Lamont-Doherty’s Kim, who visited the site after the event.

After examining the known historical and geological record, Kim and other seismologists have found no clear evidence that an earthquake of greater than 5.3 to 5.5 magnitude has taken place in this area going back to 1737. This doesn’t mean, of course, that one did not take place in the more remote past or that one will not occur in the future; it simply means that a very large quake is less likely to occur here than in other places in the east where the seismic hazard is greater, including areas in South Carolina and northeastern New York State.

Given this low-hazard, high-vulnerability scenario, how far along are scientists in their efforts to predict larger magnitude earthquakes in the New Jersey area? The answer is complex, complicated by the state’s geographical position, its unique geological history, the state of seismology itself, and the continuing debate over the exact nature and activity of the Ramapo Fault.

Over millions of years, New Jersey developed four distinct physiographic provinces or regions, which divide the state into a series of diagonal slices, each with its own terrain, rock type, and geological landforms.

The northernmost slice is the Valley and Ridge, comprising major portions of Sussex and Warren counties. The southernmost slice is the Coastal Plain, a huge expanse that covers some three-fifths of the state, including all of the Shore counties. Dividing the rest of the state are the Highlands, an area for the most part of solid but brittle rock right below the Valley and Ridge, and the lower lands of the Piedmont, which occupy all of Essex, Hudson, and Union counties, most of Bergen, Hunterdon, and Somerset, and parts of Middlesex, Morris, and Passaic.

For earthquake monitors and scientists, the formation of these last two provinces—the Highlands and the Piedmont—are of special interest. To understand why, consider that prior to the appearance of the Atlantic Ocean, today’s Africa was snuggled cozily up against North America and surrounded by a single enormous ocean. “At that point, you could have had exits off the New Jersey Turnpike for Morocco,” says Alexander Gates, professor of geology and chair of the department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Rutgers-Newark.

Under the pressure of circulating material within the Earth’s super-hot middle layer, or mantle, what was once a single continent—one that is thought to have included today’s other continents as well—began to stretch and eventually break, producing numerous cracks or faults and ultimately separating to form what became the Atlantic Ocean. In our area, the longest and most active of these many cracks was the Ramapo Fault, which, through a process known as normal faulting, caused one side of the earth’s crust to slip lower—the Piedmont—relative to the other side—the Highlands. “All this occurred about 225 million years ago,” says Gates. “Back then, you were talking about thousands of feet between the Highlands and the Piedmont and a very active Ramapo Fault.”

The Earth’s crust, which is 20 to 25 miles thick, is not a single, solid shell, but is broken into seven vast tectonic plates, which drift atop the soft, underlying mantle. Although the northeast-trending Ramapo Fault neatly divides two of New Jersey’s four physiographic provinces, it does not form a so-called plate boundary, as does California’s infamous San Andreas Fault. As many Californians know all too well, this giant fault forms the boundary between two plates—to the west, the Pacific Plate, and to the east, the North American Plate; these rub up against each other, producing huge stresses and a regularly repeating pattern of larger earthquakes.

This second bit of uncertainty is especially troubling for some people, including some in the media who want a neat story. To get around it, they ignore the differences between plate settings and link all of New Jersey’s earthquakes, either directly or implicitly, to the Ramapo Fault. In effect, such people want the Ramapo Fault “to look like the San Andreas Fault,” says Gates. “They want to be able to point to one big fault that’s causing all of our earthquakes.”

Gates does not think that’s the case, and he has been working with colleagues for a number of years to prove it. “What we have found is that there are smaller faults that generally cut from east to west across the northeast-trending Ramapo Fault,” he explains. “These much smaller faults are all over the place, and they’re actually the ones that are the active faults in the area.”

But what mechanisms are responsible for the formation of these apparently active auxiliary faults? One such mechanism, say scientists, is the westward pressure the Atlantic Ocean exerts on the North American Plate, which for the most part resists any movement. “I think we are in an equilibrium state most of the time,” says Lamont-Doherty’s Kim.

Still, that continuous pressure on the plate we sit on causes stress, and when that stress builds up sufficiently, the earth’s crust has a tendency to break around any weak zones. In our area, the major weak zone is the Ramapo Fault—“an ancient zone of weakness,” as Kim calls it. That zone of weakness exacerbates the formation of auxiliary faults, and thereby the series of minor earthquakes the state has experienced over the years.

All this presupposes, of course, that any intraplate stress in this area will continue to be released gradually, in a series of relatively minor earthquakes or releases of energy. But what if that were not the case? What if the stress continued to build up, and the release of large amounts of energy came all at once? In crude terms, that’s part of the story behind the giant earthquakes that rocked what is now New Madrid, Missouri, between 1811 and 1812. Although estimates of their magnitude have been revised downward in recent years to less than magnitude 8, these earthquakes are generally regarded as among the largest intraplate events to have occurred in the continental United States.

For a number of reasons—including the relatively low odds that the kind of stored energy that unleashed the New Madrid events could ever build up here—earthquakes of plus-6 magnitude are probably not in our future. Still, says Kim, even a magnitude 6 earthquake in certain areas of the state could do considerable damage, especially if its intensity or ground shaking was of sufficient strength. In a state as geologically diverse and densely populated as New Jersey, this is a crucial wild card.

Part of the job of the experts at the New Jersey Geological Survey is to assess the seismic hazards in different parts of the state. To do this, they use a computer-simulation model developed under the direction of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, known as HAZUS, for Hazards US. To assess the amount of ground shaking likely to occur in a given county during events ranging in magnitude from 5 to 7 on the Richter Scale, NJGS scientists enter three features of a county’s surface geology into their computer model. Two of these features relate to the tendency of soil in a given area to lose strength, liquefy, or slide downhill when shaken. The third and most crucial feature has to do with the depth and density of the soil itself and the type of bedrock lying below it; this is a key component in determining a region’s susceptibility to ground shaking and, therefore, in estimating the amount of building and structural damage that’s likely to occur in that region. Estimates for the various counties—nine to date have been studied—are sent to the New Jersey Office of Emergency Management, which provided partial funding for the project.

To appreciate why this element of ground geology is so crucial to earthquake modelers, consider the following: An earthquake’s intensity—which is measured on something called the Modified Mercalli Scale—is related to a number of factors. The amount of energy released or the magnitude of an event is clearly a big factor. But two earthquakes of the same magnitude can have very different levels of intensity; in fact, it’s quite possible for a lower magnitude event to generate more ground shaking than a higher magnitude one.

In addition to magnitude, other factors that affect intensity are the distance of the observer or structure from the epicenter, where intensity is the greatest; the depth beneath the surface of the initial rupture, with shallower ruptures producing more ground shaking than deeper ones; and, most significantly, the ground geology or material that the shock wave generated by the earthquake must pass through.

As a rule, softer materials like sand and gravel shake much more intensely than harder materials, because the softer materials are comparatively inefficient energy conductors, so whatever energy is released by the quake tends to be trapped, dispersing much more slowly. (Think of a bowl of Jell-O on a table that’s shaking.)

In contrast, harder materials, like the solid rock found widely in the Highlands, are brittle and break under pressure, but conduct energy well, so that even big shock waves disperse much more rapidly through them, thereby weakening the amount of ground shaking. “If you’ve read any stories about the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco, you know the most intense damage was in those flat, low areas by the Bay, where the soil is soft, and not in the hilly, rocky areas above,” says Karl Muessig, state geologist and NJGS head.

The map that accompanies the online version of the NJGS’s Earthquake Loss Estimation Study divides the state’s surface geology into five seismic soil classes, ranging from Class A, or hard rock, to Class E, or soft soil (state.nj.us/dep/njgs/enviroed/hazus.htm).

Although the weakest soils are scattered throughout the state, including the Highlands, which besides harder rock also contains areas of glacial lakes, clays, and wetlands, they are most evident in the Piedmont and the Coastal Plain. “The largest expanses of them are in coastal areas where you have salt marshes or large glacial lakes, as in parts of the Passaic River basin,” says Scott Stanford, a research scientist with NJGS and lead author of the estimate. Some of the very weakest soils, Stanford adds, are in areas of filled marshland, including places along the Hudson waterfront, around Newark Bay and the Meadowlands, and along the Arthur Kill.

Faults in these areas—and in the coastal plain generally—are far below the ground, perhaps several hundred to a thousand feet down, making identification difficult. “There are numerous faults upon which you might get earthquake movement that we can’t see, because they’re covered by younger sediments,” Stanford says.

This combination of hidden faults and weak soils worries scientists, who are all too aware that parts of the coastal plain and Piedmont are among the most densely populated and developed areas in the state. (The HAZUS computer model also has a “built environment” component, which summarizes, among other things, types of buildings in a given area.) For this reason, such areas would be in the most jeopardy in the event of a large earthquake.

For example, in the study’s loss estimate for Essex County, which includes Newark, the state’s largest city, a magnitude 6 event would result in damage to 81,600 buildings, including almost 10,000 extensively or completely; 36,000 people either displaced from their homes or forced to seek short-term shelter; almost $9 million in economic losses from property damage and business interruption; and close to 3,300 injuries and 50 fatalities. (The New York City Area Consortium for Earthquake Loss Mitigation has conducted a similar assessment for New York City, at nycem.org.)

All of this suggests the central irony of New Jersey geology: The upland areas that are most prone to earthquakes—the counties in or around the Ramapo Fault, which has spawned a network of splays, or auxiliary faults—are much less densely populated and sit, for the most part, on good bedrock. These areas are not invulnerable, certainly, but, by almost all measures, they would not sustain very severe damage, even in the event of a higher magnitude earthquake. The same can’t be said for other parts of the state, where the earthquake hazard is lower but the vulnerability far greater. Here, the best we can do is to prepare—both in terms of better building codes and a constantly improving emergency response.

Meanwhile, scientists like Rutgers’s Gates struggle to understand the Earth’s quirky seismic timetable: “The big thing with earthquakes is that you can commonly predict where they are going to occur,” Gates says. “When they’re going to come, well, we’re nowhere near being able to figure that out.”

***********************

For the men and women of the state police who manage and support the New Jersey Office of Emergency Management (OEM), the response to some events, like hurricanes, can be marshalled in advance. But an earthquake is what responders call a no-notice event.

In New Jersey, even minor earthquakes—like the one that shook parts of Somerset County in February—attract the notice of local, county, and OEM officials, who continuously monitor events around the state from their Regional Operations and Intelligence Center (The ROIC) in West Trenton, a multimillion dollar command-and-control facility that has been built to withstand 125 mph winds and a 5.5 magnitude earthquake. In the event of a very large earthquake, during which local and county resources are apt to become quickly overwhelmed, command and control authority would almost instantly pass to West Trenton.

Here, officials from the state police, representatives of a galaxy of other state agencies, and a variety of communications and other experts would assemble in the cavernous and ultra-high tech Emergency Operations Center to oversee the state’s response. “A high-level earthquake would definitely cause the governor to declare a state of emergency,” says OEM public information officer Nicholas J. Morici. “And once that takes place, our emergency operations plan would be put in motion.”

Emergency officials have modeled that plan—one that can be adapted to any no-notice event, including a terrorist attack—on response methodologies developed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. At its core is a series of seventeen emergency support functions, ranging from transportation to firefighting, debris removal, search and rescue, public health, and medical services. A high-magnitude event would likely activate all of these functions, says Morici, along with the human and physical resources needed to carry them out—cranes and heavy trucks for debris removal, fire trucks and teams for firefighting, doctors and EMTs for medical services, buses and personnel carriers for transportation, and so on.

This is where an expert like Tom Rafferty comes in. Rafferty is a Geographic Information Systems Specialist attached to the OEM. His job during an emergency is to keep track electronically of which resources are where in the state, so they can be deployed quickly to where they are needed. “We have a massive database called the Resource Directory Database in which we have geolocated municipal, county, and state assets to a very detailed map of New Jersey,” Rafferty says. “That way, if there is an emergency like an earthquake going on in one area, the emergency managers can quickly say to me, for instance, ‘We have major debris and damage on this spot of the map. Show us the location of the nearest heavy hauler. Show us the next closest location,’ and so on.”

A very large quake, Rafferty says, “could overwhelm resources that we have as a state.” In that event, OEM has the authority to reach out to FEMA for additional resources and assistance. It can also call upon the private sector—the Resource Directory has been expanded to include non-government assets—and to a network of volunteers. “No one has ever said, ‘We don’t want to help,’” Rafferty says. New Jersey officials can also request assistance through the Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC), an agreement among the states to help each other in times of extreme crisis.

“You always plan for the worst,” Rafferty says, “and that way when the worst doesn’t happen, you feel you can handle it if and when it does.”

Contributing editor Wayne J. Guglielmo lives in Mahwah, near the Ramapo Fault.

Iran About to Cross the Redline (Revelation 6:6)

Iran may have been behind attack on Iraq’s Balad base: U.S. State Dept official

Friday, December 06, 2019 1:38 p.m. CST

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Iran may have been behind Thursday’s attack on Iraq’s Balad air base, a senior U.S. State Department official said on Friday, but added that Washington was awaiting further evidence.

Iraqi military on Thursday said that two Katyusha rockets landed inside Balad air base, which hosts U.S. forces and contractors and is located about 50 miles (80 kilometers) north of Baghdad.

No casualties or damages were reported in the attack for which there was no immediate claim of responsibility.

“We’re waiting for full evidence, but if past is prologue then there’s a good chance that Iran was behind it,” David Schenker, Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs, told reporters in a briefing.

On Tuesday, five rockets landed on Ain Al-Asad air base, which hosts U.S. forces in Anbar province in western Iraq without causing any casualties.

Schenker called the increasing attacks something of “great concern,” and said Iran has become more aggressive over the past five to six months.

“The Iranians often times, or have certainly in the past, taken aggressive action when they feel under pressure,” he said.

The United States ratcheted up economic sanctions against Iran after U.S. President Donald Trump pulled out of a 2015 nuclear pact between Tehran and world powers to choke Iran’s oil exports and isolate its economy.

In response, Tehran has remained defiant and rolled back commitments it made under the 2015 deal aimed at keeping Iran from developing nuclear weapons. Iran also has been angry over a lack of European protection from U.S. sanctions.

Some analysts have warned that cornering Tehran could make it more aggressive. Tensions in the Gulf in recent months have spiked after attacks on oil tankers and a September air strike on Saudi oil facilities, which the United States blamed on Iran, but that Tehran has denied.

(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by Bill Berkrot)

Drone Bombs Home of the Antichrist

Drone bombs home of prominent Iraqi cleric as protests death toll rises

Cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who has backed the anti-government protests, was reportedly outside the country at the time of the attack

A drone dropped a bomb on the home of prominent Iraqi Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr in the holy city of Najaf early on Saturday, but he was not in the country, sources within his party told AFP news agency.

Sadr has backed protests against corruption, unemployment and a lack of public services that have rocked Baghdad and the country’s south since the beginning of October.

The drone attack came one day after he sent his supporters into the streets of the capital overnight to “protect protesters,” after unidentified gunmen attacked a protest camp, killing at least 23 people, including three police officers.

The attack took place late on Friday, when armed men took over a large building that protesters had been occupying for several weeks near al-Sinek bridge in the capital.

Witnesses told AFP news agency that gunmen in pick-up trucks attacked the building and forced the protesters from it.

More than 127 others were wounded by the gunfire and stabbings targeting anti-government protesters near Tahrir Square, police and medical sources told Reuters news agency.

It was not immediately clear if the gunmen belonged to any political or militia groups.

Protesters had feared an escalation of violence after supporters of the pro-Iran Hashed al-Shaabi paramilitary force descended on Tahrir Square on Thursday.

Three demonstrators and a witness told the Associated Press that at least 15 knife attacks took place in Tahrir Square, and that the pro-militia groups withdrew from the area later that day.

More than 430 demonstrators have been killed and tens of thousands wounded in a crackdown by Iraq’s security forces since the start of the uprising.

Last week, Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi said he would resign amid the months-long protest movement. Yet the announcement has done little to quell the protests.

On Friday, the United States blacklisted three Iran-backed Iraqi paramilitary leaders over their alleged role in the deaths of anti-government protesters. Washington said the sanctions were part of an effort to counter Iranian influence in Iraq.

Iran is Enabling the Iraqi Horn With Nukes

Image result for short range missiles iran

Reports: Iran is secretly transporting missiles into Iraq that may have nuclear capability

Phil Shiver

Iran has been taking advantage of recent political unrest in Iraq by secretly stockpiling short-range missiles inside the country, the New York Times reported Wednesday.

The buildup is part of Iran’s widening effort to assert dominance in the Middle East and could pose a threat to American troops as well as allies in the region such as Israel and Saudi Arabia, U.S. sources told the Times.

Both Iraq and Iran have been gripped by deadly protests in recent months, with more than 1,000 people reported dead as a result of protests in Iran. But public unrest has not seemed to slow Iranian leadership down from engaging in what the Times calls a “shadow war.”

Iran has been attacking countries in the Middle East of late but disguising the origin to diminish the chances of counterattacks. Iran’s stockpiling of short-range missiles in Iraq also serves as a strategic deterrent. If Iran were to face an attack, it could potentially strike back with the missiles stored outside its borders.

The missiles have an estimated range of 600 miles and are capable of reaching Jerusalem from outside Baghdad.

The missiles might be nuclear-capable

The same day that the news broke, a letter was released from the French, German, and British ambassadors to the United Nations alleging that Iran now has nuclear-capable missiles.

According to CNN, in the letter, “the ambassadors listed four examples of activity indicating nuclear-capable missiles, adding that ‘Iran’s developments of nuclear-capable ballistic missiles and related technologies is inconsistent’ with a UN resolution restraining the country from doing so.”

The U.N. resolution the letter cited endorsed the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which President Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out of in 2018 but which is still supported by the United Kingdom, France, Germany, China, and Russia.

The letter cited footage of a flight test for a new Shahab-3 ballistic missile — which has a range of about 600 miles — equipped with a maneuverable re-entry vehicle that makes it “technically capable” of delivering a nuclear weapon.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has denied the allegation on social media.

These moves come amid a growing presence of U.S. military in the Middle East. About 14,000 troops have been sent to the region since May, and reports Wednesday said that the Trump administration is considering sending 14,000 more, though the Pentagon has denied the claim.

The Antichrist To Pick The Next PM … Again

Anti-government protesters in Baghdad. The protest movement has no leader to put forward © AFP via Getty Images

Iraq faces familiar impasse in hunt for new prime minister

Protests and fractured politics complicate selection of Abdul Mahdi’s successor

Iraq needs a new prime minister following the resignation of Adel Abdul Mahdi but so far no one seems to want the job.

Moqtada al-Sadr, the leader of the country’s biggest parliamentary bloc, has said he does not want to nominate a candidate. The nebulous protest movement that brought down Mr Abdul Mahdi’s government has no leader to put forward. And those establishment figures mooted as possible successors since the prime minister stepped down last week have been quickly dismissed by the public.

Selecting a prime minister under the political system installed in Iraq following the US-led removal of dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003 has always been difficult. Parliamentary elections have never delivered a majority to any one party and the largest group must build support for a governing coalition by trading cabinet positions. After elections in 2018, it took six months and the tacit endorsement of both Iran and the US to select Mr Abdul Mahdi. This time, experts said, it is expected to be even harder.

“I don’t see anyone in his right mind would want to be prime minister in Iraq for the next few months,” said Abbas Kadhim, director of the Atlantic Council’s Iraq Initiative.

Any new prime minister will face a furious anti-establishment protest movement which, after 16 years of largely ineffective government, is calling for wholesale change.

“Our main problem is the parties and the system and the wrong management mechanism of the state,” said Moussa, a 29-year-old activist from the southern province of Nasiriya that last week suffered the worst day of the violence in two months of protests. The anti-government movement was not just about removing “a corrupt minister or PM”, he said.

Whoever will be prime minister will be [Iran’s] friend. Iran is one step or more ahead of the US in that case

Abbas Kadhim, Atlantic Council

At least 400 people have been killed since October as security forces have responded to the demonstrations with a brutal crackdown. The protesters say they are fed up with government corruption and foreign influence. They are demanding changes to the election law, which they believe is skewed to benefit the existing political parties, a new electoral commission, and fresh elections.

Against the backdrop of public rage, Mr Sadr’s Sairoon political group, the self-declared largest parliamentary bloc, has said it does not want to participate in any negotiations to select the next prime minister.

According to Dhiaa al-Asadi, political adviser to Mr Sadr, Sairoon is stepping back because it “believes that the political parties are still insisting on choosing the prime minister themselves, which is in contrast to what people are calling for.” Mr Asadi said Mr Sadr will back whichever candidate protesters appear to support.

But gauging public support for any potential leader will be near impossible given the lack of any formal leadership structure around the demonstrations, analysts said.

Familiar figures from Iraq’s political scene, including former oil minister Ibrahim Bahr al-Olom and outspoken member of parliament Izzat al-Shahbandar, have been floated as potential successors in the past few days but do not meet the protesters criteria for fresh leadership.

The result is likely to be a drawn-out political impasse and “a very cruel winter for Iraq” if Baghdad’s elites fail to compromise and protesters stay on the streets, said the Atlantic Council’s Mr Kadhim.

Recommended

Iranian officials are already reported to be visiting Iraqi political leaders as they try to hash out deals. But perceptions of Iranian interference will do little to build broad-based support for a new leader. Iran brokered the deal that brought Mr Abdul Mahdi to power and then became a focus of the protest movement’s anger when demonstrators attacked Tehran’s diplomatic outposts in the cities of Najaf and Karbala.

“The involvement of Mr Soleimani is making things more complicated,” said a senior Iraqi official, referring to Qassem Soleimani, head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s elite overseas unit. “It looks like there is no brain in Iraq, just Soleimani,” he said.

Washington and Tehran have vied for influence in Iraq for decades but analysts say Iran now commands greater sway. “Whoever will be prime minister will be [Iran’s] friend,” said Dr Kadhim. “Iran is one step or more ahead of the US in that case.”

Sairoon’s Mr Sadr is currently in Iran, undertaking a period of religious study in the holy city of Qom, though the Iraqi leader has publicly distanced himself from the government in Tehran.

His adviser, Mr Asadi, said he was still watching events in Iraq closely. Mr Sadr’s absence from the process “doesn’t mean he will not have a veto if these names are not acceptable to the protesters”, he said.

Additional reporting by Asmaa al-Omar

Trump warns of a ‘major event’

image-12

Trump says it will be hard to unify country without a ‘major event’

By — Yamiche Alcindor

Politics Jan 30, 2018 4:37 PM EST

Hours before his first State of the Union, President Donald Trump said Tuesday that he wants to unite the country amid “tremendous divisiveness” and hopes he can do so without a traumatic event affecting Americans.

Trump spoke about creating a more united country during a lunch with a number of television news anchors. Trump said the United States has long been divided, including during the impeachment of former president Bill Clinton. Trump also said that Americans usually come together during times of suffering.

“I would love to be able to bring back our country into a great form of unity,” Trump said. “Without a major event where people pull together, that’s hard to do. But I would like to do it without that major event because usually that major event is not a good thing.”

The president also said the country’s divisions date back to both Republican and Democratic administrations, citing the scandals that led to Clinton’s impeachment by the House in 1998.

“I want to see our country united. I want to bring our country back from a tremendous divisiveness, which has taken place not just over one year, over many years, including the Bush years, not just Obama.” he said.

Trump went on to say that uniting people would also be hard because of issues like health care, because some people want “free health care paid by the government” and others want “health care paid by private, where there’s great competition.”

The comments came as the president was putting the finishing touches on his first State of the Union address Tuesday night.

According to a White House official, Trump’s speech will be about 50 minutes long, and was written with help from H.R. McMaster, the national security advisor, Rob Porter, the White House staff secretary, Gary Cohn, the chief economic advisor, Stephen Miller, the senior policy advisor, and Ross Worthington and Vince Haley, who are both speechwriters.

Indian Point is NOT radiologically ready for the Sixth Seal

image-546

With Indian Point, are you radiologically ready?

By Thomas Slater Emergency Preparedness Coordinator

August 23rd, 2018 | NewsNews and Features

Just as there are plans in place for dealing with natural emergencies such as tropical and winter storms, readiness plans are developed for man-made emergencies, which includes radiological hazards.

Nuclear power plants operate in most states in the country and produce about 20 percent of the nation’s power.

Nearly three million people live within the 10-mile Emergency Planning Zone of an operating nuclear power plant, including West Point, which is situated between 7-to-9 miles from the Indian Point Energy Center (IPEC) in Buchanan of Westchester County.

Although the construction and operation of nuclear power plants are closely monitored and regulated by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, incidents at these plants are possible—and planned for.

If an accident at IPEC were to result in the potential or actual release of radiation, warning sirens in the area would be activated. Commercial and West Point media sources would broadcast Emergency Alert System  messages to advise you on protective measures.

Depending upon the scope and scale of the emergency, protective actions may include “shelter-in-place” or “evacuation” advisories. As radioactive materials rapidly decay and dissipate with distance, the most likely scenario for West Point personnel would be to take shelter rather than trying to evacuate.

If you are instructed to shelter-in-place, the following steps will keep you and your family safe during the emergency.

• Shelter. Go inside your home or the nearest building; choose an inside room with as few windows or doors as possible.

• Shut. Shut and lock all windows and doors to create a better seal; turn off heating or cooling ventilation systems. If at home, make sure the fireplace damper and all ventilation fans are closed.

• Listen. Local officials are your best source of information. If in an office, monitor your computer, television and phones; if at home, listen to your radio or television until you are told it is safe to leave the shelter or to evacuate.

For more details, consult the Orange County Indian Point Emergency Guide, available at https://www.orangecountygov.com/DocumentCenter/View/2368/Indian-Point-Orange-Emergency-Guide-PDF, or call the West Point Emergency Manager at 845-938-7092.

Readiness, through education and preparation, is the best defense. Are you radiological ready?

Babylon the Great Sending Several Thousand More Troops to Mideast

In this photo released by the official website of the Office of the Iranian Presidency, President Hassan Rouhani speaks in a meeting in Tehran, Iran, Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2019. Rouhani says Tehran hasn’t closed the window on talks with the U.S. but reiterated his government’s standing condition that the…  (Associated Press)

US considers sending several thousand more troops to Mideast

By MATTHEW LEE, Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Pentagon is considering sending several thousand additional troops to the Middle East to help deter Iranian aggression, amid reports of escalating violence in Iran and continued meddling by Tehran in Iraq, Syria and other parts of the region.

John Rood, defense undersecretary for policy, told senators Thursday that Defense Secretary Mark Esper “intends to make changes” to the number of troops deployed in the region. Other officials said options under consideration could send between 5,000 and 7,000 troops to the Middle East, but they all stressed that there have been no final decisions yet. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

The troop deliberations follow several decisions since spring to beef up the U.S. presence in the Middle East because of a series of maritime attacks and bombings in Saudi Arabia that the U.S. and others have blamed on Iran.

President Donald Trump has approved those increases, even though he also routinely insists that he is pulling U.S. troops out of the Middle East and withdrawing from what he calls “endless wars” against extremists. In October, Trump told his supporters that despite the sacrificing of U.S. lives in Iraq and other parts of the Middle East, the region is less safe and stable today. “The single greatest mistake our country made in its history,” he said, “was going into the quicksand of the Middle East.”

Asked about a possible troop increase, Trump told reporters Thursday that, ”We’ll announce whether we will or not. Certainly there might be a threat. And if there is a threat, it will be met very strongly. But we will be announcing what we may be doing — may or may not be doing.”

Military leaders have argued that the U.S. needs to increase its presence in the region in order to deter Iran from conducting more and broader attacks. Rood provided no details to back up why the additional troops are needed, but said the U.S. is concerned about recent intelligence indications suggesting an increased threat from Iran.

Rood was asked several times about reports that 14,000 more troops could be sent to the region. He repeatedly said Esper hasn’t made a decision yet, but didn’t specifically confirm or deny the number, so his answers appeared only to confuse senators. Shortly after the hearing, Pentagon press secretary Alyssa Farah sent out a statement flatly denying the 14,000 number, saying Esper told the Senate committee chairman Thursday morning that “we are not considering sending 14,000 additional troops” to the region.

The troop discussions came as the Trump administration on Thursday accused Iranian security forces of killing more than 1,000 people in crackdowns against recent protests that have swept the country.

The estimated death toll is significantly higher than previously estimates from human rights groups and others, and the administration did not present documentary evidence to back up the claim. But Brian Hook, the U.S. special representative for Iran, told reporters the tally was based on a variety of reports coming out of Iran as well as intelligence analyses.

Speaking at the State Department, Hook said the U.S. had received and reviewed video of one specific incident of repression in the city of Mahshahr in which the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps had mowed down at least 100 protesters with machine-gun fire.

He said the video was one of tens of thousands of submissions the U.S. has gotten since Secretary of State Mike Pompeo appealed last month for Iranians to submit evidence of atrocities by the authorities in putting down the protests. In it, he said IRGC forces can be seen opening fire on protesters blocking a road and then surrounding those who fled to nearby marshlands where they were sprayed with bullets.

“In this one incident alone the regime murdered as many as 100 Iranians and possibly more,” Hook told reporters at the State Department. He did not display the video but said the actions it depicted corresponded to accounts of a brutal nationwide crackdown on the demonstrations, which started in response to gasoline price increases and rationing.

“We have seen reports of many hundreds more killed in and around Tehran,” he said. “And, as the truth is trickling out of Iran, it appears the regime could have murdered over 1,000 Iranian citizens since the protests began.” The dead include 13- and 14-year-old children, he said.

Speaking at the White House, Trump said Iran had “killed hundreds and hundreds of people in a very short period of time” and called for international pressure to be applied. “They are killing protesters. They turned off their internet system. People aren’t hearing what’s going on,” he told reporters while hosting a lunch for the ambassadors of U.N. Security Council members.

Iran’s mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment, and there was no immediate comment on state media in Iran.

There was no known public video that supported Hooks’ allegation of a massacre in Mahshahr, although he said the State Department had gotten more than 32,000 responses to Pompeo’s appeal for videos and other evidence using the encrypted messaging app Telegram, which is popular in Iran.

Nor has there been any widely accepted claim matching Hook’s death toll of more than 1,000. Amnesty International believes at least 208 people have been killed and that the number could be higher. Iran has disputed that figure, but has refused to offer any nationwide statistics of the number of injuries, arrests or deaths from the unrest.

However, Hook’s numbers appear to match a figure put out late Wednesday by the Iranian exile group called the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq, which has paid Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani for speeches at its events in the past.

The MeK alleged late Wednesday that more than 1,000 people had been killed. It published a list of 320 people it said it had identified so far as having been killed but did not provide proof.

Iran has alleged MeK supporters and those backing exiled Crown Prince Reza Pahlavi, the son of the country’s late shah, of being behind the unrest alongside foreign powers. It has not offered evidence to support those allegations.

In addition to the deaths, Hook said more than 7,000 protesters had been detained, with many sent to two prisons. Hook said that Pompeo had notified Congress on Thursday that both prisons would be hit with U.S. sanctions for gross human rights abuses. It was not immediately clear when those designations would occur.

Hook’s comments come as the U.S. steps up its “maximum pressure campaign” on Iran that it began after withdrawing from the landmark 2015 nuclear deal last year. That campaign has been highlighted by the imposition of increasingly tough sanctions and an increase in rhetoric critical of Tehran and its leadership.

As part of the pressure campaign, Hook announced that the U.S. is offering a reward of up to $15 million for information leading to the whereabouts of a top IRGC commander now believed to be supporting rebels in Yemen. He said Abdul Reza Shahalai was responsible for numerous attacks against U.S. forces in Iraq and had been behind a foiled plot to murder the Saudi ambassador to the United States in a Washington restaurant.

___

Lolita C. Baldor, Robert Burns and Deb Riechmann in Washington and Jon Gambrell in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, contributed to this report.

The END Happens When Everyone’s Trying to Get Nukes (Revelation 16)

What Happens When Everyone’s Trying to Get Nukes?

Israel’s ‘Begin Doctrine,’ a commitment to prevent rival regional powers from acquiring nuclear weapons, risks becoming unenforceable—but it’s not clear what comes next

For more than 50 years, Israel’s national security has been guided by the Begin Doctrine, named after the country’s sixth prime minister. It holds that no regional enemy committed to destroying the Jewish state can be allowed to obtain weapons of mass destruction. To that end, Israel’s air force destroyed Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor in 1981 and Syria’s al Kibar plutonium-producing facility in 2007.

Today’s cascade of nuclear technologies across the Middle East, however, is raising serious questions about Israel’s ability to enforce this mandate going forward. The debate over the Begin Doctrine’s viability will not only have a profound impact on Israel, but also on security in the broader Middle East. Israel has proven more than once to be the only regional player willing to curtail by force the spread of nuclear weapons to rogue states, despite the international opprobrium the Jewish state has reaped for its actions. But current concerns inside Israel reflect just how much the threat of nuclear proliferation has increased in recent years as the countries of the Middle East have changed and transformed the region.

Israel views Iran as by far the most likely regional power to acquire nuclear weapons in the near term and has openly vowed to use military force to stop it. But a slew of other Mideast countries, some nominally Israel’s allies or strategic partners, have also made significant advances in their nuclear programs. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan openly warned in September that Ankara could seek to develop atomic weapons in response to its changing relationship with the U.S. and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Saudi Arabia’s crown prince and de facto leader, Mohammed bin Salman, has said his country would match any nuclear technologies that Iran, Riyadh’s arch rival, acquires.

Israeli officials and analysts say that, as a result of these evolving threats, the tools required to enforce the Begin Doctrine will need to change. Israel deployed cyber weapons, in collaboration with the U.S., to attack Iran’s uranium-enrichment facilities in the late 2000s. The operation destroyed thousands of centrifuge machines, but Tehran’s overall nuclear-fuel production quickly returned to pace. Israel also signed on to the U.S. sanctions campaign that has used financial warfare to pressure Iran into giving up or constraining its nuclear activities. The strategy helped birth the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action—the Obama-helmed Iran nuclear agreement between Tehran and world powers, which President Donald Trump pulled out of last year with the backing of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Both leaders believed the deal offered, at best, only a short-term solution to the Iranian nuclear threat while forfeiting the sources of economic leverage that may have forced Iran to accept more permanent restraints.

But the standard tools of economic and military coercion, even including the high tech instruments of cyberwar, might not be enough any longer to prevent nuclear proliferation in the Middle East as countries like Turkey and Saudi Arabia—both official U.S. strategic allies—grow their own nuclear programs. Israel has diplomatic relations with Turkey, which remains an active member of NATO and houses 50 American nuclear weapons at the U.S. military base in Incirlik. But the Israeli-Turkish relationship has been strained under Erdogan’s Islamist government and by conflicting approaches to the Syrian civil war on their respective borders. Israel has also developed a strategic partnership with Saudi Arabia, with the on-and-off foes, united by a common enemy, now sharing intelligence and technology to try and constrain Iran’s regional activities.

The Trump administration is currently negotiating a nuclear-cooperation agreement with Mohammed bin Salman’s government that could allow the Saudis to develop sensitive nuclear technologies, such as uranium-enrichment and plutonium reprocessing, in exchange for Riyadh accepting expansive international oversight of its program to prevent the nuclear program from being weaponized. But whatever the technical terms are in a prospective agreement, there’s still no guarantee Saudi Arabia won’t seek to develop weapons at some stage or that the ruling Saud family will remain in power.

“The Begin Doctrine has to be somewhat rephrased: ‘Israel will do its utmost to prevent, or at least delay, any hostile Middle East country from obtaining a military nuclear capability,’” says Ephraim Asculai, a 40-year veteran of the Israel Atomic Energy Commission. “The means of prevention would vary from diplomatic and treaty diplomacy to covert, low-key sabotage, to open overt military action, if possible, depending on the regional politics at the time. Success cannot be really assured, but the effort should be made.”

***

Iran’s announcement in November that it’s resuming uranium enrichment at its Fordow underground nuclear facility has alarmed the Israeli security establishment. The Netanyahu government vehemently opposed the nuclear deal, known as the JCPOA, stressing that it was only a temporary obstacle to Tehran’s nuclear ambitions. But some Israeli officials had hoped the accord could keep the Iranian nuclear program in check long enough for U.S. and European diplomats to strengthen the deal’s core elements through a renegotiation with Iran.

One of the JCPOA’s core tenets was that Iran’s stockpile of nuclear fuel would be kept below the levels required for the country to build a single atomic bomb within a year. But with the resumption of enrichment at Fordow, Israeli and American nuclear analysts believe this timeline has already shrunk to between six and 10 months. Meanwhile, Iran has also begun enriching uranium at levels closer to weapons grade.

This heightened nuclear threat comes after Iran has spent years developing Syria as a base of operations to launch drone and missile strikes against Israel. Israeli officials believe Tehran is consolidating a “ring of fire” around the Jewish state’s borders by arming and funding militias in Syria, Lebanon, the Palestinian territories, Iraq, and Yemen. In response, Israel has repeatedly bombed Iranian proxies in recent months in Syria and as far away as Iraq, and is hoping the Trump administration’s financial campaign of “maximum pressure” will force more far-reaching nuclear concessions from Tehran down the road. There’s some hope as well that Iran is weakening from within after weeks of nationwide protests driven by the government’s slashing of energy subsidies.These are happening at the same time that political uprisings have erupted in Iraq and Lebanon driven, in part, by opposition to Iran’s overweening political and military influence in those Arab countries.

Still, current and former Israeli officials are skeptical Iran can be brought back to the negotiating table. And they voice concern that Tehran is sequencing the renewed growth of its nuclear program with the extension of its proxy network to Israel’s borders. This in turn is prompting warnings from Israel’s national security establishment that it’s prepared to strike Iran directly to enforce the Begin Doctrine. “If we have to do it again, we’ll do it again,” Yaakov Amidror, a retired general and Netanyahu’s former national security adviser, said at a recent security conference in Tel Aviv, referring to Israel’s earlier attacks on Iraq’s and Syria’s nuclear installations.

***

Nuclear threats from Turkey’s President Erdogan have also caught Israel’s attention in recent months. Speaking to members of the ruling AK Party in September, he warned that it was unacceptable that Turkey couldn’t develop nuclear weapons when so many of the world’s great powers had them or possessed the technologies to build them. Israel is believed to have a large atomic weapons arsenal, but has never confirmed or denied its existence. “Some countries have missiles with nuclear warheads, not one or two. But [they tell us] we can’t have them. This, I cannot accept,” Erdogan told a conference in eastern Turkey, Reuters reported. He added: “We have Israel nearby, as almost neighbors. They scare [other nations] by possessing these. No one can touch them.”

Turkey has been pursuing civilian nuclear power for decades, and broke ground on its first reactor, which is being built by Russian companies, last year. Israel hasn’t publicly voiced alarm about Turkey’s nuclear ambitions to date, because the country has historically been an ally and has pledged its adherence to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, or NPT, the United Nations covenant that bans the development of atomic bombs by countries others than the five original nuclear weapons states. Ankara, as a NATO member, also is protected by the nuclear umbrella provided by the U.S.

But Turkey’s future NATO membership, and its alliance with the U.S., has grown increasingly unstable in recent years as Erdogan has shown a greater willingness to challenge, if not break, from the West’s foreign policy objectives. Erdogan’s decision in September to invade northern Syria, and assault the Kurdish forces there, was staunchly opposed by the U.S. Defense Department and ran the risk of sparking a direct confrontation between Turkish and American troops. Some members of Congress are now calling for economic sanctions on Ankara and the removal of the American nuclear weapons deployed at Incirlik. Relations between Israel and Turkey have also sharply deteriorated in recent years, as Erdogan has positioned himself as a champion of the Palestinian cause and an ally of Iran.

In this environment, Israeli officials and analysts are concerned that Erdogan might make good on his rumblings to develop nuclear bombs as he continues to lead his country away from the West. Even before his September nuclear pronouncements, Turkey had repeatedly rebuffed Western calls for it to rule out developing the capability to enrich uranium or reprocess plutonium, the key technologies for weapons development. Ankara’s nuclear cooperation with Moscow also limits the West’s ability to use diplomatic or economic pressure to constrain Turkey’s nuclear ambitions. Military threats or sabotage to enforce the Begin Doctrine, Israeli analysts acknowledge, are less effective against a country as developed as Turkey and as integrated into the global economy. Turkey’s not isolated, or viewed as a rogue state, like Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, the Assad family’s Syria, or the Islamic Republic of Iran. Which leaves the question, if the old policy no longer works, what exactly can be done?

***

Saudi Arabia’s nuclear advancements pose perhaps the most delicate proliferation challenge for Israel and the Begin Doctrine. For most of the Jewish state’s history, Riyadh was viewed as a foe due to its support for the Palestinian cause and exporting of its fundamentalist brand of Islam, known as Wahhabism. Saudi Arabia sent troops to fight Israeli forces during the 1973 Yom Kippur war and used oil as a weapon against those countries that supported the Jewish state during the conflict.

But relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia have improved dramatically over the past five years, driven, in large part, by their shared focus on the Iranian threat. The two countries have yet to formally normalize diplomatic relations. But they’re sharing intelligence and technology to try and constrain Tehran, according to Israeli and Arab officials, including by tracking Iranian activities in Yemen and the Red Sea. Israeli diplomats are now openly visiting Saudi Arabia’s allies in the Persian Gulf, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, in what’s widely viewed as a precursor for more overt Israeli-Saudi contacts.

Saudi Arabia, with an eye on Iran’s nuclear ambitions, has been developing its own program. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman last year bluntly proclaimed his country was committed to acquiring whatever nuclear technologies Tehran does. The Saudi government has embarked on an ambitious effort to construct 16 nuclear power reactors over the next 20 years, and is currently finishing the construction of a research reactor with Argentine help. “Saudi does not want to acquire any nuclear bomb, but without a doubt, if Iran develops a nuclear bomb, we will follow suit as soon as possible,” Crown Prince Mohammed told CBS News last year.

Despite the improving relations between the two countries, Israeli officials are still worried about Saudi Arabia acquiring nuclear capabilities—as they are with all of the regional powers. But as in the case with Turkey, the tools to deter the House of Saud are seen as limited. Few in Israel believe military action or sabotage can be used against Riyadh. And Israel hasn’t sought to rally congressional opposition in Washington against the Saudi program, mindful of the close U.S. alliance and its own improving relations with the kingdom.

The Netanyahu government, instead, has been backing a Trump administration proposal to overtly share nuclear technology with Riyadh in exchange for Saudi Arabia backing away from plans to acquire uranium-enrichment and plutonium-separation technologies. Outgoing U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry has been holding negotiations with Saudi officials to forge a formal nuclear-cooperation agreement based on this “gold standard.” But it’s unclear if the Saudis will accept the terms, and Riyadh has concurrently been discussing purchasing reactors from Russia, China, and South Korea as a way to work around American pressure.

U.S. and Israeli officials are also concerned that Saudi Arabia could simply buy nuclear weapons from Pakistan should the conflict with Iran intensify. Riyadh is believed to be the primary financier of Islamabad’s so-called Sunni Bomb and also provides substantial energy support to the South Asian country. Pakistani troops, in turn, have been deployed to Saudi Arabia to help enforce security. “In a scenario of an Iranian breakout to a nuclear weapon, the Pakistani commitment to maintain the Kingdom’s security could be expressed through the transfer of nuclear warheads…or the stationing of nuclear weapons,” writes Israeli security analyst Yoel Guzansky of the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv.

Israel’s national security establishment, though, views Iran as the fulcrum through which to try and stanch the cascading spread of nuclear weapons across the Mideast. Permanently constraining Tehran’s capability, they argue, will drastically reduce the desire of Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and even Egypt, to militarize their nuclear power programs. If Iran, however, becomes a threshold weapons state, which it was on track to do even under the JPCOA, Israel and the West will have diminishing tools to reverse this course. A campaign of cyber warfare, supply-chain sabotage and economic sanctions may be in the works. But there’s no guarantee they’ll work, and the Begin Doctrine could be rolled back.

What’s At Stake? Damaging the Wine (Revelation 6:6)

An Iraqi demonstrator chants as she takes part in an anti-government march in the center of the southern city of Basra on December 2, 2019. Iraq’s rival parties were negotiating the contours of a new government today, after the previous cabinet was brought down by a two-month protest movement demanding more deep-rooted change. (AFP)

The US accuses Iran of secretly sending missiles to Iraq. What’s at stake?

Iran is accused of using its paramilitary proxy group to move missiles in turmoil-hit Iraq, which is caught in a tug of war between Iran and the US.

Tehran has discreetly built an arsenal of short-range ballistic missiles in Iraq, taking advantage of the ongoing political turmoil in the country, the New York Times reported on Thursday, quoting the US intelligence and military officials.

It’s been over two months since Iraqis in Baghdad and the Shia-majority south have been protesting against a lack of basic services, jobs and years-long corruption that they blame on the government as well as holding Iran responsible for undermining the country’s progress.

Widening Iranian influence in Iraq

The news comes as the latest of Tehran’s efforts to assert power in Iraq — a potential sign that Tehran has no intention of stepping back even after 400 Iraqis were gunned down in protests. The protesters hold the Iraqi security forces and Iran-backed militias responsible for the bloodbath.

According to the New York Times report, Iran-backed Hashd al Shaabi, also known as Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), was used by Tehran to move and hide missiles in Iraq. The armed group has played a key role in helping Iran increase its influence in Iraq.

The Iranian influence in the military grew especially with the PMF playing a key role in defeating Daesh in Iraq. The militia was gradually integrated with Iraq’s paramilitary forces, a move widely seen as a boost to Tehran’s control over Baghdad.

The PMF also made a political foray with its commander Hadi al Ameri running as a candidate as the leader of Fatah alliance. In what was dubbed ‘a compromise’ it took two major political fronts, Islah and Bina, five months to form a government.

Many Iraqis think Iran’s involvement in the country’s inner workings went too far. Adel Abdul Mahdi, who has sworn in as prime minister only a year ago, resigned after the protesters entered the Iranian consulate and burnt down the entire building.

Iraqis celebrated the PM’s exit as a step towards an independent parliament, but the process of choosing a new PM is a difficult one. The Iran-backed Fatah alliance claims the right to choose the new PM, while Sairoon, headed by the populist cleric Muqtada al Sadr, says his party has the right to do so. 

Iraqis say they wouldn’t welcome a new PM close to the country’s political elite. But reports say Qasim Sulaimani, Major General of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, has attended meetings over the next PM, pushing his own favourite.

The US slammed Sulaimani for interfering in the process.

A further US-Iran strain in relations over Iraq may follow

Iraq has become a centre of a tug of war between Baghdad’s two allies, Washington and Tehran. While the two sides, known archrivals, are pursuing their own interests, the Iraqi government is struggling to find its feet and reconstruct the post-war country.

When the US restored its sanctions against Iran last year in May, and asked Iraq to abide by them, Iraq found itself between a rock and a hard place.

Iraqi President Barham Salih stated his discomfort from the escalation, saying the sanctions were hurting the entire region, not only Iran. He urged the US to de-escalate.

“We cannot afford our country to be dragged into a conflict,” he said.

Meanwhile, the US has sent 14,000 additional troops to the region since May, the month when the US sanctions on Iran made a brutal comeback. For the US, the aim was to counter threats such as attacks on oil tankers in the Persian Gulf which Washington previously blamed on Iran.

A report from the Wall Street Journal claimed the US was considering sending 14,000 additional troops to the Middle East as a countermeasure to Iran. The Pentagon strongly denied the claim, however.