Monday, June 30, 2014

US Aids The Shia Horn

Iraq’s political snarl muddles allies

The Shiite Crescent (Horn)
The Shiite Crescent (Horn)

In a turn of events that is odd even for the muddled Middle East, the United States finds itself in the awkward position of being allied with some of the very people it most opposes, while opposing one of the people it most strongly supported.

Determined to help Iraq stop the advance of jihadist forces from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), the Obama administration began last week flying armed drones over Baghdad and other parts of Iraq. In addition, U.S. officials say, F-18 fighter jets from the George H.W. Bush aircraft carrier positioned in the Persian Gulf have been flying as many as 30 to 35 surveillance flights a day over the length and width of the country.

They’re not alone. Also this past week, the Syrian air force, worried about ISIL’s reach in its country, has reportedly flown over and fired on ISIL positions on both the Syrian and Iraqi sides of their joint border.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, leader of the largest Shia party in the country, said he had no problem with the Syrian bombardment – they were all fighting the same enemy.

U.S. officials, on the other hand, were distinctly uncomfortable being associated with the regime of Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad, a dictator it holds in contempt. The awkward situation was relieved somewhat when, on Thursday, U.S. President Barack Obama asked Congress for half a billion dollars to provide military assistance to elements of the Syrian rebel forces fighting the Assad regime.

That assistance is being provided only to “moderate” rebel groups vetted by the U.S. government, such as the secular Free Syrian Army, and not to jihadist forces such as ISIL. It would be hard to justify arming in one country the very jihadist organization Washington is preparing to fight in another.

And the United States is preparing for a fight. There now are about 500 U.S. military personnel deployed to Iraq, officials say, including military advisers and trainers in special operations.

Iran is another country Washington views as hostile because of its controversial nuclear program as well as its support for the Assad regime in Syria and the militant Hezbollah movement in Lebanon. Yet Iran, too, is now entering the fray in Iraq on the same side as the United States.

Senior commanders of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard are reportedly training some of the Shia militias being assembled in the south of Iraq to defend the Shia holy sites of Najaf and Karbala from the threat of ISIL.

As well, Iran has reportedly begun to fly its own drones over southern and eastern parts of the country.

To complicate the anti-ISIL forces even further, military trainers from Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shia militia that battled Israel to a draw in 2006, are reported to be on their way to Iraq too, to give advanced classes to the militia of Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr. The Sadr forces, which were a painful thorn in the side to U.S. troops when they occupied Iraq in the mid-2000s, will be training their sights this time on ISIL jihadists.

To take matters even further, Mr. al-Sadr, leader of the second-largest political movement in Iraq, now agrees with the United States that Mr. al-Maliki must either open up any government he forms to greater Sunni involvement or be voted out as prime minister. The country’s parliament is convening this week to choose the next prime minister and it is likely that the Shia parties will determine Mr. al-Maliki’s fate in advance of any vote.

The ill treatment of Sunnis by Mr. al-Maliki’s predominantly Shia administration is viewed as the biggest reason many of Iraq’s Sunnis welcomed the arrival of ISIL earlier this month.

Ironically, Mr. al-Maliki first came to office in 2006 because of backing from the United States. His predecessor, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, had been considered too friendly with the Sunnis, and Washington also considered him to be independent from Iran.

With the region twisted into a political pretzel, it’s little wonder that Israel also weighed in with an offer to assist what it called “moderate” Arab states, such as Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, that may be threatened by confrontation with ISIL.

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman told U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry at a meeting in Paris that “the extremists currently operating in Iraq will try to challenge the stability in the entire Gulf region, first of all in Kuwait,” a statement from his office said.

“Israel could provide effective and reliable assistance to moderate Arab states who are dealing with extremists,” it added, without going into specific details.

Large Horn Moves In On Small Horn (Daniel 8:3)

Iran and Syria move in on Iraq

ISIS Moves Into Iraq
ISIS Moves Into Iraq

By: John Hayward
6/27/2014 09:07 AM

After noting that Iranian weapons and military advisers are flooding into Iraq, while Syrian warplanes conduct air raids into Iraqi territory in the north, Fox News describes the “smart power” response of the utterly helpless Obama Administration:

The apparent involvement, however, of Iran as well as Syria is raising red flags in the Obama administration, with top officials voicing concern that their involvement could create a “flashpoint” that deepens sectarian tensions in the country. A senior U.S. official also confirmed to Fox News earlier this week that there are indications Syrian aircraft launched airstrikes against Sunni militant targets in Iraq on Monday.

Asked about these developments on Wednesday, Secretary of State John Kerry warned about actions “that might exacerbate the sectarian divisions that are already at a heightened level of tension.”

He added: “It’s very important that nothing takes place that contributes to the extremism or could act as a flashpoint with respect to the sectarian divide,” Kerry said, speaking in Brussels in the middle of a multi-country tour aimed at easing the Iraq crisis.

Kerry, noting reports of Iran and Syria intervention, stressed the need for a new Iraqi government, so it can make decisions without “outside forces moving to fill a vacuum.”

Speaking in Washington, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest also said that the solution to the Iraq crisis does not involve militias or the “murderous Assad regime” in Syria.

You forgot to tell Iran and Syria they were on “the wrong side of history,” Josh. That’s the kind of high-megaton verbiage that usually makes brutal dictatorships forget all about their ambitions!

I’m not the biggest fan of the current Iraqi government, but John Kerry is demonstrating his usual loose grip on reality by thinking that a new face or two in Baghdad will push Iran and Syria out of the country, to say nothing of the ISIS terrorist invaders. The “vacuum” they’re all rushing forward to fill is the howling void left by Barack Obama and John Kerry’s “leadership.” It’s the space where American influence used to be, and since Obama’s ideology and domestic political concerns blinded him to the importance of making a modest investment in preserving that influence, it’s probably gone forever.

Human Rights Watch says it just uncovered two mass graves near Tikrit, filled with Iraqi police, soldiers, and civilians. When you’re facing an existential threat from people like that, it’s not hard to choose between John Kerry droning on about how nothing should take place to contribute to extremism and sectarian divides… and the Shiite totalitarians dropping bombs on your head-chopping enemies. Three hundred American advisers are setting up a command post in Baghdad, but they’re trying to play catch-up in a very bad situation, and if they never leave Baghdad, the Iraqis could be forgiven that their primary purpose has more to do with protecting the American embassy during an evacuation. (If it comes to that, we can all unite in hoping that the embassy receives such protection. But the point is that we cannot afford to let it come to that.)

If you’re Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki or one of his Shiite colleagues, you can see Syria and Iran acting on the basis of far more reliable interests than whatever United Nations pamphlet the U.S. Secretary of State happens to be reading out of today. Assad’s already at war with ISIS. Barack Obama came within one weekend of providing them with an air force. Tehran has been trying to erase the American vision of Iraq since Day One. A partnership with them might provide a fighting chance of expelling ISIS, wiping out the Saddam dead-enders who crawled out from under their rocks to throw in with the black-flag crew, and cracking down on uppity Sunnis. Barack Obama, on the other hand, is primarily good for speeches explaining how none of this is his fault.

The Fox report concludes with some more White House tongue-clucking about how Syria and Iran totally stink as geopolitical allies, no matter how many of your enemies they’re prepared to kill:

The White House said intervention by Syria was not the way to stem the insurgents, who have taken control of several cities in northern and western Iraq.

“The solution to the threat confronting Iraq is not the intervention of the Assad regime, which allowed [ISIS] to thrive in the first place,” said Bernadette Meehan, a National Security Council spokeswoman. “The solution to Iraq’s security challenge does not involve militias or the murderous Assad regime, but the strengthening of the Iraqi security forces to combat threats.”

“Strengthening the Iraq security forces to combat threats?” ISIS has occupied several cities. They’re a bit more than a “threat,” wouldn’t you say? This isn’t like calling in the mall cops to eject a couple of troublemakers from the food court.

For those who say it’s all just a rotten mess of foreign garbage we should stay clear of – let Syria and Iran knock themselves out dealing with it! – there’s the long-term problem of a realigned Middle East in which the United States has no influence at all. If you’re happy with the idea of losing the struggle Jimmy Carter tried to lose four decades ago, you’re not thinking far enough ahead. (There’s a huge gathering of Iranian resistance figures in Paris this weekend, and they’re confident the mullahs will soon be overthrown. That might be optimistic, but wouldn’t it be nice if America was sitting in a strong and secure Iraq, and helping to destabilize the theocracy before it gets nuclear weapons, rather than the other way around?)

But if you don’t want to plan moves in the long game – and every foreign-policy team should be thinking that way – there’s plenty of near-term horror to worry about. Even the witless Obama Administration, fresh off a closed-door meeting with the Senate in which they admitted they didn’t have a clue these ISIS chaps might be trouble, is now warning that the decidedly non-decimated al-Qaeda threat might be a contagion that spreads into Jordan and Israel. From Eli Lake at the Daily Beast:

The terror group that’s taken over major portions of Iraq and Syria won’t be content with roiling those two countries, senior Obama administration officials told Senators in a classified briefing this week. The Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) also has its eyes on Jordan; in fact, its jihadists are already Tweeting out photos and messages claiming a key southern town in Jordan already belongs to them.

An ISIS attack on Jordan could make an already complex conflict nightmarishly tangled, the officials added in their briefing. If the Jordanians are seriously threatened by ISIS, they would almost certainly try to enlist Israel and the United States into the war now engulfing the Middle East.

“The concern was that Jordan could not repel a full assault from ISIS on its own at this point,” said one senator, who spoke on condition of anonymity. Another Senate staff member said the U.S. officials who briefed the members responded to the question of what Jordan’s leaders would do if they faced a military onslaught from ISIS by saying: “They will ask Israel and the United States for as much help as they can get.”

In a matter of months, while the Obama State Department was telling everyone the great foreign-policy issue of the age is global warming, the situation degenerated into this:

If ISIS were to draw Israel into the regional conflict it would make the region’s strange politics even stranger. In Iraq and Syria, Israel’s arch nemesis, Iran, is fighting ISIS. Israel, on the other hand, has used its air force from time to time to bomb Hezbollah positions in Syria and Lebanon, the Lebanese militia aligned with Iran. If Israel were to fight against ISIS in Jordan, it would become a de facto ally of Iran, a regime dedicated to its destruction.

But Jordan is also an important ally for Israel. It is one of two countries (along with Egypt) to have a peace treaty with the Jewish state. Jordanian security forces help patrol the east bank of the Jordan River that borders Israel and both countries share intelligence about terrorist groups in the region.

For now the one thing Iran and Israel do agree on is that U.S. intervention in Iraq is risky. Khamenei has told Obama to just stay out. Netanyahu was more subtle, warning that Obama should not promise Iran anything in the nuclear negotiations that might entice its cooperation in Iraq. His advice was for Obama to weaken both sides.

But behind the scenes, Israeli diplomats have told their American counterparts that Israel would be prepared to take military action to save the Hashemite Kingdom.

The contagion could easily spread far beyond the Middle East, too. Someone claiming to be aligned with ISIS has taken to posting photos of suicide vests on Twitter and urging the group’s followers – many of whom have Western passports – to “enter U.S. cities and marketplaces with these vests and detonate them, killing American citizens,” or if self-detonation isn’t your bag, maybe just poison the American water supply. Sure, this could all just be a bunch of big talk from some random hothead, but serious analysts have been warning that ISIS has both means and desire to launch attacks on Western soil. (It’s an open question whether the group’s leadership is sane enough to realize such provocations would be counter-productive at the moment.)

This is why you can’t make up foreign policy on a day-to-day basis, or premise your strategy on the assumption that a debonair President can fix everything with a couple of speeches. We should never have let ourselves be maneuvered into a position where all of our options are this bad. Among other things, friends and allies with long memories will remember this happened, and make their plans on the safe assumption that it could happen again. A year ago, Barack Obama was boasting that al-Qaeda was decimated and on the run. Today, we’re making last-ditch plans to save Jordan from their clutches.

Update: Guess who else is capitalizing on the American leadership vacuum to get a piece of the action in Iraq? In a BBC interview, Iraqi PM Maliki said air strikes could have halted ISIS’ advance across the Syrian border, but not only did the Obama Administration refuse requests for assistance, they wouldn’t even sell the Iraqis their own planes… so he’s getting them from other sources, including Russia.

He said that the process of buying US jets had been “long-winded” and that the militants’ advance could have been avoided if air cover had been in place.

Isis and its Sunni Muslim allies seized large parts of Iraq this month.

Mr Maliki was speaking to the BBC’s Arabic service in his first interview for an international broadcaster since Isis – the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant – began its major offensive.
“I’ll be frank and say that we were deluded when we signed the contract [with the US],” Mr Maliki said.

“We should have sought to buy other jet fighters like British, French and Russian to secure the air cover for our forces; if we had air cover we would have averted what had happened,” he went on.
He said Iraq was acquiring second-hand jet fighters from Russia and Belarus “that should arrive in Iraq in two or three days”.

He also said Iraq “welcomed” the air strikes from Syria: “They carry out their strikes and we carry out ours, and the final winners are our two countries.” No prizes for guessing who the final loser will be.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Russia Is One of Ten Nuclear Horns (Daniel 7:7)

Welcome to Russian Nuclear Weapons 101
 
Tom Nichols
Russian Nuclear Horn
Russian Nuclear Horn

Americans don’t think very much about nuclear weapons, and they certainly don’t think very often about their own arsenal, at least until something goes wrong with it, like the recent scandals involving the U.S. ICBM force. The Obama administration completed a nuclear posture review in 2010, a document that supposedly lays out the purpose and future of the U.S. nuclear arsenal. Like previous U.S. reviews conducted in 1994 and 2002, it sank without a trace. The fact of the matter is that nuclear weapons and their mission simply do not matter much to post–Cold War American leaders.

Nuclear weapons, however, certainly matter to the Russians. Nuclear arms have always been the source of superpower status for both Soviet and Russian leaders. This is especially true today: the Soviet collapse left the Russian Federation a country bereft of the usual indicators of a great power, including conventional military force or the ability to project it. Little wonder that Moscow still relies on its nuclear arsenal as one of the last vestiges of its right to be considered more than merely—in President Obama’s dismissive words—a “regional power.” (Or in the caustic words of Senator John McCain: “A gas station masquerading as a country.”)

Today, nuclear weapons have retained not only their pride of place but an actual role in Russian military planning. Unlike the Americans, who see little use for nuclear weapons in the absence of the Soviet threat, the Russians—wisely or not—continue to think about nuclear arms as though they are useful in military conflicts, even the smallest. Some of this might only be the bluster of officers who have never overcome their Soviet training, but some of it is also clearly based on the Russian General Staff’s understanding of Russia’s military weakness against far superior adversaries, including the United States and NATO.

Before considering the future of the Russian nuclear arsenal and its role in Russian defense policy, a quick review of the development of Russia’s nuclear forces might be helpful.

Once freed from Stalinist orthodoxy, Soviet thinkers, like their Western colleagues, wrestled throughout the Cold War with the implications of nuclear weapons. Early on, Soviet theorists decided that while nuclear warheads were a remarkable development, it was not only their appearance but the ability to deliver them rapidly over long distances—that is, the development of ICBMs—that overall constituted a “revolution in military affairs.” (This phrase was later adopted and almost completely misunderstood by American strategists in thinking about the role of technology in warfare, but the Soviets pioneered the term.)

The Soviets rejected—at least in public—any notion that the sheer destructiveness of nuclear weapons defeated traditional aims of strategy. They held firmly to the assertion that nuclear war, as awful as it would be, would nonetheless be a war with a political character like any other, with a winner and a loser. Later evidence revealed that this idea was prevalent mostly among the Soviet military; Soviet civilians were far less sanguine about nuclear war and far less willing than their generals and marshals to court it. (There are undeniable and unsettling parallels here with American civil-military relations on nuclear issues.)

During this time, the Soviets and the Americans constructed nuclear forces that mirrored each other in important ways. Both relied on a mixture of ICBMs, submarine-launched missiles, and bombers to ensure the survivability of their deterrent and to maintain the ability to deliver a massive retaliatory strike no matter how bad the first wave of nuclear exchanges. To this day, only Russia and the United States maintain this “triad” of delivery systems. There were differences, however, that reflected geography and tradition: the Soviet Union, a massive land empire spanning two continents, commanded plenty of real estate and therefore buried most of its deterrent in silos. The United States, a maritime superpower, put most of its megatonnage underwater on submarines. The Soviet long-range bomber force never progressed beyond propeller-driven aircraft that had only enough range for one-way suicide missions, while the Americans developed the workhorse B-52 bomber and its stealth follow-on, the B-2.

Because of the Cold War standoff in Europe, East and West also developed a large arsenal of battlefield nuclear weapons. By the late 1960s, the United States and the USSR had tens of thousands of strategic and tactical weapons. Even more worrisome, each side fielded highly destabilizing INF, or intermediate-range nuclear forces, in the 1970s and 1980s. These weapons could reach all European NATO capitals from Soviet territory, and conversely, could reach Moscow from NATO bases, in a matter of minutes, cutting decision times for national leaders from minutes to literally seconds. This entire class of weapons (that is, with flight ranges more than 500 km but less than 5500 km, was banned by Soviet-American agreement in the INF Treaty of 1987.)

The jewel in the Soviet nuclear crown was the Strategic Rocket Forces, a separate branch of the armed forces dedicated solely to ICBMs. The United States, by contrast, divided the strategic mission between the Navy and the Air Force. (Although the Americans created a Strategic Command in 1992, the day to day operation of U.S. long-range forces still resides with the USN and USAF.) The Russian Strategic Rocket Forces still enjoy this privileged position, both in prestige and resources. Like the other Russian branches, they even have their own patron saint: St. Barbara, the patroness of people who, for want of a better description, work with things that explode. (Tellingly, the officially atheist Soviets established the SRF on St. Barbara’s Day—December 17—in 1959.)

The Russian nuclear arsenal in 2014 is much like its American counterpart: a kind of Mini-Me of its Cold War incarnation. It is a far smaller inventory than the huge Soviet force of the 1980s, but it is more than capable of destroying the United States, Europe, and the Northern Hemisphere. The Russian Federation officially claims to have 1400 nuclear warheads associated with 473 deployed strategic launchers of various types, although other estimates place that number somewhere between 1500 and 1700 warheads. The Americans, for their part, have 1,585 warheads deployed on 778 launchers. Each side actually has thousands more weapons, some nondeployed, others awaiting dismantling. (For a full, down-to-the-warhead accounting of the Russian arsenal, there is no better source than scholar Pavel Podvig’s website, from which these numbers are taken.)

In every respect, the current Russian deterrent is structured like its Soviet predecessor. ICBMs, launched either from silos or mobile launchers, remain the most reliable weapons and the mainstay of the Russian nuclear force. The Russian submarine force, almost moribund since the Soviet collapse and crippled yet again by a disaster in 2000 aboard the Russian submarine Kursk, has recovered somewhat, and Russian nuclear-missile-carrying submarines are now engaging in more patrols closer to the United States since 2009. Only the Russian bomber force remains mired in its Soviet-era decrepitude, in part because Russian jet design has been the poor stepchild of Russian military research and development efforts. Although Russia’s bomber pilots are flying more hours and trying to return to their Cold War games along North American and European airspace, Russian bombers remain little more than a small adjunct to the submarine and land-based threats.

At the strategic level, the difference between the U.S. and Russian arsenals is small, and both sides have committed to the cap of 1550 warheads mandated by the New START Treaty of 2010. But strategic nuclear reductions are, in a sense, the easy task, especially because New START uses simplified counting rules—treating bombers, for example, as one launcher with one weapon—that suggest that neither side really cares very much about the great bugaboo of 1970s-era arms control, “strategic superiority.” (Arms-control expert Hans Kristensen summarized New START’s rules more succinctly: “Totally nuts.”)

There are, however, several questions for Western policy makers to consider about Russia’s nuclear future.

Why are the Russians engaging in strategic modernization?

The Western press has made much of Russia’s recent moves to modernize its long-range nuclear force, but in part this is because long-planned retirements and replacements in the Russian force structure get treated as “new.” The Russians, never ones to forego the political advantages of poor information, play along and present plans they made years ago as responses to current U.S. policies.

When the Russians announced that they were replacing the massive SS-18 ICBM, for example, there was a flurry of stories in 2011 and 2012 about how the Russians were building a “monster” 100-ton missile, and how it was a response to America and its missile-defense plans. Of course, the SS-18 was coming to the end of its service life anyway, and the Russians had announced plans to replace it a long time ago—not least to keep all the people involved in making nuclear missiles gainfully employed. (Or, at least, gainfully employed in Russia.)

The point is that the Russians will modernize their strategic arsenal, and this shouldn’t cause undue worry in the West. The Russian rocket forces are a military jobs program, and Moscow’s plans to replace its strategic missiles long predate any current crisis. Although the Russians claim their warheads will evade any U.S. missile defense, we needn’t worry too much about that, since we have no national missile defenses, and the Russian “capability” to defeat our nonexistent defenses isn’t scheduled to be deployed until the mid-2020s, if ever.

Why won’t they get rid of their tactical nuclear arms?

NATO has about 300 or so tactical nuclear weapons left in Europe, and we don’t know what to do with them, largely because all of their former Cold War targets were located in Warsaw Pact nations that are now actually inside NATO itself. Modernizing these aging battlefield weapons will be hugely expensive: the Obama administration has, after a great deal of agonizing, pushed for an upgrade, and has already run into trouble on Capitol Hill.

The Russians, however, still keep an inventory of some 2000 tactical nuclear weapons. Why?

One reason is that Russia, like NATO, doesn’t know what to do with them. Nuclear weapons cannot simply be left by the curb on “fissile-material removal day,” and these small weapons are likely safer under military control than they are in storehouses. The other reason, however, is that the Russian General Staff still thinks these weapons have some kind of utility. In 2011, the Russian Chief of the General Staff, Nikolai Makarov, said that he could not “rule out that, in certain circumstances, local and regional armed conflicts could grow into a large-scale war, possibly even with nuclear weapons.”

It’s hard to imagine the difference between a “local” and a “regional” conflict, especially when nuclear weapons are involved. Although Makarov growled at NATO in his statement, it’s also likely he was looking to his unstable southern borders with Islamic countries. In either case, Makarov’s point is directly related to an admission he and other Russian officers have made before: that without nuclear weapons, Russia’s ability to sustain a major conventional conflict in any direction is severely limited. Who the Russian military chiefs think they’re going to fight is another matter, but like all militaries, their job is to make plans, not policy. Makarov stepped down in 2012 and was replaced by the much younger Valerii Gerasimov (age 58), but what’s more worrisome in all this is that there are least some officers in the General Staff who see nuclear and conventional power as fungible and interchangeable, with one usable in place of the other. So far, they have not had a chance to test that theory.

Does Russian military doctrine really think nuclear weapons are usable?

So far, the answer seems to be yes. Over five years ago, Russia put forward a draft national security concept, a kind of white paper on Russian security, and it included language about preventive nuclear strikes. After raised eyebrows in NATO and elsewhere, a scrubbed version was rereleased, with the rest classified and held back. (In fairness, that’s how the Bush administration did its 2002 nuclear review, with the same poor public relations effect.)

For now, the Russians seems to have adopted the notion—again, as a function of their conventional weakness—that nuclear weapons can be used to “de-escalate” conflicts. It’s doubtful that the Russians are really believe that nuclear strikes (especially on the United States or NATO) could be de-escalatory, but in the absence of any other ability to project force, old Soviet habits are hard to break. On May 7, for example, the Russian military floated the idea of stationing nuclear-capable short range missiles in the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad if NATO increased its conventional forces in the region, a threat as unsurprising as it is meaningless.

Are they cheating on the INF Treaty?

For over a year, the Russians have been taunting the West by breaking, in spirit if not in letter, the INF Treaty. It’s a clever approach: they’re not actually building intermediate-range nuclear forces, they’re just taking long-range nukes and then testing them at intermediate range. In other words, they’re skirting the treaty, no doubt as a clear sign to Europe and NATO that they are not immune from nuclear attack in the brave, new post–Cold War world. Indeed, the Russians have openly mooted quitting the INF Treaty, even though the weapons they banned no longer exist and there are no Russian or American plans to make any.

The Obama administration’s usual approach to the Russians has been to lag behind more nimble Russian diplomacy, but in this case the administration’s low-key response is the right approach. What the Russians are doing is, in effect, goading NATO, and showing that they still have the old Soviet charisma that created NATO in the first place. It is not news that Russian nuclear forces can reach Europe; what’s different is that the Russians are trying to emphasize that capability by testing weapons as though the calendar is stuck on 1981.

Where’s the real danger?

In sum, the outlook for Russia’s nuclear forces is less important than the serious improvements Russia is seeking to make in its conventional forces, especially in Europe. The Russians have relied on nuclear arms to compensate for conventional weakness, a practice even Moscow realizes is unsustainable and dangerous. The real threat to NATO will occur if Western military forces on the ground continue to be hollowed out by budget cuts and a lack of purpose, while Russian forces continue to improve and to recover from the disarray of the Soviet collapse.

During the current crisis in Ukraine, many in the West and in Ukraine itself lamented the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, in which Russia, the United States, and Britain agreed to respect Ukrainian borders and sovereignty in exchange for Ukraine releasing any claims on the last remnants of the Soviet nuclear arsenal on its territory. If Ukraine had kept its weapons, the reasoning goes, Russia would never have dared to threaten Crimea and eastern Ukraine. But this is the wrong lesson: what seems to have given Moscow pause is the willingness of Ukraine, outnumbered and outgunned, to fight back. What may be serving to cool further Russian ambitions, in other words, is Russian conventional weakness. Had Ukraine kept its nuclear weapons, a Russian invasion might have taken place a decade ago on the pretext of “securing” those systems, but if Ukraine avoids a Russian invasion now, it will not be because of anyone’s nuclear arms, but because Russia is aware that it might face a serious conventional fight even against an admittedly weaker country.

If Moscow redresses those conventional shortcomings without an answer from the West, nuclear issues will seem, in comparison, like a quaint problem from the past.

Tom Nicholsis Professor of National Security Affairs at the Naval War College and an adjunct at the Harvard Extension School. His most recent book isNo Use: Nuclear Weapons and U.S. National Security (University of Pennsylvania, 2014) The views expressed are his own.

Even Iraq’s Top Cleric Wants Antichrist

Iraq’s Top Cleric Calls For Prime Minister Maliki To Be Replaced – And Iran’s Military Mastermind Has A List Of Names

Imam's Sistani and Sadr
Michael Kelley and Armin Rosen

Jun 28, 2014, 12.51 AM

Iraq’s top Shiite cleric told political leaders to pick a new prime minister in the next four days, Krishnadev Calamur of NPR reports.

“Tuesday’s session will be the first since an election in April, and comes as parties jostle to form the largest coalition and therefore the right to appoint the prime minister,” Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani spokesman said, according to NPR correspondent Alice Fordham.

Several senior Iraqi Shiite politicians told the Associated Press that Iran Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) General Qassem Soleimani, who calling the shots in Baghdad, has “a list of potential prime minister candidates for Iran’s leadership to consider … [and] is expected to return within days to inform Iraqi politicians of Tehran’s favorite.

Sistani is Iraq’s highest-ranking cleric, and is the “prime marja,” or spiritual reference-point, for the world’s 150-200 million Shi’ites. He’s had a moderating influence over the past decade of turmoil in Iraq. He negotiated a truce with radical Shi’ite cleric and longtime rival Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army when the militant group took over Najaf’s shrines – some of the holiest sites in Shi’ism – in 2004.

Sistani has long been a proponent of Iraq’s democratic process, organizing a Shi’ite electoral bloc in 2005, and pointedly refuse to endorse any candidates during elections in 2010, thus allowing the political process to unfold free of his overwhelming influence. Sistani also issued a fatwa against sectarian violence in late 2013. Notably, Sistani also urged Iraqis to join the security services to fight ISIS on June 16th.

Iraq’s leading religious figure and a long-time opponent of the country’s most hardcore Shi’ite sectarians now believes that Iraq’s authoritarian and Iranian-supported Shi’ite strongman can no longer remain in power. It’s possible that Sistani wants to prevent Iraq from spiraling into all-out sectarian war, and sees Maliki’s removal as the only remaining off-ramp. Notably, Sistani urged Iraqis to join the security services to fight ISIS on June 16th.

And it’s possible that the Iranians are leveraging Sistani to affect a change in policy that they’re contemplating anyway: the AP notes that Souleimani met with Sistani’s son for two hours this week. With Sistani appearing to broker Maliki’s exit, Iran’s hands can appear relatively clean – and Tehran will get a hand-picked successor to Maliki that seems to diffuse the country’s political crisis without lessening Iranian influence.

Iranian proxy militias have bolstered southern Iraq since at least January, when a call for “protectors of holy sites in Syria and Iraq” led to Shia many Iraqi Shia fighters returning from Syria to protect cities that are now threatened by an ISIS-led Sunni coalition.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

What a Dick… He Is Finally Right About WMD

Iraq War redux: Dick Cheney warns Fox that nuclear weapons are ‘spreading’ to terrorists
Dick and Nuclear Terrorism
Dick and Nuclear Terrorism

By David Edwards
Wednesday, June 25, 2014 10:48 EDT

Former Vice President Dick Cheney showed up on Fox News on Wednesday to make a familiar case for going back to war in Iraq: Nuclear weapons are “spreading” to extremists across the globe.

In recent weeks the al Qaeda splinter group ISIS has taken advantage of a power vacuum left after the U.S. invaded Iraq to take over large parts of the country, giving Cheney and other architects of the 2003 invasion an opportunity to use some of their original talking points for military action.

Cheney’s recent op-ed in The Wall Street Journal stopped just short of accusing President Barack Obama of treason, saying that he had been determined to take the United States “down a notch” before leaving office.

“Defeating them will require a strategy—not a fantasy,” Cheney wrote. “It will require sustained difficult military, intelligence and diplomatic efforts—not empty misleading rhetoric. It will require rebuilding America’s military capacity—reversing the Obama policies that have weakened our armed forces and reduced our ability to influence events around the world.”

After a campaign of television interviews failed to make his case against Obama, Cheney was back on Fox News on Wednesday to play the same nuclear weapons card that he used in 2003.

“The focus shouldn’t be just on Iraq,” he insisted. “It’s indicative of a much broader problem. We’ve had — The Rand Corporation just recently published a study that shows there’s been a 58 percent increase in the number of al Qaeda-type terrorist groups in the last four years. Fifty-eight percent! Doubling the number of terrorists roughly, and they’re spreading out from West Africa all across North Africa to East Africa, up through the Middle East, all the way around to Indonesia.”

“And the other problem, of course, is the developing possibility that sooner or later some of them will get their hands on deadlier weapons,” the former vice president added.

While Cheney was taking a breath, Fox News host Elisabeth Hasselbeck tossed him a softball
“Are you indicating that we could be on track for something worse than 9/11?” she asked.

“I think that’s a possibility,” he declared. “You know, I can’t say at this point specifically when something like that might happen. But it would be foolish of us to ignore the extent to which there are people who — terrorist-sponsoring states who have in fact tried to provide nuclear technology.”

“The North Koreans, for example, built a nuclear reactor in the Syrian dessert,” Cheney continued. “We’ve also had testimony from the man who created the Pakistani [nuclear] program publicly, A.Q. Khan, that the North Koreans bribed the Pakistanis for the latest enrichment technology.”

“So, it’s spreading. And access to those kind of capabilities, I think, is on an increase.”

In 2002, Cheney had argued that the United States must attack Iraq because Saddam Hussein would have nuclear weapons “fairly soon.”

“We do know, with absolute certainty, that he is using his procurement system to acquire the equipment he needs in order to enrich uranium to build a nuclear weapon,” Cheney told NBC later that year.

President George W. Bush also used similar talking points, warning that the U.S. could not wait for proof of Cheney’s claims because “the smoking gun—that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud.”

And then in his 2003 State of the Union Address, Bush included the now-infamous “16 words” that put the country on a path to war: “The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.”

Antichrist Calls For New Iraqi Government

Iraq’s Sadr Calls For Emergency Government

Antichrist Calls For New Iraqi Government
Antichrist Calls For New Iraqi Government

Leader of powerful Shia group Mahdi army says “new faces” needed to tackle ISIL-led Sunni rebellion in country’s north.

Muqtada al-Sadr, a powerful Iraqi Shia religious leader, has called for a national emergency government, a day after Nouri al-Maliki, the prime minister, rejected any attempts to challenge his rule.Sadr, whose Mahdi army has pledged to battle the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, on Wednesday said the Iraqi government “must fulfill the legitimate demands of the moderate Sunnis and stop excluding them because they have been marginalised”.

He demanded “new faces” in a national unity government following April 30 elections that saw Maliki emerge with by far the most seats, albeit short of a majority.

“We also need to rush the formation of a national government with new names and from all backgrounds and not to be based on the usual sectarian quotas,” Sadr said in a televised address.
“I call upon all Iraqis to stop fighting and terrorising the civilians, the Iraqi government must fulfil the legitimate demands of the moderate Sunnis and stop excluding them because they have been marginalised.”

Al Jazeera’s Imran Khan, reporting from Baghdad, said the comments effectively meant that Sadr wants to get rid of Maliki and choose a new government.

“These comments are strong and will be noticed,” he said, adding they showed a “huge rift” between what Maliki wants and what others believe.

“But Maliki ‎insists that he is the only one that can lead Iraq out of this crisis. July 1st will be a big test for him politically. That’s when parliament are due to meet, and they’ll discuss the formation of the new government”.

‘Ignorance and extremism’

Sadr promised his fighters would “shake the ground under the feet of ignorance and extremism”.

His remarks came days after fighters loyal to him paraded with weapons in the Sadr City area of north Baghdad, promising to fight the offensive by the ISIL fighters.

ISIL and associated groups have overrun swaths of several provinces, killed nearly 1,100 people, displaced hundreds of thousands and threaten to tear the country apart.
Maliki ruled out a unity government on Wednesday.

Barack Obama, the US president, has so far refrained from carrying out air strikes on the rebels, as urged by Maliki.

However, US military advisers began meeting Iraqi commanders on Wednesday, with the US having offered up to 300.

The US has pressed for Iraq’s fractious political leaders to unite in a national emergency government, and on Wednesday brushed off Maliki’s insistence that such a move would be a “coup against the constitution and the political process”.

The US has stopped short of calling for Maliki to go, but has left little doubt it feels he has squandered the opportunity to rebuild Iraq since American troops withdrew in 2011.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Third Horn Surpasses India’s Nuclear Supply

Pakistan Surges Ahead Of India In Nuclear Stockpile: Report

Pakistan's Ghauri's Missile
Pakistan’s Ghauri’s Missile

NEW DELHI – Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal continues to surge ahead with 100-120 warheads as compared to India’s 90-110. China has more than double that number with 250 warheads. The US and Russia, of course, are in a different league altogether with 7,000-8,000 warheads each, together possessing 93% of all nuclear weapons.

This is the latest assessment of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute which holds that all the nine nuclear-armed countries continue to “modernize” their nuclear arsenals and delivery systems like long-range missiles.

With the US and Russia slowly reducing their huge inventories under the new strategic arms reduction treaty of 2011, the overall number of nuclear weapons continues to decline. But there are still 16,300 nuclear weapons around the globe, of which around 4,000 are “operational”, said SIPRI.
“China, India and Pakistan are the only nuclear weapon states that are expanding their nuclear arsenals, while Israel appears to be waiting to see how the situation in Iran develops,” it added.

But rather than its actual stockpile of warheads as compared to Pakistan and China, the Indian defence establishment remains more worried about its delivery systems. The Indian armed forces still do not have SLBMs (submarine-launched ballistic missiles) and ICBMs (inter-continental ballistic missiles) in their arsenal, both of which are needed for credible deterrence against its two neighbours.

Antichrist Raises Mahdi Army (Revelation 13:16)

Antichrist Raises Mahdi Army
Antichrist Raises Mahdi Army

Matthew Cox, Military.com

Muqtada al-ᚢadr and his Shia militia engaged in ferocious fighting with American forces during the Iraq War. Now, the Shiite strong man is back in the spotlight and threatening to escalate tensions between the Sunni and Shia populations as Iraq struggles to thwart an insurgency of Sunni fighters, experts say.

Militants of the Islamic State in Iraq and Levant have spilled over the Syrian border into Iraq and captured several northern and western cities — along with the attention of the rest of the world — and now threaten to topple Baghdad.

The Iraqi Army remains in disarray, awaiting assistance from the U.S. in the form of military advisors. About 90 special operations troops have arrived in Baghdad, where they will join some 40 others attached to the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad to establish assessment teams and a joint operations center with Iraqi forces, Pentagon Press Secretary Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby said June 24.

They are the first of what could be up to 300 U.S. military advisors President Barack Obama has ordered to the country to assess the cohesiveness of Iraqi security forces and the threat posed by advancing ISIL insurgents.

Meanwhile, thousands of Iraqi Shia militiamen are vowing to oppose the advance of ISIL forces, also known as Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. And now that Sadr has come back in the public eye, many fear the resurgence of his followers known as the Mahdi army.

At its strongest, Sadr’s Mahdi army once numbered about 60,000 fighters that fought American forces in cities such as Baghdad and Najaf.

“They were a potent force,” Colin Kahl, senior fellow and director of Middle East Security Program at the Center for a New American Security, told reporters at a June 25 round-table discussion. “They opposed the United States occupation of Iraq.”

Some of the fiercest fighting with the Mahdi army occurred in Najaf and involved units from the Marine Corps‘ 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit and the U.S. Army’s 1st Armored, 1st Infantry and 1st Cavalry Divisions in 2004. Fighting with Sadr’s forces broke out again in Najaf in 2007 and involved the elements from the Army’s 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team and the 2nd Infantry Division.

Sadr’s entrance into the current Sunni-Shia conflict could have the effect of tossing a lighted match into a pool of gasoline, experts maintain.

“I think we are in a race against time here,” Kahl said. “The momentum of ISIS will be reversed by Iraqi security forces and U.S. advisors or Shia politicians like Sadr will take matters into their own hands and unleash their followers to engage in the nasty business of rolling back ISIS fighters, which could involve a lot of sectarian cleansing and other things that were quite terrible in the 2006-2007 period.”

This article originally appeared at Military.com. Copyright 2014.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Antichrist Will Shake The Earth (Revelation 6)

POWERFUL Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr has vowed to “shake the ground” under the feet of advancing Sunni militants as Iraqi premier Nuri al-Maliki warned rivals against exploiting the crisis to sideline him.

Antichrist Shakes the Earth
Antichrist Shakes the Earth

Mr Sadr, whose movement long battled US forces during Washington’s nearly nine-year war in Iraq, also voiced opposition to American military advisers meeting with Iraqi commanders combating an offensive that has overrun swathes of five provinces, killed nearly 1100 people, displaced hundreds of thousands and threatens to tear the country apart.

His remarks came as security forces continued to repel assaults on critical towns and infrastructure, though fighters from al-Qa’ida’s Syrian franchise made a local alliance with the jihadist group leading the charge in Iraq, bolstering its offensive.

“We will shake the ground under the feet of ignorance and extremism,” Mr Sadr said in a televised speech from the Shiite holy city of Najaf.

He added that he only backed “providing international support from non-occupying states for the army of Iraq”.

The cleric’s remarks came days after fighters loyal to him paraded with weapons in the Sadr City area of north Baghdad, vowing to fight a major militant offensive that has alarmed the world and threatens to tear Iraq apart.

Iraq’s flagging security forces were swept aside by the initial offensive but have since at least somewhat recovered, and while Mr Sadr’s Mahdi Army militia remains officially inactive, fighters loyal to the cleric have nevertheless vowed to combat the militant advance.

The cleric also called for “new faces” in a national unity government following April 30 elections that saw incumbent prime minister Nouri al-Maliki emerge with by far the most seats, albeit short of a majority.

In apparent response to calls from Sunni tribal leaders to form a government that ignores the result of an April 30 election, which they describe as a sham, Mr Maliki said on Wednesday that would be a “coup against the constitution and the political process”.

The beleaguered premier, whose bloc won by far the most seats in April, said such a move was “an attempt by those who are against the constitution to eliminate the young democratic process and steal the votes of the voters.” Though Washington has pressed for Iraq’s fractious political leaders to unite in the face of the campaign led by the Islamic State of Iraq and al Sham (ISIS) jihadist group, they have shown little sign of coming together.

US “support will be intense, sustained, and if Iraq’s leaders take the necessary steps to bring the country together, it will be effective,” Secretary of State John Kerry said during a visit to Iraq in which he met numerous politicians and urged them to work together.

US President Barack Obama has so far refrained from carrying out air strikes on the insurgents, as urged by Mr Maliki, but American military advisers began meeting Iraqi commanders yesterday, with Washington having offered up to 300.

Washington has stopped short of calling for Mr Maliki to go, but has left little doubt it feels he has squandered the opportunity to rebuild Iraq since American troops withdrew in 2011.

In a sign the Iraqi military has performed better in recent days, loyalists fought off insurgent attacks on Wednesday on a major air base and a key western town, after repelling assaults on Iraq’s biggest oil refinery.

Militants and security forces clashed periodically overnight, but government troops maintained control of the Balad air base, while another offensive was repelled in Haditha in Anbar province, west of Baghdad.

But the country was nevertheless hit by militant violence, with bombings and shelling south of Baghdad and in the disputed, ethnically mixed northern oil hub of Kirkuk killing 20 people.

Mr Maliki’s security spokesman has meanwhile said hundreds of soldiers have been killed since the offensive began.

Insurgents were also bolstered by fighters when Al-Nusra Front, al-Qa’ida’s front group in Syria, made a local pledge of loyalty to ISIS on a town along the Syria-Iraq border, giving it control over both sides of the frontier.

The move reflects how ISIS is fast gaining the upper hand in eastern Syria, where it has been locked in combat with fighters from the al-Qa’ida franchise and its allies virtually all year.

ISIS adheres to a harsh interpretation of Islamic law and considers Iraq’s majority Shiite population to be heretics.

It aims to create an Islamic state straddling Iraq and Syria, where it has become a major force in the rebellion against President Bashar al-Assad.

It has commandeered an enormous quantity of cash and resources during the advance, boosting its coffers.

The United Nations says at least 1075 people have been killed in Iraq between June 5 and 22 and has tripled its appeal for aid funding to more than $312 million, while the UN food agency has warned that the country faces “serious food security concerns”.

AFP

Iranian Drones Courtesy of the US

Iran Secretly Sending Drones and Supplies Into Iraq, U.S. Officials Say

Iranian Drones Courtesy of the US
Iranian Drones Courtesy of the US
MICHAEL R. GORDON

BRUSSELS — Iran is directing surveillance drones over Iraq from an airfield in Baghdad and is secretly supplying Iraq with tons of military equipment, supplies and other assistance, American officials said. Tehran has also deployed an intelligence unit there to intercept communications, the officials said.

The secret Iranian programs are part of a broader effort by Tehran to gather intelligence and help Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki’s government in its struggle against Sunni militants with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

Gen. Qassim Suleimani, the head of Iran’s paramilitary Quds Force, has visited Iraq at least twice to help Iraqi military advisers plot strategy. And Iran has deployed about a dozen other Quds Force officers to advise Iraqi commanders, and help mobilize more than 2,000 Shiite militiamen from southern Iraq, American officials said

Iranian transport planes have also been making two daily flights of military equipment and supplies to Baghdad — 70 tons per flight — for Iraqi security forces.

“It’s a substantial amount,” said an American official, who declined to be identified because he was discussing classified reports. “It’s not necessarily heavy weaponry but it’s not just light arms and ammunition.”

The Iranian moves come as the United States is deploying the first of as many as 300 military advisers to assist Iraqi forces and to try to stabilize the deteriorating security situation in Iraq.

The American and Iranian military moves are not coordinated, American officials said. Even though the United States and Iran both oppose the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, known as ISIS, they are still competing for influence in Iraq and are backing opposing sides in the civil war in Syria.

“The Iranians are playing in a big way in Iraq,” Senator Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, the ranking Republican on the Intelligence Committee, said in an interview.

The security crisis in Iraq was one of the topics in Secretary of State John Kerry’s meetings with allied officials who have gathered here for a meeting of NATO foreign ministers to discuss Ukraine and other issues. On Tuesday night, Mr. Kerry reviewed a number of pressing issues with Catherine Ashton, the foreign policy chief for the European Union, including Ukraine and “the grave security situation on the ground in Iraq,” Jen Psaki, the State Department spokeswoman, said in a statement.
The Obama administration has sought to open a dialogue with Iran on the Iraq crisis. William J. Burns, the deputy secretary of State, met briefly last week with an Iranian diplomat at the margins of negotiations in Vienna over Iran’s nuclear program.

But Western officials say there appear to be divisions between the Iranian Foreign Ministry, which may be open to some degree of cooperation, and General Suleimani, who was the mastermind of Iran’s strategy in Iraq when, American officials say, Iraqi Shiite militias trained by Iran attacked American troops there with powerful explosive devices supplied by Tehran. The general is also the current architect of Iranian military support in Syria for President Bashar al-Assad.

The security crisis in Iraq was one of the topics in Secretary of State John Kerry’s meetings with allied officials who have gathered here for a meeting of NATO foreign ministers to discuss Ukraine and other issues. On Tuesday night, Mr. Kerry reviewed a number of pressing issues with Catherine Ashton, the foreign policy chief for the European Union, including Ukraine and “the grave security situation on the ground in Iraq,” Jen Psaki, the State Department spokeswoman, said in a statement.

The Obama administration has sought to open a dialogue with Iran on the Iraq crisis. William J. Burns, the deputy secretary of State, met briefly last week with an Iranian diplomat at the margins of negotiations in Vienna over Iran’s nuclear program.

But Western officials say there appear to be divisions between the Iranian Foreign Ministry, which may be open to some degree of cooperation, and General Suleimani, who was the mastermind of Iran’s strategy in Iraq when, American officials say, Iraqi Shiite militias trained by Iran attacked American troops there with powerful explosive devices supplied by Tehran. The general is also the current architect of Iranian military support in Syria for President Bashar al-Assad.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Beast Of Sea Finally Correct: Nuclear Attack Will Happen On US Soil

Dick Cheney: U.S. Will Suffer ‘Far Deadlier Attack’ Within Next Decade


Beast of Sea - Dick Cheney
Beast of Sea – Dick Cheney
 | By Igor Bobic

Former Vice President Dick Cheney offered an extremely morose prediction about the country’s future on Tuesday.

Asked on the Hugh Hewitt radio show whether he believes the United States could survive the decade without another attack on the homeland, Cheney said, “I doubt it.”

“I think there will be another attack and next time, I think it’s likely to be far deadlier than the last one,” he added. “Imagine what would happen if somebody could smuggle a nuclear device, put it in a shipping container and drive it down the Beltway outside Washington D.C.

“If that were to happen, do you see the government reconstituting? Because it would have to be military rule for a period of time at least,” Hewitt said.

Cheney described his role creating a national security directive in the aftermath of terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, so that federal agencies would be able to continue performing essential functions under various circumstances.

“It was very, very important and we operated and actually trained under circumstances of how we would go about providing for a government to survive if we’re having nuclear weapons from the Soviet Union falling all over the country,” he said.

The former vice president also made news recently for accusing President Barack Obama of abandoning Iraq to Islamic militants. In a Wall Street Journal column he wrote with his daughter, Liz, Cheney proclaimed — perhaps with a lack of self-awareness — “Rarely has a U.S. president been so wrong about so much at the expense of so many.”

Mahdi Taking Over (Revelation 13:16)

WITH IRAQI MILITARY FACING COLLAPSE, SHIA FIGHTERS BEGIN TO FILL VOID

ISIS Terrorists
ISIS Terrorists

by FRANCES MARTEL 23 Jun 2014 59POST A COMMENT

As the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) jihadist group tears through towns abandoned by the Iraqi military, reports warn the government’s forces are close to total collapse. In light of this failure, Shia fighters loyal to cleric Muqtada al-Sadr await orders to take on ISIS directly.

The Washington Post reports this week that the mission to rehabilitate the Iraqi army is a difficult one, as 300 U.S. troops sent by the Obama administration arrive to fulfill an advisory role to the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Tens of thousands of Iraqi troops are believed to have deserted, while most who remained in what are now ISIS-controlled territories were killed in mass executions, leaving the army in what one official describes to the paper anonymously as “psychological collapse.”

The troops that have been killed or deserted have been replaced by volunteers that thePost notes have only had days of training in some instances, with little if any experience in real-world combat. In contrast, the ISIS jihadists they will face have, in many instances, spent years fighting in the Syrian civil war and are now being imported into Iraq to do the same.

In addition to losing soldiers, the Iraqi army has been left with significantly fewer leaders in power. Prime Minister Maliki fired a number of high-level military officials last week in response to the mass desertion that allowed ISIS to take over major cities like Mosul and plunder their banks, military arsenals, and civilian resources.

The absence of the Iraqi military has allowed for other paramilitary groups to fill the void. Pivotal to the safety of Baghdad has been the Kurdish Peshmerga force, which has controlled the main roads to Baghdad and refused to allow passage to the capital for ISIS forces. They may soon be joined by a significant force of Shi’ite fighters loyal to cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who has called for Iraqis to fight ISIS and the Sunni jihadist threat.

In Baghdad, a force of tens of thousands staged a parade to rally Shi’ites against ISIS, displaying their weaponry and declaring loudly their intention to keep ISIS away from the capital. Those marching in the parade chanted for cleric Muqtada al-Sadr to approve of their plans to enter battle with ISIS. The Mahdi militia, while an enemy of ISIS, also previously attacked American soldiers while the U.S. maintained troops in the country.

Al-Sadr, while preaching strongly against ISIS, has made clear he does not want the United States involved in retaking the nation from the Sunni group. Clerics loyal to al-Sadrhave warned that the Mahdi army will turn on America if they enter the nation to fight ISIS, while al-Sadr himself has called for Shi’ites to defend holy sites in danger of destruction from ISIS attack. The introduction of Shi’ite Mahdi forces to a conflict involving Kurdish troops, Iran, Syria, and potentially the United States could only escalate the violence, leaving little room for the United States to operate and ease tensions.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

They Take The Mark of the Beast (Revelation 13:16)

Anti-U.S. Cleric Muqtada al-Sadr Retakes Stage Amid Iraq Turmoil


The endless lines of men with fists raised in the air and armed with machine guns and rocket launchers rallied in Iraq’s streets to send a warning of military might to the Sunni extremist fighters tearing through their country.

But the thousands of Shiite fighters – some sporting suicide vests and calling themselves the “Peace Brigades” – also sent another signal: feared firebrand cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army are back.

While Sadr was once the poster boy for violent resistance to the U.S.-led invasion, he has in recent years positioned himself as a political kingmaker in post-withdrawal Iraq and even publicly discouraged sectarian strife.

But analysts say that his recent calls for brigades to form and protect holy shrines from attacks by Sunni militants – which culminated in the weekend’s show of force – betray a canny commandant and risk returning Iraq to some of its darkest days.

The forces that he puts on the streets are some of the worst sectarian killers in Iraq”

“It means two things – that Iraqi security forces are incapable of providing security in Baghdad and the chance of the re-emergence of sectarian slaughter – with death squads roaming Baghdad and other areas around the capital – increases dramatically,” said Bill Roggio, editor of The Long War Journal.
Roggio – like many – question Sadr’s attempts to play a moderate card.

“He speaks a good game but watch what Sadr does, not what he says. That’s been the real problem with him all along,” he added. “He may speak a good game, but the forces that he puts on the streets are some of the worst sectarian killers in Iraq.”

Sadr formed the Mahdi Army in 2003 after the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime. The Shiite militia gained broader notoriety when it waged fierce battles in Najaf against U.S. forces a year later. It is blamed for the mass killings of Sunni civilians in sectarian violence in Iraq that peaked in 2006 and 2007 and for cleansing Sunnis from Baghdad neighborhoods.

The Pentagon once said the Mahdi Army had “replaced al Qaeda in Iraq as the most dangerous accelerant of potentially self-sustaining sectarian violence.”

When Sadr ordered a ceasefire in 2007, the move was accompanied by questions over whether he sought to wait out U.S. forces or to make a political play.

Sadr helped usher Iraq’s Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to power in 2006 and ultimately again in 2010 – but since then has become one of the premier’s most vocal critics, describing him as a dictator.

In February, Sadr said he was withdrawing from all politics and unaffiliated with any faction. His explanation: a necessary decision to protect the family name.

The puzzling move – accompanied by fierce criticism of Maliki’s government – prompted rampant speculation that the cleric was repositioning himself – or reinventing his brigade – rather than retiring.

Few “really bought it” when Sadr said in Feburary he was stepping away from politics, according to independent Iraq analyst Stephen Wicken,

“He’s much more canny than that,” Wicken said. “He plays this reluctant hero card: that he doesn’t want to be dragged into politics and public life but then has to by force of his belief or weight of his family’s legacy.”

Those guesses appeared to play out when Sadr recently called for brigades to form and protect Shiite shrines from the lightning advance and offensive by Sunni extremist fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS).

The heavily armed fighters who answered his call marched through Iraq’s cities over the weekend under the name “Saraya Al Salaam” – or Peace Brigades – but to analysts and Iraq watchers, they are the officially inactive Mahdi Army – rebranded.

Sadr’s ability to call out massive numbers of supporters at a moment’s notice has been one of the cleric’s “hallmarks” over the years, according to Wicken. In this case, calling up fighters in the name of protecting Shiite interests could present a dig at Maliki, whose forces have been unable to stave of the ISIS advance. “This is an opportunity for Sadr,” Wicken said.
“If the state needs to rely on thugs like Sadr and others to secure areas that are being threatened by ISIS … then it is really in trouble”
While Sadr’s ultimate ambition might be to achieve the spiritual authority of his forebears – both his father and father-in-law were Grand Ayatollahs – “he doesn’t actually have the personality” or gravitas to become a religious authority, according to Wicken.

Sadr’s timing is everything, according to analysts, who point to the cleric’s tendency to step away from day-to-day politics and return when opportunity is ripe to reclaim the mantle of Shiite defender.
“He’s not a serious cleric, he’s not a religious authority. The only power and legitimacy that he actually has comes primarily from his family’s name and legacy and also from his willingness to take really populist platforms and, when necessary, call out his forces to kill people,” Wicken said
Sadr’s real credentials stem from his role in founding and commanding the Mahdi Army. While he has lost some ground to splinter groups in the past few years, “he still has that resonance,” Wicken said. While Sadr is not a “gifted orator, his words carry weight,” according to Wicken.

Putting fighters on the streets would signal to Sadr’s Shiite rivals that “he’s still relevant,” according to Hayder al-Khoei, an Iraq analyst for London-based think tank Chatham House.

“He’s played his hand now,” al-Khoei said. “He’s back and he’s back for good.”

Rebranding the militia as the Peace Brigades reflects a broader attempt to put distance between atrocities commited by Sadr’s fighters against Sunnis in 2006 and 2007.

“They’re trying to shed that black history that they have,” al-Khoei added. “Lots of Sunni Iraqis remember the role they played.”

The mobilization of Sadr’s militia adds to the polarization and portrayal of Iraq’s current crisis as a Shiite-Sunni conflict, analysts say.

Still, the cleric’s battle-hardened and ideologically driven fighters could be an asset to Iraq’s security forces if they are deployed for operations.

“They can add experience in the counterinsurgency campaign – experience that the Iraqi army is desperate for,” al-Khoei said.

While “Sadr has always been more than willing to use force to get what he wants in Iraq,” Roggio said the cleric’s recent re-entry also underscores a deeper point.

“Its further evidence of the deterioration of the state,” Roggio said. “If the state needs to rely on thugs like Sadr and others to secure areas that are being threatened by ISIS and regain control of areas outside of Baghdad, then it is really in trouble. Once the sectarian groups like the Mahdi Army reach the streets, it just greatly increases the chances of the sectarian killing that brought Iraq to the brink of full-scale civil war.”

The Gates of Hell Have Been Opened (Revelation 13)

The gates of hell
By Munir Akram


Antichrist Prepares to Take Over Iraq
Antichrist Prepares to Take Over Iraq

AS the US was about to launch its 2003 military invasion of Iraq, the then secretary general of the Arab League, Amr Moussa, warned presciently: “You will open the Gates of Hell”.

Carved out from the debris of the Ottoman Empire by the secret Sykes-Picot pact, Iraq was a Humpty Dumpty state , ruled by a Sunni minority with an oppressed Shia majority and a disaffected Kurdish minority.

To ward off the war and prevent Iraq’s disintegration, Saudi Arabia floated a proposal at the eleventh hour that would have sent Saddam Hussein into exile and passed power to an Iraqi general who would cooperate to assure that Iraq did not possess weapons of mass destruction. Pakistan, then a member of the Security Council, offered to sponsor this proposal. However, it was summarily dismissed in Washington.

Undeterred by friendly warnings, the Americans, soon after occupying Baghdad, proceeded to disband the Iraqi army and ban the Baath Party, the only organised institutions in Iraq. Six months into the invasion, they decided to hold elections. The theory propounded by the ‘neo-conservatives’ in the Bush administration was that democracy could be inducted in authoritarian Arab states, by force if necessary. When the view was expressed that the elections in Iraq would lead to a pro-Iranian Shia government, it was countered by the bizarre thesis that the US aimed to create a rival Shia centre to Iran in Iraq, notwithstanding the deep ties of each of the three Iraqi Shia political parties to Tehran.

As feared, the consequences of American hubris were Iraq’s political disintegration and a Hobbesian ‘war of all against all’. The Kurds, already separated during the years of sanctions against Saddam, consolidated their de facto statelet. The ousted Baathists and army veterans joined the Sunni resistance. Shia parties vied for power, often violently, like Muqtada al-Sadr, against the foreign forces, the Sunnis and often each other. Sunni extremists, including Al Qaeda and Zarqawi, emerged as important actors in fighting the foreign forces and the Shia factions. The Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) was born during this Sunni resistance. It worked with Al Qaeda but was separate from it, focused on local rather than global ‘jihad’.

The US 2006 troop surge, counterterrorism operations, co-option of Sunni tribes and formation of a broad-based coalition in Baghdad restored a semblance of order to be preserved by a new US-trained and equipped Iraqi army.

Then in 2011, the US withdrew totally from Iraq. Nouri al-Maliki, the Shia prime minister, refused to sign a status of forces agreement immunising US forces from Iraqi jurisdiction. President Obama felt obliged to fulfil his promise to end America’s war in Iraq.

With the American departure, Maliki proceeded to transform Iraq into a Shia state, excluding and persecuting Sunni politicians and tribes and further alienating the Kurds. The escalating terrorist attacks against Shia targets over the last two years signalled the resumption of Iraq’s civil war.

The opportunity for the revival of Sunni resistance came not in Iraq but Syria. As the West encouraged opposition to Bashar al-Assad’s Alawite (a Shia sect) regime, the ‘moderate’ Sunni resistance provided a legitimate cover for more ‘radical’ groups: the Nusra Front, linked to Al Qaeda, and specially ISIS, to carve out a leading role for themselves in the Syrian struggle. Al Qaeda broke with ISIS not because it was too ‘radical’ but because it was more effective.

ISIS had a clear military and political strategy: to secure sources of finance and recruits and capture and hold territory in Sunni-majority areas across Syria and Iraq. It displayed tactical flexibility: shifting its attacks to the most vulnerable targets. It has controlled Fallujah for several months. Its takeover of Mosul and march towards Baghdad were well-executed. Surprisingly, the Iraqi army collapsed under the ISIS onslaught.

Mobilised by fear and humiliation and Ayatollah Sistani’s call to arms, the Iraqi army and Shia militias are likely to succeed in defending Baghdad and pushing ISIS out of some mixed Sunni-Shia towns. Retaking Sunni strongholds, like Fallujah and Mosul, may prove more difficult.

America’s ‘hawks’ are pressing the administration to launch air strikes against ISIS, if needed, in tandem with Iran. Admission of their past strategic mistakes or remorse for the massive suffering these have inflicted on the Iraqi people is not in their DNA. Obama has been wise to deflect their pressure, hold back from air strikes and keep his options open.

Unless Maliki reaches a rapid accommodation with the Sunnis and other political forces, which is unlikely, US air strikes would reinforce the Sunni alienation and Iraq’s political division. If American strikes were conducted now in coordination with Iran, they would heighten the suspicions of America’s Gulf allies that it is indeed tilting strategically towards Tehran. Attacking ISIS would willy-nilly also strengthen the ability of the regime in Syria to extend its military advantage over the ‘moderate’ opposition once its main combatant (ISIS) is militarily diminished.

In any case, unlike Al Qaeda, ISIS does not pose an immediate threat to the US ‘homeland’. Its objectives are regional. Bombing it could change its agenda and create the very threat that some in Washington presume it poses. Its eventual neutralisation will have to be achieved by a combination of political and military means.

However, the threat posed by the ISIS advance may generate the political will in Baghdad and, more importantly, in Tehran, to work for a political solution which accommodates the legitimate aspirations of Iraq’s Sunnis within a federal structure.

It appears from Obama’s remarks that Washington intends to evolve its response in consultation with Saudi Arabia and other allies. It will require adroit diplomacy to cut through the deep layers of hostility to achieve a consensus between them and Iran on a peace strategy for Iraq. If this can be achieved, it could lead to a wider understanding on ways to neutralise ISIS and other Sunni and Shia extremists in Iraq, promote a similar ‘federal’ solution to the Syrian conflict, end the region’s sectarian wars and close ‘the gates of hell’.

The writer is a former Pakistan ambassador to the UN.
Published in Dawn, June 22nd, 2014