By Tom Walker, Director, Assaye Risk
Severe countrywide violence has gripped Iraq this week in a continuation of recent sectarian hostilities, which claimed the lives of approx. 401 people, bringing the yearly total to approx. 2486.
After a brief period of respite levels of violence rose dramatically during this brief reporting period with multiple high impact attacks across the country, especially in the central and southern belts. Baghdad and surrounding provinces have undoubtedly borne the brunt of the violence during the week, which has seen the most fatalities of any month since the final quarter of 2012, however the northern cities of Mosul and Kirkuk have also experienced heightened levels of violence. Of note this week was a shift in violence further south as Basra experienced a number of high impact attacks; the first since 10 people were killed in a similar series of events in March.
Wednesday 15 May saw bomb attacks in Shi'ite areas of Baghdad and northern Iraq kill more than 35 people, following a week of relative calm.
A string of car bombings hit Shi'ite neighbourhoods across the capital Baghdad, including one outside a cafe and another at a market, killing at least 22 people and wounding dozens more. A suicide bomber on a motorcycle also blew himself up near a police patrol in northern Baghdad; killing at least two officers in attacks that specifically targeted the ISF and Shiia communities. Earlier in the day, further north, a roadside bomb killed a policeman in a town near Mosul, 390km north of Baghdad, and Kirkuk was rocked as 10 people were killed when two car bombs exploded near government buildings in the centre of the city.
As the week continued the country experienced varying regional shifts in the violence, possibly as insurgent groups migrated to resupply or shift their focus, but also in direct tit-for-tat revenge attacks as the various sectarian groups targeted one another. Friday 17 May saw a continuation of previous weeks trends where Friday Prayers provided attack focal points and opportunity rich targets for Shiia groups who were likely acting in the wake of a sustained campaign by Sunni insurgents against the Shiia community earlier in the week.
In one of the most deadly attacks in this month-long surge in sectarian violence IEDs targeted Sunni mosques in Baquba, 50km northeast of Baghdad, killing 43 people. In a sophisticated attack insurgents detonated a bomb outside a mosque, which was followed by a second explosion targeting emergency services and crowds of people rushing to help victims of the first attack. In a typically grizzly account of the unfolding events local and national television showed images of bodies, pools of blood and the victims' scattered shoes - "I was about 30 meters from the first explosion. When the first exploded, I ran to help them, and the second one went off. I saw bodies flying and I had shrapnel in my neck," said a local bystander.