Despite reasserting his retirement from politics on 02 April, Muqtada al-Sadr publicly urged Maliki not to run for a third term, citing the failure of his sectarian policies and the increasingly autocratic nature of the regime. As the parliamentary elections approach, each party seems to be appealing to their own sectarian base, with the government capitalising on the relatively more peaceful situation in Shia-dominated southern provinces. On 06 April, Osama al-Nujaifi, Parliament Speaker and leader of the Sunni Mutahidoun bloc, accused Maliki of seeking to marginalise and exclude Sunnis from the elections, notably by using Shia militias to displace Sunni populations in the north. While it has become increasingly clear that current Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki will compete for another term, high levels of violence in central and northern governorates and heightened sectarian tensions have led Maliki to frame the unrest solely as a security issue, ignoring the political dimension of the insurgency. This has been reflected in a number of populist actions over the reporting period, with several arrests on terrorism charges legalised under Article 4 of the constitution. While Maliki’s rivals have been accusing the ruling coalition of ignoring Sunni grievances, which range from lack of political representation to rampant corruption and unemployment, increased tensions continued to be reflected in high levels of violence across Iraq.
The Anbar unrest has now spread to several fronts surrounding Baghdad, with accounts of ISIS militants positioning themselves in neighbourhoods of Baquba, Diyala province, and areas of Salahuddin. While these movements prove the capabilities of ISIS, they also mirror the growing disaffection of Sunni populations, which has allowed insurgents to establish strongholds in cities and challenge the state in several areas. Militants have been able to maintain control over Fallujah, where tribes are particularly resentful of government policies, and hold key neighbourhoods of Ramadi. As predicted and in line with current patterns of violence, complex militant incursions returned to Babil, with car bombs recorded across several districts of the province. Amid political stagnation in the approach of the elections, incident levels are expected to continue increasing in central and northern governorates over the coming weeks, as insurgents seek to disrupt the electoral campaign and influence the voting.
Levels of violence witnessed across northern provinces remained consistent with previous weekly averages, with an increase in the number of VBIEDs and complex attacks. Most incidents continued to be concentrated in Nineveh and Salahuddin, while violence recorded in Diyala and Kirkuk mainly consisted of IEDs against ISF elements. Five car bombs detonated in Tikrit, Salahuddin, causing scores of casualties within the civilian population. On 03 April, a VBIED parked near a restaurant killed three civilians and injured 13 others in the district of Suleiman Bek, which has witnessed a considerable uptick in violence over the past weeks. Four car bombs detonated in areas surrounding Mosul. On 02 April, a complex assault involving a militant wearing a suicide vest and a VBIED detonated in the Muthana area of Mosul, causing several injuries. While Kurdish provinces remained free from major incidents, tensions have been gradually increasing between Erbil and Baghdad, over controversial oil exports with Turkey and the continued delay of the 2014 budget bill which is blocked in parliament. In this context of heightened tensions between the government and its different constituencies, levels of violence are expected to continue increasing in the lead-up to the elections.
Although the number of car bombs recorded in Baghdad remained below average, the capital continued to attract most deadly incidents, with levels of violence noticeably increasing. On 01 April, a VBIED detonated in Mushada district, killing a civilian and injuring scores of others. On 03 April, three civilians were injured when a car bomb exploded in the district of Mahmoudiya. The continued focus of ISIS militants on Baghdad reinforces expectations that violence levels will rise in the lead-up to the polls, especially as political leaders increasingly appeal to their respective sectarian base. Meanwhile, the situation in Anbar remained unchanged, with militants holding key areas of Ramadi and reinforcing their positions inside Fallujah, where local tribes tend to be more sympathetic to ISIS. Insurgents have reportedly been able to launch assaults against the Iraqi army surrounding the city, bringing the unrest closer to Baghdad. Three VBIEDs were recorded in eastern districts of Ramadi, though the lack of media reporting overshadows the magnitude of the conflict. While it has become increasingly certain that elections will be delayed in Anbar, the majority of militant resources are expected to remain directed against targets in Baghdad in the lead-up to the polls.
Babil continued to witness most of the violence across the south. On 03 April, three VBIEDs detonated in sequence in several areas of the restive province. In the most significant incident, a car bomb hit a crowded street of Hay Shuhada Thaniyah district, killing two civilians and injuring at least six others. Another VBIED detonated in eastern Wasit, killing a civilian and wounding three others. Though ISIS insurgents have moved closer to Baghdad, fuelling militant activity south of the capital, south-eastern provinces have remained insulated from major attacks. With elections looming and PM Maliki focusing his strategy on the Shia electorate, militant penetration in the south cannot be ruled out in the lead-up to the elections, as insurgents will most probably seek to influence the voting.