After weeks of declining violence in February, the number of attacks rose once again in Iraq over the last week of the month. At least 53 people were killed and 245 injured in nationwide incidents, which is moderately high, albeit not as high as the figures of over 100 recorded fatalities in some of the weeks at the beginning of the year. There was a rise in the total number of bombings reported and a consistent number of shootings, but more positively there were no kidnappings or indirect fire attacks (rockets and mortars) recorded. The gradual decline in attacks in February followed by the latest rise is illustrated in the graph below.
Mosul in the north has been unusually quiet for at least two weeks, raising concerns that militants in the area have been looking elsewhere to conduct attacks. The spate of bombings which took place around the centre of the country last week could indicate that they have turned their attention to the heartland of the country, although there are also ongoing fears that some of the militants have headed across the border into neighbouring Syria.
The central region saw the majority of attacks last week, especially around Ba’qubah and Baghdad. Countrywide, a rise in the total number of bomb attacks last week left 39 people dead and 242 injured, but most of the incidents took place in Baghdad and the central provinces. A steady number of small arms fire attacks left 14 people dead and three injured, notably in the capital.
The region suffered a number of attacks on 23 February, a day when co-ordinated bombings struck cities between Hillah and Mosul. Bombs hit Salah ad-Din, Diyala and Babil provinces, as well as Baghdad. In total, at least 50 people were killed and dozens injured, with incidents largely targeting the security forces. However, civilian and judicial interests were also singled out.
The attacks have since been claimed by the Islamic State of Iraq, the Sunni militant organisation affiliated with al-Qaeda, and they may have been timed to coincide with two events. Firstly, the Iraqi government announced that the security situation had improved in the country, so foreign leaders would have no reason to doubt being able to travel to Baghdad for the Arab League summit at the end of March. The attacks were therefore possibly aimed at discrediting the state, not just amongst the Iraqi public, but also amidst the wider region.
Secondly, many (but not all) of the country’s politicians had gathered in parliament on the same day to debate and endorse the federal budget. It was a high-profile event attracting media attention, which was undoubtedly distracted by the numerous attacks taking place around the capital and wider country at the same time. The fact that politicians agreed to spend a significant amount of money on armoured cars appears to have been a particularly controversial decision made on the day.
While the southern provinces remain quieter than the north and centre of the country there are nonetheless ongoing hairline cracks in the veneer of overall security in the region. Local sentiment remains outwardly optimistic and positive towards the foreign investment arriving in the region but intra-Shi’ah community and political tensions persist and organisations still need to take security into strong consideration when working in the area. At present, there are rising tensions between rival Shi’ah political organisations, with at least one percussion explosive device detonated outside the home of a political figure north of Basrah last week. Demonstrators also tried to storm a municipal building in Nassiriyah on 24 February in protest at the ongoing closure of a political party office in the city. The security forces remain capable of dealing with low level unrest and sporadic political violence but if unrest gains momentum the security situation could deteriorate, potentially at short notice, over the coming months or even years. Amid the uncertainty, AKE has issued new travel risk analysis, guidance and advice on the country which can be accessed here.
John Drake is a senior risk consultant with AKE, a British risk mitigation company working in Iraq since 2003. You can access AKE’s intelligence website Global Intake here, and you can obtain a free trial of AKE’s Iraq intelligence reports here.