As the campaign for the upcoming parliamentary elections is set to start on April 01, Iraq’s political environment was marked by inter-party competition and developments which could threaten the organisation of the votes. On 25 March, the board of the Independent Electoral Commission (IHEC) resigned to protest against political and judicial interference, after the electoral body allegedly found itself caught between conflicting rulings from parliament and the judiciary regarding the exclusion of certain candidates from the elections. While the members later retracted their resignations, this statement comes amid accusations that the current Prime Minister is abusing the legislation to prevent some of his rivals from running in the elections. Meanwhile, State of Law MPs have been accusing Nujaifi’s Sunni-dominated coalition of trying to postpone the elections through delaying the endorsement of the 2014 budget.
Nouri al-Maliki, in seeking to win a third consecutive term, has been working towards garnering Shia votes from the relatively peaceful south-eastern provinces of the country. The budget bill, which has been approved by all Shia factions, including those opposed to Maliki, could bolster support around the State of Law and isolate the Sunni and Kurdish factions resisting it. The support of Shia MPs to Maliki over budget could also be politically detrimental to the Sadrists and the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, who have been vocal critics of government policies in the past weeks. As the ruling coalition appears well-positioned to navigate Iraq’s complex intra-elite system, violence continued to plague Sunni-dominated areas despite the lowest rate of VBIED incidents recorded in three months. Patterns of violence currently observed indicate that this relative disruption could precede a wave of mass-casualty attacks in the central provinces of Babil and Baghdad, as well as surrounding northern governorates. Several attacks against polling stations in Nineveh also suggest that the campaign leading up to the elections will witness a considerable uptick in violence and that militants will seek to disrupt the voting process to advance their cause.
Despite a near-absence of VBIED attacks, levels of violence in northern provinces remained consistent with previous weekly averages. Nineveh continued to attract most incidents, while Salahuddin witnessed a noticeable decrease in deadly attacks. The only car bomb recorded in Salahuddin, in the Baiyji district, detonated without causing any casualties. On 31 March, a VBIED attack in Mosul killed a soldier and wounded five others. Meanwhile, several IEDs targeted restive districts of Diyala and Kirkuk, with most attacks aimed against ISF elements. On 26 March, the Arab Council of Kirkuk requested a delay in the parliamentary elections due to security concerns. Though this demand is unlikely to be fulfilled, Kirkuk’s ethnic divide could be reflected in heightened tensions in the lead up to the polls, with an increase in violence levels to be expected. While Kurdish provinces remained free from militant attacks, Dahuk governorate witnessed a new influx of refugees from Syria on 27 March, prompting the provincial leaders to call for international help. While mass-casualty assaults were largely avoided this week, several attacks against polling stations in Mosul backed expectations that the electoral campaign will see an increase in militant activity. Sunni-dominated areas, including northern governorates, should remain especially vulnerable to militant operations.
Although Baghdad continued to draw the attention of most militant resources, VBIED incidents were nearly avoided this week. On 25 March, three soldiers were killed along with a civilian when a suicide bomber detonated his vehicle on a military convoy in al-Taji. On the same day, a car bomb which detonated against a bridge killed six people and injured at least 20 civilians. On 27 March, three IEDs exploded in sequence in the Al Adamiyah district and killed 15 civilians. At least 49 people were injured in the blasts. While this series of mass-casualty incidents signals that the capital remains a prime target for insurgents, the decrease in complex assaults aligns with a recurring pattern that suggests next week will see an increase in VBIED attacks in the central governorates. Furthermore, as the electoral campaign starts on April 01, militants could be saving their resources to strike political gatherings and polling stations, in a bid to disrupt the elections. Meanwhile, local initiatives aimed to find a political solution to the Anbar crisis failed to impact on levels of violence in the restive urban areas. Continued shelling and armed clashes in the cities killed scores of civilians in Ramadi, Fallujah and Haditha.
While south-eastern provinces remained largely insulated from militant attacks, Babil continued to witness the majority of violent assaults. On 31 March, a car bomb killed six soldiers in the vicinity of Hilla. Despite this incident however, VBIEDs were largely avoided in provinces surrounding Baghdad to the south. In line with current patterns of violence, this disruption is likely to precede a series of complex attacks in Babil, as central provinces are targeted with car bomb sequences every four weeks on average. In Basra, the abduction of an oil worker provided a reminder of the threat posed to foreign assets in the region, though the attack probably had criminal motives. As militants save their resources to concentrate their efforts on the electoral campaign and election day, ISIS insurgents could temporarily shift away from northern regions and target south-eastern provinces with sophisticated assaults over the next weeks.