Levels of violence are rising in Iraq. While some commentators in the press are referring to the increase as a spike, regular readers of Iraq Business News will understand that the rise has actually been very gradual - but consistent - with the number of attacks building up all the way from the beginning of the year. Last week AKE raised the risk rating for the country on Global Intake amid the slowly deteriorating situation and while it is our opinion that Iraq remains a major business opportunity, companies nonetheless need to emphasise the health, safety and security elements of their projects so as to minimise the risk of harm to their staff and assets.
Groups have not claimed responsibility for the latest string of violence but AKE believes that there is more than one organisation involved. Three of the attacks, including one in Basrah province, involved well planned and co-ordinated attacks using suicide bombers. This is a hallmark of radical Sunni groups such as the Islamic State of Iraq, while the targeting of the government and security forces is also typical of the group. Al-Qaeda affiliated organisations still have intentions of creating their own religious state in the country. While they have been critically weakened over the past four years they remain unwilling to compromise or negotiate with what they see as a corrupt, foreign-backed and apostate government. At the same time, recent attacks in the capital have taken place in areas normally associated with Shi'ah groups, while the prevalence of rocket and mortar attacks also suggests their involvement. Threat groups evidently abound on both sides of the sectarian divide.
Some of the latest attacks have specifically targeted the places where individuals are supposed to be protected. Military bases, police stations and government compounds have all been targeted. Even normally well-guarded districts such as Jadriyah in Baghdad have been hit. While the Green Zone has not recently been attacked, it may be next on the target list if militant groups want to make an impact on the foreign presence in the country. While it remains well defended against infiltration it is nonetheless still vulnerable to rocket and mortar attacks.
There are several possible reasons why conditions have worsened over recent weeks. As mentioned, conditions have been deteriorating gradually since the beginning of the year. Many are frustrated with the government's inability to provide electricity and jobs. Amid the 'Arab Spring' elsewhere in the region, Iraq too has suffered its own unrest, and some of the more radicalised elements of the frustrated population may be turning to militancy to express their dissatisfaction with the government.
The rise in attacks specifically against foreign interests is likely due to a different trend. The US is coming under increasing pressure to withdraw its military from the country by the end of the year. Amid speculation over the possibility of an extension of the Status Of Forces Agreement it could be that radical groups are attempting to send a strong signal to Washington that American forces are not welcome.
Foreign organisations looking to do business in the country should not be alarmed by what has been a very slow evolving trend in deteriorating security this year. However, safety needs to be treated as paramount when planning trips, meetings, accommodation and projects. Crisis management measures should also be taken into consideration. If you would like any assistance in planning an upcoming visit or you would like any advice in reviewing your current security measures please contact the AKE Iraq office at [email protected]
John Drake is a senior risk consultant with AKE, a British private security firm working in Iraq from before 2003. Further details on the company can be found here while AKE’s intelligence and political risk website Global IntAKE can be accessed here.