The average weekly number of attacks has risen in Iraq over the last two months. Conditions gradually worsened in the first five months of the year, and while the increase in attacks has not been dramatic, it is nonetheless still a concern, particularly as the US prepares to withdraw its military by the end of the year. However, with careful planning companies can still overcome the obstacle of security in Iraq. For a start, violence is highly concentrated, with some areas barely being affected at all.
Militant attacks have been most concentrated in Baghdad over the past eight weeks. The city accounted for over 40 per cent of all incidents and is currently over three times more hostile than the next two dangerous cities (Mosul and Kirkuk). However, while it may see more violence than anywhere else in the country, it nonetheless has a number of advantages. For a start, it has numerous ‘safe havens’ or areas where personnel can seek assistance in the event of an incident. It has more security force checkpoints, better hospital facilities and a number of well-patrolled districts which see virtually no violence at all. Foreign firms looking to do business in the capital have a range of options when considering places to arrange meetings or even set up a permanent presence – and their choices are certainly not limited to the Green Zone. There are several districts in the so-called Red Zone that see far fewer incidents on a yearly basis than the heavily fortified city centre.
The next two most violent provinces over the last eight weeks were Ninawa and Ta’mim, situated in the north of the country. Each province accounted for 13 per cent of all countrywide attacks, with most of the incidents concentrated in the cities of Mosul and Kirkuk. Recent months have seen a very gradual improvement in security conditions in Mosul, as well-established terrorist organisations have been tackled in a slow and bitter war of attrition with the Iraqi security forces. Kirkuk on the other hand has seen a slight worsening in conditions, with an increase in inter-communal tensions as different ethnic groups compete for influence in the oil-rich and historically contested city.
In sharp contrast to the rest of the country, the area administered by the Kurdish Regional Government has seen very little violence over recent weeks. Companies intent on doing business here have little need to worry about security. That is not to say that there are not other health and safety concerns of a political risk nature in the region. The province of Sulaymaniyah has seen a number of protests over recent weeks, and while most were peaceful, some involved low-level scuffles, arrests and even some vandalism, which is why the province appears on the AKE violence chart. Nonetheless, with only one per cent of all countrywide violence taking place in the province over the last eight weeks, it should still be seen as a stable and largely secure part of the country.
In general, unrest and protests have quietened over recent weeks, although conditions could still escalate over the coming weeks as temperatures rise and the government faces increased criticism for failing to address major public frustrations. Power shortages, poor services and high unemployment are likely to stoke further unrest in Iraq in the future.
The Central Region
Apart from the capital, the province of Anbar has been the most hazardous part of the central region, accounting for nine per cent of all countrywide attacks over the last eight weeks. Most of the incidents have been concentrated in the east of the province, among urbanised areas such as Fallujah and Ramadi. The provinces of Diyala, Salah ad-Din and Babil each accounted for between four and five per cent and remain hazardous, albeit significantly more quiet than the earlier years of Iraq’s post-invasion history.
The southern part of the country continues to avoid the majority of violent trends which affect central and more northern provinces. The last eight weeks have seen a scattering of incidents in the region, with Basrah province accounting for only three per cent of all countrywide incidents. Nonetheless, there are still no grounds for complacency and fairly robust security measures are still recommended by personnel operating in the area. An attack on an oil field earlier on 5 June indicates that violence is still a concern, and that the energy sector is still an attractive target for the militant groups operating in the region.
Almost two-thirds of all countrywide attacks have involved explosive devices, while a quarter have involved firearms. The vast majority of explosive devices have been relatively small, usually incurring injuries rather than fatalities. Sticky bombs have been regularly used, particularly in Baghdad. Casualties have also usually been indiscriminate, with many of the victims being civilian bystanders caught up in attacks against police patrols or US military vehicles.
While the use of firearms in attacks has been much less frequent, it is perhaps a more sinister tactic, in that the victims are almost always singled out and monitored closely prior to an attack. Many of the victims have been senior members of the security forces or mid-level civic employees.
Iraqis targeted in kidnap and ransom incidents are also likely to have been singled out and monitored. Some are selected because of their rank, some because of their community, but most simply because their abductor believes their family will be able to raise money for a ransom. Counter-surveillance measures are therefore recommended for a wide range of individuals.
Indirect fire (rockets and mortars) only accounted for around seven per cent of all attacks, and most did not incur any casualties. Nonetheless, personnel still need to take the risk into account, particularly those using airports or staying on fortified military facilities such as the Green Zone. Indirect fire is most commonly used to target these types of asset, so they should not be considered entirely secure.
John Drake is a senior risk consultant with AKE, a British private security firm working in Iraq from before 2003. Further details on the company can be found here while AKE’s intelligence and political risk website Global IntAKE can be accessed here.