The 73rd Emmy Awards will be held on Sunday. Several winners were announced earlier this week.
After Iraqi Election, a Shiite Leader Emerges as an Unlikely U.S. Ally
In the 18 years since he formed the Mahdi Army militia to battle occupying U.S. forces, the one-time firebrand has refined his delivery. His formal Arabic is more proficient, and his voice more assured. Looking up to address the camera, he raised a finger in emphasis in remarks carefully crafted to send messages to both the United States and Iran after his party picked up seats in last week’s parliamentary election.
In 2004, as Mr. al-Sadr’s fighters took on U.S. forces with rifles and rocket-propelled grenades in Baghdad and across the southern provinces, the United States pledged to kill or capture the Shiite cleric.
Next to Al Qaeda, he posed the biggest threat to the American occupation in Iraq, miring U.S. troops in fighting in the streets and alleys of Iraqi cities as the military fought both Sunni and Shiite-based insurgencies.
Although still unpredictable, the cleric is consistently an Iraqi nationalist and now seems to be emerging as an arm’s-length American ally, helping the United States by preventing Iraq from tilting further into Iran’s axis.
“All embassies are welcome, as long as they do not interfere in Iraqi affairs and government formation,” Mr. al-Sadr said in a reference aimed at the United States, whose embassy was stormed two years ago by what were believed to be members of Kitaib Hezbollah, one of the biggest Iranian-backed Iraqi militias. “Iraq is for Iraqis only.”
In preliminary results from last Sunday’s elections, the Sadrist Movement gained roughly 20 seats, giving it up to 73 seats in the 329-member parliament. That leaves Mr. al-Sadr with the biggest single bloc in Parliament and a decisive voice in choosing the next Iraqi prime minister.
In his remarks, the cleric made a pointed reference to Iranian-backed militias, some of which have grown more powerful than Iraq’s official security forces and pose a threat to the United States in Iraq.
“From now on, arms must be restricted in the hands of the state,” he said in the address, broadcast on Iraqi state television. “The use of weapons shall be prevented outside of the state’s framework.” Even for those claiming to be the “resistance” to the U.S. presence, he said, “it is time for the people to live in peace, without occupation, terrorism, militias, kidnapping and fear.”
The self-styled resistance groups are the same Iranian-backed militias that launched drone and rocket attacks on the American Embassy and U.S. military bases after the U.S. killing of a leading Iranian commander, Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, and a senior Iraqi security official in Baghdad last year.
An aide to the Shiite cleric said disarming groups that are not under government control would also apply to Mr. al-Sadr’s own militia forces.
“No country wants forces that are stronger than its army,” said Dhia al-Assadi, a former top official in the cleric’s political movement. He said Mr. al-Sadr would leave it to the incoming government to decide whether U.S. forces should remain in Iraq.
The United States has agreed to withdraw all combat troops from the country by Dec. 31, although Washington does not consider its troops there currently to be on a combat mission. Under that agreement, the number of U.S. forces — about 2,000 in Iraq at Baghdad’s invitation — is expected to remain the same.
“That is labeling or classifying the troops as trainers and not fighters,” said Mr. al-Assadi, who served as the head of Mr. al-Sadr’s former Ahrar political bloc. “The decision should be revisited again and decided by Parliament and the government.”
Mr. al-Assadi said he does not foresee any change in an existing ban on senior officials of the Sadrist Movement from meeting with U.S. or British officials.
Once a fierce sectarian defender of Iraq’s Shiite majority, Mr. al-Sadr has expanded his reach in recent years, reaching out to Sunnis, Christians and other minorities. After telling his followers to protect Christians, young men from Mr. Sadr’s stronghold in the mostly Shiite neighborhood of Baghdad’s Sadr City began wearing large crosses around their necks in a sign of solidarity. In a previous election, the Sadrists formed an alliance with the Communist Party, which is officially atheist.
Externally, he has fostered relations with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates at a time when those countries’ Sunni Arab rulers were hostile to Iraq’s Shiite-led government. Domestically, one of his main demands is to clean up Iraq’s dysfunctional and deeply corrupt political system, which appoints people to senior government posts on the basis of party loyalty rather than competence.
“He has grown and evolved,” said Nabeel Khoury, a former U.S. State Department official who served in Iraq in 2003. “But I think to some extent we underestimated him in the very beginning.”
Mr. Khoury said that he was approached in 2003 by Mr. al-Sadr’s aides as Iraq’s first governing council was being decided.
“We had coffee, we talked and they said Sadr was interested in playing a political role,” said Mr. Khoury, a fellow at the Atlantic Council. But Iraqi political figures who had returned from exile did not want Mr. al-Sadr involved, Mr. Khoury said, and the United States followed their counsel.
A few months later, the cleric formed his Mahdi Army militia to fight occupying troops.
When U.S. forces had an opportunity to kill Mr. al-Sadr during a battle in Najaf, Washington told them to stand down, also on the advice of the Iraqi expatriate politicians, said Mr. Khoury, adding: “They knew if Sadr was killed it would become a big problem for them.”
Mr. al-Sadr, 47, is the youngest son of a revered cleric, Grand Ayatollah Mohammad Sadeq al-Sadr, who was assassinated by Saddam Hussein in 1999 after demanding religious freedom for Iraq’s Shiites. The Sadr family commands the loyalty of millions, many of them poor and disposed, most of whom believe his election win was ordained by God.
In Sadr City, the Sadrist organization provides food, support for orphans and widows and many other services the Iraqi government fails to deliver.
“He would like to achieve certain objectives, and the main objective is social justice,” said Mr. al-Assadi of the cleric’s aims. He likened Mr. al-Sadr’s goals to those of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. or Mahatma Ghandi.
But unlike the Black civil rights leader or India’s pacifist icon, Mr. al-Sadr has overseen an armed militia that has waxed and waned but never entirely gone away.
The Mahdi Army has been blamed for fueling Iraq’s past sectarian violence. As it battled with Sunni fighters of Al Qaeda for supremacy in Iraq between 2006 and 2008, Mr. al-Sadr’s fighters were accused of running death squads and conducting sectarian cleansings of Baghdad neighborhoods.
Mr. al-Sadr has said that not all the fighters were under his control.
In 2008, after losing a fight with Iraqi government forces for control of Basra, Mr. al-Sadr — who lacks the religious credentials of his father — abruptly left for Iran to pursue his theological studies.
Yet he has long had an uneasy relationship with Tehran, and while he cannot afford to antagonize its leaders, he advocates an Iraq free of both Iranian and American influence.
“I think he has his own space in which he walks, and his base is not dictated by any country, especially not the Iranians,” said Elie Abouaoun, a director at the United States Institute of Peace, a U.S. government-funded think tank. “I think that he is much less sectarian than many, many others because he has a nationalist vision of Iraq.”
‘Zombie’ Urchins Are Destroying Kelp Forests. Can’t We Just Eat Them?
ALBION, Calif. — A decade ago, when Gary Trumper used to dive for sea urchins, the docks here were packed with commercial fishing vessels. Mr. Trumper and his diving partner, Byron Koehler, would steer through masses of tangled kelp and return after a few hours of work with what Mr. Koehler described as enough red urchin to sink their 26-foot boat.
No longer. Today, more than 95 percent of California’s coastal kelp are gone, devoured by a population explosion of purple sea urchins in the past seven years. This proliferation has led to dead zones known as “urchin barrens,” where carpets of urchins can be seen for miles. One such barren encompasses 400 miles of coastline from Marin County to the Oregon border.
“This bay should be choked off with kelp,” Mr. Trumper said as he gestured over the side of his boat.
The problem has reverberated throughout the international seafood market and created an environmental crisis along the California coast. Fishermen, state officials and now some entrepreneurs are scrambling to slow and even reverse the damage. Among the wide-ranging solutions that have been proposed are aggressive aquaculture programs and the deployment of robotic predators — a sort of Roomba for urchins.
Uni, the delicate meat inside an urchin’s spiny shell, is a pricey delicacy. So it might seem that a surplus of urchins would be good business for commercial divers, but Mr. Trumper explained that the opposite is true. The purple urchins off the California coast are mostly inedible because they contain little to no uni. Having overgrazed the coastal kelp and devastated the red urchin population, the purple urchins are now starving. Worse still, they can exist in this state of starvation for decades, lying in wait to gobble up any kelp spores that appear, which prevents kelp forests from growing back.
Mr. Trumper, who is now in his 50s, has been diving since he was 10 with his father, the founder of the commercial fishery Pacific Rim Seafood. “We had so many markets we lost because we couldn’t supply them with product,” he said. Now, he is at a loss for what to do: “It’s the only job I ever had.” Mr. Trumper’s own son, like many other urchin divers in the area, seeks mostly nonfishing work.
This shortage of edible urchins has affected restaurants as well, just as Americans were developing a palate for the delicacy. Uni has long been a staple of Japanese and Italian cuisine, but can be found on plates in places as far-flung as Chile and is increasingly making its way into Californian fare.
Nico Peña, the chef de cuisine at Octavia, a fine-dining restaurant in San Francisco, says that the urchin available off California’s North Coast “has a beautiful umami flavor with an ocean salinity,” adding that “the texture is super luscious.” He serves it in its dramatic spiny urchin shell with a side of cultured butter and brioche toast.
He first encountered uni while working at the pasta station at Quince, a three-Michelin-starred restaurant across town, where it was cooked down and used to thicken a cream sauce. Uni is incredibly delicate — its melt-in-your-mouth texture is part of its appeal — so less picturesque pieces that have lost their form can be turned into uni butter and used on pasta dishes. Mr. Peña says he jumps at the chance to add uni to Octavia’s menu because it sells so well and fits with his culinary philosophy of leaning on locally sourced ingredients.
But since July, he’s struggled to source it. “I noticed that there is a lot less than what I was able to get before,” he said, adding that other chefs have had to eliminate uni dishes altogether.
The urchin trouble began in 2014 with “a perfect storm of bad things for kelp,” according to Laura Rogers-Bennett, a research associate at the University of California, Davis and a scientist at the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. There was a major marine heat wave from 2014 to 2016, which was driven by climate change and El Niño weather events.
Simultaneously, sea urchins’ main predator, sunflower sea stars, were wiped out by a sea star wasting syndrome. This created what fishermen and scientists call a “purple carpet,” where the urchins wait in a starving “zombie” state for any sprouts of kelp to grow, thus turning the area into a lifeless urchin barren. And without any uni meat, the urchins are unattractive to other predators like sea otters.
Uni divers like Mr. Trumper and Mr. Koehler were among the first to notice the problem. “They took over the shallows and spread like wildfire,” Mr. Trumper said.
During the 2015 survey season, Ms. Rogers-Bennett said she recalled thinking, “Oh my god, there are purple urchins everywhere, and there’s no kelp canopy.”
Kelp forests, commonly referred to by marine biologists as “the lungs of the ocean” because of how they sequester carbon, are essential for a healthy ocean ecosystem. The decline of the California kelp forests sent other marine populations, including red abalone, into such a death spiral that the California Fish and Game Commission closed that abalone fishery in 2017 and announced it would not reopen until at least 2026.
Ms. Rogers-Bennett explained that tackling the problem now, while even a marginal amount of kelp remains, is of the utmost urgency. “If we go down to zero kelps, then trying to restore them is a huge amount of work,” she said. But outcry has been limited mostly to those in the food and conservation sectors. “If 90 percent of the trees in California disappeared,” Ms. Rogers-Bennett said, “then I think people would be much more concerned about the problem.”
The problem has resulted in unlikely partnerships between business interests and conservationists. On a misty morning in late August, Mr. Trumper and Mr. Koehler are not diving for the commercial seafood industry; they’re working for Reef Check, a nonprofit that has partnered with the state government to tackle the problem.
Mr. Trumper and Mr. Koehler are being paid a day rate to pluck every urchin they can from designated zones. The urchins are then brought to Reef Check’s lab where they are analyzed and then used for compost, paving or other purposes. Mr. Trumper explained that these days, working for conservation organizations is the only way they can make a reliable income, but he said even with that, he was earning “just enough money to keep the lights on.” At the end of the day, they collect hundreds of wriggling spiny purple urchins from a designated area smaller than an Olympic-size swimming pool. Their haul fills two large industrial trash cans.
Morgan Murphy-Cannella, a kelp-restoration coordinator at Reef Check who works with Mr. Trumper and Mr. Koehler, said that working with commercial divers is important not just for curtailing the devastating impact on local industries, but also because they know the sea best. “They have thousands of underwater hours,” she said. “They know the reef really well. They’re able to notice patterns.”
So far, their efforts appear to be helping. Mr. Trumper says that kelp is regrowing in the areas where they have pulled urchin. Ms. Murphy-Cannella added that a similar project in Noyo Bay in Mendocino County showed promising results. “This type of restoration works,” she said. But she is far from optimistic. “How do we use this over the bigger scale?” she said. “It’s impossible to clear an entire coastline of urchin.”
Last year, Ms. Rogers-Bennett’s team at U.C. Davis collaborated with a company called Urchinomics, which had been working on similar problems in Norway and Japan. Together, along with the Nature Conservancy, they worked to determine whether their technologies were transferable to California.
They embarked on a yearlong study to see if they could take the starving urchin and make them commercially viable. Urchinomics hired divers to take the starving urchins from the barrens and bring them to aquaculture tanks on land, where they were fed pellets made from scraps of discarded seaweed. Urchinomics’ chief executive, Brian Tsuyoshi Takeda, explained that the choice of feed is incredibly important. “If an urchin is sitting on a dead herring, it will taste like that herring,” he said. “An urchin that’s eating umami-rich kelp essentially tastes like a lot of umami.”
At the end of 12 weeks on this diet, when the urchin shells were cracked in half, there was plump, deep yellow uni inside. The company has begun doing test sales in the United States and is selling to a larger market in Japan. While the commercial aspect appears to be working, Ms. Rogers-Bennett was enthusiastic about the ecological implications. “This is actually better than sustainable,” she said, “because the more you fish it, the better off the kelp forest will be. This is a restorative seafood product.”
When asked what his company would do if they are successful in clearing out barrens off the Southern California coast where they are currently operating, Mr. Tsuyoshi Takeda said that he anticipated no shortage of work. First, they would move up the coast, clearing out the barrens in Northern California and Oregon. And there are urchin barrens all over the world.
Another company, Marauder Robotics, is in the process of developing artificially intelligent underwater predator robots that collect urchins from the seafloor. It is currently conducting experiments in Southern California. In 2018, Dennis Yancey, the company’s chief executive, estimated that one robot could do the work of 75 commercial divers.
Though these kinds of efforts undoubtedly make a dent in the problem, Ms. Murphy-Cannella of Reef Check suggests that “the solution is going to be multiple avenues working together.”
“We can’t eat our way out,” she said.
Syria Accuses Israel of Assassinating Official Near Golan Heights
The Syrian government on Saturday accused Israel of assassinating a high-ranking Syrian official who spent 12 years in an Israeli prison on terrorism charges before serving decades in the Syrian government.
The official, Midhat Saleh, who was responsible for overseeing the strategic Golan Heights boundary, was shot and killed by an apparent sniper while inside Syria near the shared border between the two countries.
In a statement announcing his death, Syria’s Presidency of the Council of Ministers said Mr. Saleh was “targeted by the Israeli enemy with bursts of treacherous bullets while returning to his home.”
Mr. Saleh, a member of the Druse religious minority, served 12 years in an Israeli prison on charges of using mines and explosives with the intention of killing Israeli civilians and soldiers
In 1997, after his release, he went to Syria, where he was elected to Parliament.
A senior Israeli defense official, who would not address Israel’s involvement in any killing, said Mr. Saleh was working with Iran’s Revolutionary Guard to establish the military infrastructure along the border necessary for an attack against Israel.
Israel has been operating aggressively against Iran in Syria soon after the country’s civil began and has attacked Iranian or Iranian-related targets in the country hundreds of times, if not more, as well as carried out a series of assassinations. The fighting between Israel and Iran inside Syria effectively constitutes a shadow war, as regional powers test their opponents’ abilities amid the carnage of the Syrian civil war.
Israel has long maintained that Iran represents a threat to its existence and has targeted the Islamic Republic’s agents both outside and inside Iran, stymying its nuclear weapons program and killing its top scientists and operatives.
The Israelis are sensitive to Iran’s presence in Syria. The assassination was the fourth attack this week against Iranian forces in Syria attributed to Israel.
Mr. Saleh, 54, was killed in Ein al-Tina, Syria, according to SANA, the Syrian state news agency. The town is directly across the border from Majdal Shams, Israel, the Druse village in which he was born.
The year of his birth, 1967, coincided with Israel’s defeat of a coalition of Arab countries and the occupation of the Golan Heights, a strategic plateau that spans the border.
He was arrested by Israeli intelligence agents in 1985, along with other Druse from the occupied Golan villages, and convicted of terrorism.
“I’m not saying we will kill the Jews or drive them away,” he said in a 2007 interview with The Guardian. “I just want to live on my land.”
After representing the Golan in Syria’s Parliament, he was appointed head of the country’s Golan Office and an adviser to President Bashar al-Assad.
Mr. Saleh was praised by officials in Mr. Assad’s government, a regime that has brutalized its own people, including gas attacks, for much of the past decade.
Hussein Arnous, Syria’s prime minister, described Mr. Saleh’s assassination as a cowardly act. Hussam Edin Aala, the country’s United Nations representative, called him “a man who devoted his life to defending the rights of his people in the occupied Syrian Golan.”
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