Following preliminary electoral results confirming current Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki as the frontrunner, allegations of fraud multiplied over the reporting period, putting in jeopardy the process of quickly forming a government. On 22 May, former Prime Minister and leader of the Iraqiyya coalition Iyad Allawi publicly questioned the fairness of the elections, formulating veiled accusations against Maliki and his perceived autocratic leadership aimed at surviving politically. Accusations emerged both from within and without the Shia community, meaning that a Shia coalition is unlikely to materialise in the short term. Aside from Allawi’s bloc, the Sadrist movement and Kurdish lists, which are likely to be necessary for Maliki to form a majority in parliament, remain staunchly opposed to an alliance with the State of Law coalition. The next few weeks are therefore expected to witness negotiations on sensitive issues such as the oil and budget disagreements between Erbil and Baghdad. In parallel with electoral disputes and general stagnation in the political sphere, levels of violence recorded this week substantially increased across Iraq. This uptick in complex assaults coincided with Shia celebrations honouring the death of Imam al-Kadhim, one of the twelve successors to Prophet Muhammad. Aside from this event, which drew a considerable amount of militant resources, the frequency and intensity of attacks remained aligned with previous weekly averages, due to unchanged circumstances in Anbar and continued ISIS operational capabilities in the north. As assessed in the previous reporting period, competition between the various Shia parties continued to fuel tensions in the south, with several accounts of tribal fighting. As such, security dynamics are expected to remain consistent with continued political stagnation, with incident levels unlikely to witness drastic changes over the next weeks.
Levels of violence across the north witnessed a substantial uptick, with several mass-casualty incidents targeting civilian populations in all provinces, excluding Kurdistan. In Diyala, four Iranian workers were killed when a roadside bomb struck a convoy of vehicles belonging to an Iranian company building a gas pipeline. In a separate incident, a car bomb which hit a residential area in Kirkuk killed ten civilians and injured dozens. In Salahuddin, a suicide bomber detonated a VBIED near the al-Rayash checkpoint on the Tikrit-Baji road in Hajjaj Village, killing two soldiers and injuring eight others. Meanwhile, Nineveh continued to attract the majority of attacks, with several VBIEDs detonating in the Mosul area and causing scores of casualties. Kurdish provinces remained free from major incidents, amid new developments regarding the oil and budget disputes. While Kurdistan’s Prime Minister Massoud Barzani affirmed that Kurdish parties had overcome their internal differences, this move is likely aimed at obtaining concessions from Baghdad on oil exports to Turkey. Expectations are that Kurdish lists will remain unified as long as their coalition is able to capitalise on electoral divisions to extract benefits from the central government. Elsewhere across the North, violence levels are expected to remain unchanged.
At least 35 pilgrims were killed in three suicide bombings across the capital, as they converged on the shrine of Imam Kadhim in western Baghdad, ahead of a religious festival commemorating the Shia martyr’s death. In eastern Baghdad, a mini-bus approached a crowd of pilgrims near Tayaran Square and caused 14 fatalities. In Mansour, the capital’s western neighbourhood, a parked car exploded, killing six. Another bomb detonated in a parked vehicle in the capital’s east, also hitting a group of pilgrims. The most significant incident occurred in the Al-Sha’ab area, as a car bomb detonated against a crowd and caused nearly 50 casualties. Pilgrimages are frequently targeted by Sunni militants due to the high likelihood of hitting large numbers of civilians. In Anbar, four people were killed and 19 others wounded by artillery shelling on several neighbourhoods of Fallujah, amid government claims that the army had succeeded in retaking key areas of Ramadi. A car bomb went off in in the vicinity of a government compound in Haditha, killing three policemen and injuring five civilians. Claims that government forces are retaking insurgent-controlled territories are more likely a reflection of current divisions, as parties tend to use the Anbar crisis as a political tool to undermine their rivals. As most government resources remain absorbed by the coalition-building process, any shift in the security dynamics is unlikely in the short to medium term.
Political tensions, particularly between Shia factions, have been the main driver behind the increase in tribal fighting observed in the south-eastern provinces in the past weeks. On 22 May, skirmishes between Bani Malik and Albu Bakhit tribesmen in Basra ended without any casualties. Drive-by shootings also killed two individuals in the province, while tribal fighting involving several clans in Dhi Qar resulted in one serious casualty. While this trend should be maintained as political divisions are not expected to show any signs of improvement in the short term, Babil remained the prime focus of insurgents. Between 20 and 24 May, three car bombs detonated in residential neighbourhoods, injuring scores of civilians. Though the threat level across south-eastern provinces remains elevated, major incidents occurring over the next weeks should remain the product of internal Shia divisions rather than a result of expeditionary attacks from the north.