Levels of violence rose last week in Iraq as Shi'ahs marked al-'Ashura. Pilgrims travelling to the holy city of Karbala were attacked on several occasions, in Baghdad and the central provinces, although Karbala itself saw little in the way of violence. The police arrested numerous suspected militants ahead of the event and many potentially deadly suicide attacks were prevented by the authorities. Over the coming days security measures are likely to be lessened, although terrorist attacks aimed at discrediting the government-formation process are still a possibility.
For the last two weeks the north of the country has been relatively quiet. Even Mosul and Kirkuk have seen fewer attacks than normal, while Iraqi Kurdistan has remained relatively trouble free as usual. Many Christians have fled to the Kurdish-administered north amid persecution in Baghdad and Mosul. While this migration constitutes a crisis for the Christian community in Iraq, it is also testament to the far greater levels of safety present in Kurdistan.
Levels of violence rose in the central provinces last week, with attacks targeting Shi'ah pilgrims on their way to Karbala for al-'Ashura. The Iraqi police were also targeted, likely in retaliation from recent operations. Numerous arrests have been made over the last few weeks, and many attacks, including potentially devastating suicide attacks, were prevented by police activity. However, there will be a limit to the amount of time that the latest detainees will be held, and when they are released some may continue to pose a security risk. At least one suicide bomber in December is believed to have been a former inmate released under an amnesty.
Last week was relatively quiet in the south of Iraq although there were several indirect fire (rocket and mortar) attacks on US military bases. A vehicle laden with explosives was also recovered by the authorities in Basrah city. Two Iranian nationals were amongst those detained with the vehicle, highlighting concerns about cross-border smuggling of weaponry and militants from Iran. Otherwise, a number of people were injured in tribal clashes in the north of Dhi Qar province on 14 December. Tribal sensitivities are highly significant for companies working in rural parts of the south. Those intent on finding out about current issues in southern communities are advised to conduct due diligence and investigations to ensure that business operations are not fomenting localised discontent. For further information on due diligence in Iraq please contact the AKE Intelligence department at email@example.com or +44 (0) 207 816 5454.
John Drake is a senior risk consultant with AKE Group, a British private security firm working in Iraq from before 2003. Further details on the company can be found at www.akegroup.com/iraq
You can also follow John on twitter at www.twitter.com/johnfdrake