The reporting period saw a significant rise in the number of recorded incidents in Baghdad, as Al Qaeda in Iraq and Al Qaeda in Iraq Associated Movements seek to re-establish their grip on the City. An attack on an Iraqi Police check point that resulted in an Al Qaeda in Iraq flag being raised attracted headlines and raised questions about the ability of Iraqi Security Forces to cope come September this year.
The large number of arrests made in the north and north central areas last week appears to have had an affect, with the number of recorded hostile incidents dropping sharply. The Iraqi Security Forces continued to gain ground uncovering a number of arms caches around Ninevah and securing more arrests. However, these areas are renowned as insurgent strongholds and Al Qaeda in Iraq Associated Movements possess the capability to re-group relatively quickly.
Basra province was targeted by a simultaneous double Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Devices and an Improvised Explosive Device attack on 07 August that resulted in at least 46 dead and 180 wounded. This was the second such attack since May and demonstrates Al Qaeda in Iraq’s aim to stir up ethnic tensions in order to undermine the relatively secure southern areas of the country. A similar attack occurred in the usually quiet Al Kut in Wasit province on 03 August illustrating the widening of Al Qaeda’s scope of operations which is likely to continue during Ramadan.
The importance of the religious ceremonies of Ramadan tend to provoke a heightened level of attacks from insurgent groupings in Iraq who are keen to exploit the strict observance of rituals such as fasting, when Iraqis’ defenses are low. Spectacular attacks such as large scale bombings targeting religious gatherings can be common during this time, particularly in religious cities such as Karbala.
Iraq’s Security Forces continued to be subject to frequent attacks, at check points and during operations. Exemplifying this trend, on 11 August a bomb explosion in northern Diyala province killed eight Iraqi soldiers and wounded four others as they raided a house in Saadiya. Traffic police officers have experienced an unusually high level of targeting recently, prompting the Minister of Interior to request investigation into recent attacks, also recommending they use better protection equipment such as AK-47 assault rifles. The most recent attack occurred on 09 August when a bomb planted at the traffic police department in the Ghazaliya district of western Baghdad exploded, killing a traffic policeman and a bystander and wounding ten other people, including seven traffic police officers. This kind of targeting is expected to increase over the next few weeks as Al Qaeda in Iraq and Associated Movements seek to exacerbate instability as the United States Forces draw down and the government formation process remains in limbo.
The political wrangling in Iraq has rumbled on to no avail, as each week sees a new suggestion of potential alliances. The Shiite alliance formed between the State of Law coalition and the Iraqi National Alliance is said to be on its last legs as the latter refuses to accept Maliki’s candidacy for the position of Prime Minister. As the Shiite agreement appears to disintegrate, other factions have been vying for supremacy by attempting to form new mergers. The Kurds seemingly have acquired the best negotiating position despite gaining the least votes; their measured allegiances are none too committal and they also benefit from the sectarian quota system that unofficially awards them the position of the presidency. Talks of awarding this position to Allawi as a sort of concession for losing out on the role of Prime Minister are provocative for this reason.
The delays to formal negotiations have been based on the battle for the top roles and Maliki’s refusal to back down. Many party loyalists continue to support him, while others push for the promotion of another from within their ranks, fearing that if they do not put forward a new candidate, the State of Law Coalition will lose its position of authority.
Iraqiyya continue to press on with their demands for proper representation in government as the party with the most votes. Senior officials have been quoted as saying that the State of Law Coalition is being obstructive and Maliki will need to back down for things to move forward. This explains the temporary freeze in progress that Iraq is experiencing as the key players await Maliki’s next move.
On 04 August Maliki announced, “I am ready to come down from the prime minister's nominee for another potential candidate, if the new candidate will win 60 percent of votes by the members of State of Law in Iraq." If another candidate is fielded then Maliki could potentially execute the “Putin option” of exerting influence from behind the scenes through a supportive ruler. This may yet be too late, as Sadrists recently suggested an Iraqqiya, Iraqi National Alliance and Kurdish formation for the new government. Whether the Sadrists with their staunch views and testy negotiation skills will be able to oversee this formation is questionable, but their case is afforded credence by the current status of the State of Law with the lack of a new candidate leaving Maliki in power.
A leader of the Sadrist Movement, Balqis Guli Muhammad remarked on the clarity that Maliki’s position was lending to negotiations saying, “What has become apparent now is that the Kurds, the National Alliance and the Iraqi List (Iraqiyya) may form a government… given that, the prime minister will be from Iraqiyya, the president will be a Kurd, and the parliament speaker will be a member of the Iraqi National Alliance.” This is of course very presumptuous and more an assertion of the Sadrist desire to gain power than of the strength of this potential alliance. What is clear is that it is all still to play for in the formation of government as none of the proposed combinations has a clear path to success. Consolidation of a new government remains elusive, though with Maliki’s recent concession we could begin to see progress in the recommendation of an alternative prime ministerial candidate.
The most prevalent form of attack during the period was Under Vehicle Improvised Explosive Devices targeting individuals, including an Iraqi Security Forces Colonel. The tempo of Indirect Fire attacks slowed from last week with only one reported attack against the International Zone on 03 August, an ineffective attack against Baghdad International Airport and an attack against United States Forces – Iraq in Taji. All of these attacks were assessed to be resultant from Shia’a insurgents. Shia’a insurgents were also believed to be responsible for two Explosively Formed Projectile attacks against United States Forces patrols in Sadiyah and New Baghdad.
The most symbolic incident in the city was an Al Qaeda in Iraq attack against an Iraqi Police check point in eastern Mansour. The attack killed five Iraqi Police Services members and injured several others. This was the second such attack since 29 July but was particularly noteworthy as an Al Qaeda in Iraq flag was raised at the check point. This attack is further evidence of Al Qaeda in Iraq’s attempts to re-establish themselves as open source reporting indicates that the group is looking to tempt disgruntled Sahwa (Awakening) Forces/Concerned Local Citizens members away from Iraqi Security Forces with cash payments. These offers may be tempting to some Sunni fighters who are dismayed by late payments and anticipate the sidelining of Sunni politicians in the formation of the new government.
On 07 August two Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Devices and an Improvised Explosive Device detonated in quick succession in the al Ashar district of Basra City, resulting in 43 dead and 180 injured according to an Iraqi Health Ministry source quoted by local media. A claim of responsibility has yet to be made but it is assessed that this was an Al Qaeda in Iraq or Associated Movements attack.
Iraqi Security Forces have suspected an Al Qaeda cell of operating in the Az Zubayr region since the 10 May Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive attacks, however it is questionable whether a cell would be able to build and deploy devices of this size in a Shia dominated province under the scrutiny of Iraqi Security Forces. It is possible that the devices were constructed outside the province and then deployed by volunteers with good local knowledge. A blame game between the Provincial Council and Iraqi Security Forces leadership has already begun and the Security Forces will be under pressure to achieve results. Public anger is likely to be directed against provincial and national level politicians whose failure to form a government that provides basic services and security threatens to radicalise ordinary citizens and spark civil unrest.
On 03 August, Shia insurgents attacked Basra Contingency Operating Base with 240mm rockets, the first time munitions of this kind have been used since 2008. The tempo of Indirect Fire attacks has slowed since last month, possibly as a result of a large weapons cache discovered on 01 August south of Az Zubayr. Amongst the cache were 76 rockets, which will have had an affect on at least one Shia insurgent cell operating in the province.
United States Forces - Iraq, Private Security Details and other foreign interests will continue to be targeted with Improvised Explosive Device attacks, in particular along the main and arterial supply routes. An Improvised Explosive Device attack against a civilian truck south of Nasiriyah on 01 August is likely to have been intended for a passing United States Forces patrol.