Levels of violence fell slightly in Iraq over the past week, but the number of attacks was still relatively high, with 47 people killed and 165 injured countrywide. The majority of attacks took place in Baghdad and Mosul but there was also a rise in activity throughout the central region, particularly in Salah ad-Din province. Kurdistan and the far south on the other hand were relatively quiet. Over the coming week security measures are likely to be increased while the number of police operations and arrests is set to rise ahead of the Shi’ah religious period of Ashura. Despite the detention of suspected militants, there will still be a risk of roadside attacks and even suicide bombings targeting religious travellers on their way to the holy city of Karbala.
Last week saw violence concentrated in Mosul, although attacks were also recorded in Tal ‘Afar, Kirkuk, Hawijah and Riyadh. Civilians and the Iraqi security forces bore the brunt, but with eight recorded fatalities the week was less bloody than normal for what is otherwise one of the most hostile parts of the country. In contrast, the adjacent provinces of Iraqi Kurdistan were very quiet, with no incidents reported. Christian families fleeing violence in Baghdad are reportedly gathering in the Kurdistani province of Dahuk where they feel safer. For Iraqis and foreigners alike the Kurdish provinces of Arbil, Dahuk and Sulaymaniyah present a much more positive security environment than the rest of the country.
Levels of violence rose in the central region last week, particularly in the province of Salah ad-Din, which saw several attacks on the Sahwah (Awakening Council) movement and its supporters. Several Sahwah fighters and farmers were abducted, tortured and murdered, only to have their bodies abandoned as a warning to other residents of the area. While the police claim to have eradicated al-Qaeda from the neighbouring province of Anbar the group retains an operating capacity in the region and should still be considered a threat. Iraqi officials recently stated that al-Qaeda is planning a series of car-bombings against ministries, universities and media outlets. AKE also anticipates a rise in the number of attacks against Shi’ah pilgrims over the coming two weeks. The religious period of Ashura will culminate on 16 December and already religious worshippers are travelling to the holy city of Karbala. Roadside attacks by suspected Sunni terrorists have already begun, particularly targeting minibuses containing Iranian pilgrims. Further bomb blasts, sporadic shootings and even suicide attacks should all be anticipated, particularly around Karbala, Babil, Diyala and Baghdad.
There were several police operations in the south of the country last week, particularly around Basrah and Amarah but otherwise there was little in the way of violence. The bodyguard of a former governor was found murdered close to Diwaniyah, highlighting the fact that politically motivated killings remain a concern in the region. Militant groups may have reduced their activity over the past two years but they remain a formidable presence. Note that as in the central region, the south may see a rise in attacks on religious interests over the coming weeks. Security measures are likely to be increased, particularly on routes leading towards Najaf and Karbala, with increased checkpoint searches, patrols and subsequent congestion as a result. For the latest updates personnel are advised to contact the AKE office in Baghdad via the contact details on our site www.akegroup.com/iraq
John Drake is a senior risk consultant with AKE Group, a British private security firm working in Iraq from before 2003. Further details on the company can be found at www.akegroup.com/iraq
You can also follow John on twitter at www.twitter.com/johnfdrake