This reporting period saw the levels of incidents rise by approximately 20% compared to the previous week. There was a significant rise in the number of recorded incidents in the North, North Central and Western Regions of Iraq, with the rest of the country experiencing no real change or slight reductions in the number of incidents. In the week that has seen Iraq’s top army officer criticising the planned US troop withdrawal by the end of next year as premature, and even more political wrangling with the suspension of talks to break the stalemate, Baghdad suffered from yet another ‘spectacular’ attack when 60 potential Iraqi Army recruits were killed in a suicide attack; again bringing the media spotlight firmly on Iraq security.
The holy month of Ramadan started on 11 Aug in Iraq, presenting an opportunity for insurgents, throughout the country, to exploit a time in the calendar where security may not be at it best. This period has been used in the past to attack security forces and may now also be used to take advantage of the political vacuum across the country to launch attacks. Military leaders, both U.S. and Iraqi, have made reference to this period as a chance for insurgents to attack across the country.
It is known that attacks have increased in the time preceding Ramadan and during the early parts of the month, but this year sees more problems for Iraq, most notably a lack of a robust Government and the thoughts of the local population that security may be an issue. Iraq is without a new government more than five months after voters handed the secular Iraqiya slate a narrow victory over the State of Law party of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki; still none of the competing parties secured the clear majority needed to form a government alone.
There has been news to suggest that the Al-Dawa Party has unanimously decided to choose an alternative for Al-Maliki as a candidate to head the next government; and with the Iranian ambassador to Iraq expressing optimism that a new Iraqi government will be formed in the near future, it may be the the stalemate could be broken. Al-Hakim’s alliance stopped its negotiations with Al-Maliki’s coalition over a week ago and demanded changing Al-Maliki and submitting a candidate who is acceptable by the components of the National Alliance, particularly the Al-Sadr Trend and the other blocs as a condition for resuming the talks.
It has not been confirmed whether an alternative has been identified, but this may go someway to break the political deadlock that has been experienced since the elections in March 2010. The country is waiting for an official announcement on this subject before any official posture is taken by other political parties in Iraq. It comes, as already mentioned, at the beginning of Ramadan, so this may go some way to placate the Iraqi population, but it may also take some time to resolve this – longer than the period of Ramadan and potentially weeks if not months. As a result this may improve the security situation, but may also add fuel to the fire if the potential for momentum is not maintained.
However, the Iraqi Parliament will apparently not meet again unless there is a deal made between political blocs to distribute major state posts among them and U.S. and Iraqi officials have warned that insurgent groups may use the lack of a new government to step up their attacks.
Officially reported incidents in Baghdad increased for the second week in a row. This is now the highest level of incidents in the capital since the beginning of June. The International Zone has been targeted on five separate occasions with Indirect Fire this reporting period; however, none of the attacks were classed as successful. This reporting period has also seen Baghdad targeted five times with Explosively Formed Projectiles bringing the total this month to seven. It is evident that, along with Indirect Fire and Explosively Formed Projectile attacks, that Under Vehicle Improvised Explosive Devices targeted at individuals are becoming more prevalent. The capital has been hit with many Improvised Explosive Devices this week with 16 official reports of this method of attack with an attack on 09 Aug killing two Iraqi policemen and wounding three others.
Of particular note this week was the attack on an Iraqi Army recruitment centre by a suicide bomber wearing an explosive-laden who blew himself up in the Baab al-Muatham neighborhood of central Baghdad, killing approximately 60 people and wounding 125. The attack, the deadliest this year, came a day after Iraq’s two main political parties suspended talks over the formation of a new government five months after elections took place in March.
As many as 1,000 army recruits were gathered at the army division headquarters due to 17 Aug being the last day for soldiers to sign up at the unit. Iraqi Security Forces were trying to bolster their ranks to prepare for the military withdrawal of the U.S. Major-General Qassim Al Moussawi, an Iraqi Army spokesman, blamed the deaths on a single suicide bomber, also citing Al Qaeda for enlisting the bomber.
The country’s security forces have been persistent targets at the hands of insurgent groups, especially in the capital, and it has sparked even more discussion as to the preparedness of the Iraqi Security Forces to handle the country’s security on their own in light of the U.S. planned withdrawal.
Lt Gen Babaker Zebari warned that the Iraqi military might not be ready to take control for another decade; he stated to a defence conference in Baghdad that the Iraqi Army would not be able to ensure the country’s security until 2020 and that the U.S. should keep its troops in Iraq until then. However, the U.S. says it is on target to end combat operations by the end of August and meet its deadline for removing all troops by the end of 2011.
Zebari’s warning echoes the remark by Saddam Hussein’s former foreign minister Tarik Aziz last week that the Americans were “leaving Iraq to the wolves”.
On 15 August one round of Indirect Fire landed to the south east of the Basra Contingency Operating Base, but no explosion was heard or seen. On 16 Aug the Basra Contingency Operating Base was targeted by seven rounds of Indirect Fire; in both instances both firing points were tracked from the north of Basra. There were no confirmed reports of casualties or damage in the Base.
A report was released in Basra by the Iraqi Security Forces suggesting that there was a heightened kidnap threat from an unidentified Shia group planning to kidnap U.S. Civilian personnel in the south east of Iraq. This is a threat that remains extant throughout the country even in times of heightened stability.
It is a distinct possibility that attacks seen on 07 August could now become more of the ‘norm’ in Basra, but on a more infrequent scale compared to the likes of Baghdad. This attack is most likely linked to Al Qaeda in Iraq or its Associated Movements. Iraqi Security Forces have suspected an Al Qaeda cell of operating in the Az Zubayr region since the 10 May Basra attacks, however, it is questionable whether a cell would be able to build and deploy devices of this size in a Shia dominated province under the scrutiny of Iraqi Security Forces. It is possible that the devices were constructed outside of Basra and then deployed by volunteers with good local knowledge. Public anger is likely to be directed against provincial and national level politicians.
Criminal activity will continue to take place in across the province. At present the number of high profile criminal incidents is relatively low, however, attacks on logistics convoys transiting through Basra is likely to increase as Basra province becomes busier with transiting convoys; criminality could also rise during time of increased unemployment and rises in inflation coupled with higher food prices – especially during the period of Ramadan.