Bombings rise sharply in Iraq

Bomb attacks in Iraq. Figures from IISS-US researchBy Becca Wasser, Program Officer and Research Analyst, IISS-US

A series of coordinated bomb attacks shook Iraq yesterday, on the ninth anniversary of the US-led invasion and just days before the Arab League summit, scheduled for 27-29 March. The blasts bore all the hallmarks of al-Qaeda in Iraq, which soon claimed responsibility, saying that it had wished to derail the ‘meeting of Arab tyrants in Baghdad‘. Parliamentary speaker Osama al-Nujaifi had already blamed the terrorists for wanting to keep Iraq ‘feeling the effects of violence and destruction’.

The latest bombings – in Kirkuk, Karbala, Samarra, Baghdad and other cities – are part of an upsurge in violence following the withdrawal of US troops on 18 December 2011. In the first three months since troops left (to 18 March 2012) there were 204 bombings – a 70% increase on the same period last year. With no more real US military targets in the country, the spike necessarily means that Iraqi-on-Iraqi violence has increased, and illustrates the need for a strengthened local security force.

Immediately after the US withdrawal, ‘minor’ incidents began involving improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and roadside bombs. Three roadside bombs were detonated on 19 December; the next day a roadside bombing, car bombing and an explosion inside a military uniform shop followed. The first mass-casualty event occurred on 23 December, when a series of car bombs and IED explosions ripped through Baghdad. Most notably, an ambulance packed with explosives was blown up in front of the Iraqi government’s Integrity Commission office building. Four days later, a suicide bomber exploded a car in front of the Iraqi Interior Ministry. Two other mass-casualty attacks took place on 17 January and 23 February 2012. The latter attack was claimed by al-Qaeda in Iraq.

Without a US military presence to target, insurgent groups have focused their efforts on Iraqi government and security apparatuses. In yesterday’s attacks, a car bomb exploded outside the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Baghdad and outside a police station in Kirkuk. Besides military checkpoints, other recent ‘soft’ targets have included restaurants and shops, municipal buildings and open civilian areas, such as yesterday’s bombing in a public square in Karbala.

At the IISS-US, we have been compiling information on bombings in Iraq since the withdrawal of US forces, using news articles, Iraqi government statements, the Iraq Body Count website and other sources. Compared to the 204 attacks from 18 December 2011 to 18 March 2012, there were only 120 attacks between 18 December 2010 and 18 March 2011. In January 2012 alone bombings increased to 81, in from 45 in January 2011.

We’re not arguing the US military should have stayed in Iraq –  far from it. What the figures do show, along with the information on bombing targets, is that insurgent groups in Iraq are adapting to the new status quo, and that the security and political situation in Iraq remains tenuous.


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