Levels of violence fell in Iraq last week. Militant activity was concentrated in the central region, although there were also several bombings in Mosul. The majority of explosive devices detonated over the week were small, usually inflicting injuries rather than fatalities. Shootings are currently more of a concern, with the authorities put on high alert following a string of targeted killings around the capital The week also saw the return of anti-US cleric Muqtada al-Sadr who called for the US to withdraw from the country by the end of the year. The Shi'ah militant group Kata'ib Hizbullah also warned of violence if the current Status of Forces Agreement was not adhered to by Washington.
While conditions in the north have been unusually quiet over the past month, the total number of incidents has been gradually creeping up, slowly but consistently over the last three weeks. The lull is not expected to last and violence is likely to increase over the coming weeks, particularly in Mosul. On 6 January a local resident was abducted by a criminal group in the city, although he was freed two days later by the authorities. Kidnap for ransom remains a significant issue in the provinces of Ninawa and Ta'mim but the authorities are slowly becoming more adept at tackling the situation. For further information on the subject please see the latest AKE analytical article. Meanwhile, Kurdistan remains very quiet with no concerning incidents recorded in the area for weeks.
As warned, targeted shootings directed at mid-level state employees and senior figures in the Iraqi security forces continue. However, activity is no longer contained in Baghdad, with a series of attacks involving similar targeting in the neighbouring province of Anbar. Here, however, the perpetrators have also been using roadside explosive devices and suicide bombers to attack their targets, not just guns with silencers which has been most common in the capital. The authorities have been put on high alert and curfews may be imposed at short notice, particularly around Anbar if further assassination attacks take place. Otherwise, over the coming week Shi'ah pilgrims are expected to begin travelling towards the holy city of Karbala to commemorate Arba'een. As with the recent Ashura pilgrimage there will be a risk of route closures, increased searches at security checkpoints and roadside attacks by Sunni extremists attempting to stir up sectarian tensions during the religious period.
The Shi'ah cleric and anti-US political figure Muqtada al-Sadr returned to Iraq on an official basis last week. Commentators have speculated over whether his return signifies a positive or a negative factor for Iraqi political development. From a security perspective, he has warned the US to withdraw from the country by the end of the year and he still retains the support of a large body of men willing to take up arms to support him. He is also not without his own potentially violent opponents. His feared militia the Mehdi Army (Jaysh al-Mahdi) is the not the only armed Shi’ah group vying for influence in the south. On 7 January a bomb placed in the car of a former Jaysh al-Mahdi member left him and his brother dead in Nassiriyah. The Iraqi security forces are stronger now than at any period since 2003 but they may still struggle to contain intra-Shi’ah militant violence in the future if there is a resurgence in rivalries between key political players in the south.
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
For further information on kidnap and ransom in Iraq please see the latest AKE analytical article.
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