Amid continued violence in Iraq’s central and northern governorates, the proximity of the parliamentary elections triggered a series of political manoeuvres aimed at mobilising the country’s disaffected electorate. In a bid to undermine Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki, Parliament Speaker Osama Al-Nujaifi re-oriented political debates towards the Anbar crisis, criticising the lack of government assistance to refugees and the absence of meaningful concessions to local tribes. While Anbar continues to be the scene of under-reported ISF operations against ISIL militants and provincial elections now appear likely to be delayed, Shia-dominated provinces remained insulated from major incidents.
As preserving Shia areas from the daily violence witnessed in central and northern governorates will undoubtedly benefit Maliki’s coalition, competing factions will probably seek to appeal to the Shia electorate on other grounds. Despite his withdrawal from politics announced two weeks ago, Muqtada al-Sadr reportedly returned from the Iranian city of Qom on 15 March to voice his support for protests held in Dhi Qar province. Socioeconomic demonstrations inspired by Sadr have also been held in other southern areas throughout the reporting period, further highlighting the importance of Shia votes in the upcoming elections. While Sadr’s intentions and political ambitions remain unclear, his firm stance against Maliki’s perceived sectarian policies demonstrate the growing isolation of the ruling State of Law bloc, which will most probably have to rely on the post-election negotiation phase to obtain a majority in parliament. While political dynamics remained stagnant, the majority of security incidents have continued to be confined to central and northern governorates. VBIED attacks considerably decreased in the capital, in line with current patterns of violence. The absence of bold measures and the approach of competitive elections will continue to impact on the security environment, with western and central provinces expected to attract most incidents.
Levels of violence recorded in northern provinces remained consistent with previous weekly averages, with most incidents concentrated in Nineveh and Salahuddin. On 12 March, a car bomb detonated on the Al A’asriya police station in the Siniya sub-district of Baiji, Salahuddin, killing one policeman and injuring four others. On 15 March, another VBIED hit an area of Tikrit, causing dozens of casualties. Other complex attacks involving VBIEDs and suicide bombers were witnessed in Nineveh. On 11 March, two militants detonated themselves on a police headquarters in Hay al-Thawra, killing three policemen. Two car bombs hit two provincial districts, killing and injuring scores of civilians as well as ISF members. While sophisticated assaults were avoided in Kirkuk and Diyala governorates, as militant resources appeared focused on Anbar, IEDs and small arms attacks continued to form the core of militant operations across the north. With the political situation likely to remain unchanged over the next weeks, northern governorates are expected to witness similar levels of violence. Meanwhile and amid continued disputes over budget, Kurdish provinces remained largely peaceful.
In line with current security dynamics, the number of VBIED incidents considerably decreased in Baghdad following last week’s series of mass-casualty attacks. Sophisticated militant operations were instead focused on Anbar governorate, with several complex attacks reported in Haditha and Ramadi, and amid continued shelling on urban areas. On 13 March, two car bombs detonated in several areas of Ramadi, killing seven civilians and three soldiers. On 15 March, another VBIED sequence hit Haditha, causing injuries and material damage. On 17 March, a suicide attack in Ramadi killed one soldier and injured four others.
Despite a substantial shift of resources away from Baghdad, the majority of deadly incidents remained located in the capital. On 13 March, a VBIED detonated in the Sauna neighbourhood of Baghdad without causing any casualties. On 15 March, a sequence of four car bombs hit several areas. The first explosion injured 18 civilians and destroyed multiple vehicles and surrounding shops, while the other detonations killed eight civilians and injured dozens. According to patterns of violence currently observed, incident levels should be stagnant and VBIED attacks are expected to remain below average in Baghdad over the next two weeks.
Although Babil remained the most volatile province among southern governorates, levels of violence substantially decreased as a result of intensified militant operations in Anbar. VBIEDs were avoided this week, with most reported incidents consisting of IEDs and small arms attacks. On 11 March, the explosion of three IEDs in Musaiyab district injured two soldiers. Elsewhere in the region, most assaults continued to be connected to personal disputes, as illustrated by a drive-by shooting in Basra on 16 March. As south-eastern provinces will be key in the April elections designating the next Prime Minister, Shia politicians are expected to hold meetings and gatherings in the lead-up to the votes, as the Sadrist protests illustrated this week. Political movements wooing different segments of the Shia population may in turn fuel tensions between competing factions in the south, impacting on levels of violence. In the short-term however, the focus of insurgents on the north should continue to preserve southern areas from major attacks.