Nationally recorded incident levels saw an increase from 85 to 108 in the reporting period. The main reason for the increase was Sunni insurgent targeting of Shia pilgrims en route to the Moussa Kadhim shrine in Baghdad.
The north central and Baghdad regions continued to account for the majority of hostile incidents. Baghdad saw a minor rise in hostile incidents from 29 to 30, although the intent to inflict further damage was evidenced by a large number of Improvised Explosive Device finds in the city during the Shia pilgrimage. The north central region saw a return to its usual operational tempo with incidents rising from 26 to 36.
The highest impact attack occurred on 07 July when a suicide bomber detonated a belt of explosives, killing at least 30 Iraqi Shi’ite pilgrims en route to the Moussa Kadhim Shrine. The attack was reminiscent of the 2005 bomb threat against a nearby bridge that resulted in a stampede that killed 1,000 pilgrims. Intensified security measures to protect the pilgrimage, such as a city wide ban on bicycles and motorcycles, were reinforced by 200,000 police and soldiers in the city.
Targeting religious ceremonies is a popular method of insurgent attack as the large crowds provide a window of opportunity to inflict wide scale civilian casualties whilst diminishing the authority of the national security forces. Sectarian motivated attacks such as these illustrate the goal of Al Qaeda and its affiliates to exacerbate divisions in Iraq to obstruct progress towards stability. The current period of political uncertainty coupled with the fast approaching drawdown of the United States Forces could see insurgents launch similar large scale attacks against financial, political and infrastructure targets. Assassination attacks will continue to destabilise security, as politicians, security force officials and other pro-government forces and government associates are targeted.
The drawn out negotiations to fill the top posts of Iraq’s government are a sign of the resilience of the system of ‘muhasisa’ or quotas, as each sect seeks to assert its right to allocated positions of authority. Iraq’s politicians profess to want to escape the Lebanon style quota system but the precedent has been set for a Shiite Arab prime minister, a Kurd President and a Sunni Arab speaker of Parliament. The Sunni population have perceived their allocation of the speaker of Parliament as a ‘raw deal’ as this position wields the least influence. Many Sunnis pledged support to Iraqiya’s Iyad Allawi in the elections though his nomination, as a Shiite, to the position of prime minister would not see their sect represented. In the event of an alliance between Allawi’s bloc and the Shiite State of Law two of the top positions could be occupied by Shiite leaders, though this outcome would receive widespread objection. Politicians outside Iraqiya have conceded that allowing Allawi to take up the position of Prime Minister would be problematic as it would disrupt the sectarian balance laid out in the quota system.
United States Vice President Joe Biden’s visit to Iraq last week prompted reports of a new alliance between the seemingly opposed Iraqiya and State of Law blocs. The two leaders Maliki and Allawi had been seen to be objectionable to negotiations, with Allawi claiming that his foe was behind assassination attempts against him and his peers. Meetings between the two blocs seem to have improved though key representatives of both blocs were keen to dismiss any suggestions of a new State of Law – Iraqiya government. The official commentary has reported that daily meetings between the two leaders have focused on ameliorating relations to promote inclusion, rather than a formal agreement. Allawi’s media advisor, Raheem al-Shammari confirmed the lack of progress by stating, “They have not yet made any breakthrough on the main controversial issue related to the Prime Minister’s position. Iraqiya still insist that we have the right to form the new government.”
The State of Law have been cautious not to denounce their prior agreement with the Iraqi National Alliance (INA) though relations between them appear to have cooled since Biden’s unofficial visit to Iraq. However elements of the Iraqi National Alliance, notably the Sadrist Bloc, make difficult allies for the State of Law due to their adamant rejection of both American influence on Iraq and Maliki’s claims to another term as Prime Minister and their strong ties to Iran. Iran will seek to prolong the period of uncomfortable limbo in Iraq as this satisfies the aim of disrupting the American military withdrawal, whilst lending Iran a stronger bargaining card with which to defend its nuclear arsenal.
On Monday 12 July, the leaders of the main blocs postponed the second session of parliament as they were no closer to resolving the debate over the top roles in parliament. Intense wrangling and backroom deals are likely to continue as each faction seeks to assert their candidates for the positions. Analysts predict that the divvying up of positions of power in government will mean, as a former ambassador to Iraq said, “There will be a little something for everybody,” but a good deal for Iraqis will remain elusive as the arrangement will lack functionality.
Officially reported incidents in Baghdad increased by one incident during the reporting period, although the number of civilian casualties rose significantly largely due to the number of attacks on Shia pilgrims between 06 – 08 July. The intensified Iraqi Security Force presence in order to secure the routes led to many Improvised Explosive Device finds, which capped the number of casualties.
Over a three day period, 06, 07 and 08 July, Shia pilgrims made their way through Baghdad to the Moussa Kadhim shrine, for the annual commemoration of the Saint’s death. A significant number of pilgrims were injured by Indirect Fire and Improvised Explosive Devices on 06 July, while four Improvised Explosive Devices, including a suicide vest attack, killed 35 on 07 July and on 08 July, the final day of the festival, 22 were killed in five Improvised Explosive Device and Small Arms Fire attacks.
The firing point for the Indirect Fire attack on the International Zone on 05 July that followed Sadrist demonstrations in Kufa has been located in Sadr City. Sadrist militants are likely to continue their protests if they do not feel they are adequately represented in Iraq’s new government.
Open source reporting claims that a western Private Security Company opened fire on an Iraqi vehicle on Route Irish, close to Baghdad International Airport on 08 July. Regardless of the circumstances this incident will only serve to increase negative sentiment towards Private Security Companies in Baghdad.
It is assessed that the next reporting period will see similar levels of hostile activity though with fewer casualties, as insurgent groups return to attacking Iraqi Security Forces, United States Forces – Iraq and government associated targets.
U.S. Forces-Iraq patrols have been attacked twice during the period; the first attack was an Improvised Explosive Device attack in the west of the city on 09 July, which was followed on 12 July by another Improvised Explosive Device attack, this time on route Minden, to the east of the city – only the second attack on this route all year.
Insurgents have continued to attack the Basra Contingency Operating Base with Indirect Fire, launching an effective salvo on 09 July that destroyed a US accommodation block and injured 35. This operation was unique as the rockets were fired from 17km west of the Contingency Operating Base, a much greater distance than other recent Indirect Fire attacks. It remains to be seen whether the success of the attack is due to an enhanced capability or pure luck.
A further Indirect Fire attack was carried out against the Contingency Operating Base on 13 July during the early hours. Two 122mm rockets were fired, the first landing outside of the Contingency Operating Base and the second close to Delta gate, one of the main entry/exit points to the Contingency Operating Base. There was no significant damage or casualties. There is no clear reason for the increase in tempo of these attacks as there has been no apparent provocation from the U.S. Forces-Iraq or Iraq Security Forces-I. As the date for the withdrawal of U.S. troops moves closer it is possible that the number attacks against such targets will increase in order to create an illusion of US troops withdrawing under fire.
There are currently two extant threats, one a province wide Suicide Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Device threat and another which suggests a Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Device will attempt an attack on Basra COB/airport sometime between 13 and 17 July.
Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Devices are not the weapon of choice for militant Shia’a groups, so any such attack would likely be the work of AQIZ/Sunni insurgents. The last Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Device attack in Basra was on 10 May 10 and was assessed as an AQIZ/Sunni insurgent attack aimed at stirring up ethnic tensions. Due to the strict security measures implemented at the Contingency Operating Base it would be unwise to risk compromise of a ‘spectacular’ weapon like a Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Device. An attack against a lesser defended target in the city would be an easier option; however, this threat has to be taken seriously.