Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Who Is Behind The Assassinations In Iraq?

In the spring heading into the summer of 2011, Iraq witnessed a wave of assassinations. The main targets were government officials and members of the security forces. The number of people killed in these attacks was relatively small compared to the overall monthly casualty counts, but that was not the point. These hits were meant to undermine the standing of the government by showing that even those that worked for it were not safe. At first, insurgents and Special Groups were blamed for most of the murders, but now it has been revealed that members of the security forces in Baghdad were likely involved, and political parties might have participated as well.

(MEMRI Blog)
The number of assassinations has gone down dramatically as the summer has tapered off, but weekly attempts still occur. At first, most of them took place in Baghdad, but now they occur throughout central and northern Iraq. That can be seen in the first seven days of September. On September 4, a parliamentarian from the Iraqi National Movement escaped a bomb going off outside of his house in Muqtadiya in Diyala province. The next day, the colonel in command of Kirkuk’s emergency police had his car booby trapped, the Deputy Minister of Housing had his motorcade fired upon in central Baghdad, and the commander of the Baghdad Operations Command General Ahmed Hashem had his convoy hit by a roadside bomb near the Baghdad provincial council buildings. People were wounded in these attacks, but their intended targets escaped. Finally, on September 7, a sheikh in Diwaniya, Qadisiyah was killed in a home invasion, gunmen with silencers assassinated a former member of the Qadisiyah provincial council, and a member of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council eluded gunmen while he was heading home in Kut, Wasit province. That same day, four gunmen murdered a Sons of Iraq leader in his house in Tikrit, Salahaddin, and a bomb killed another in Baquba, Diyala. These are typical of the assassinations seen in Iraq in the last year. Bombs and guns, especially with silencers are the weapons of choice. The majority of targets are government workers, although two Sons of Iraq leaders were killed as well at the beginning of September. Most of the time they are struck in their homes or while they are driving. The attacks on motorcades also point to the sophistication of the hit teams because it requires a lot of intelligence work over a long period of time to record the movement patterns of officials, especially because the higher ups usually vary their itinerary to prevent just such types of attacks. Inside sources from within the government are likely providing some of this information, and officials have now admitted this.

At first, Sunni and Shiite militants were blamed for the wave of assassinations, but recently it’s been revealed that members of the security forces were also involved. In May 2011 for example, the Baghdad Operations Command said that Shiite Special Groups funded by Iran and Al Qaeda in Iraq were behind most of the killings. The Special Groups were said to be targeting former Baathists, while the Islamists were simply trying to undermine the government. In the next few months, officials revealed that the problem went much deeper. In June, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki claimed that members of the security forces were involved. In a televised cabinet meeting, the premier stated that militias had infiltrated the Interior Ministry and were using government ids and weapons to kill government officials. Then in August, the Baghdad Operations Command announced that it had issued orders for all guards and police in Baghdad to turn in their revolvers because most of the assassinations in the capital had been carried out using government guns. This applied to both the Interior and Defense Ministries. It should have come as no surprise that all of these groups were involved. Militants could be carrying out hits not only for political reasons, but as guns for hire to raise money. The intelligence gathering required to carry out some of the assassinations also implied official collusion, which pointed to members of the security forces. They too could be contracting out for cash, and are infiltrated by militants. Another reason may be that they are working at the behest of political parties.

In August, two reports came out accusing Iraq’s politicians of being behind some of the murders occurring in the country. First, Michael Knights of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy wrote a piece for Foreign Affairs stating that the main Shiite parties, the Sadrists, the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC), and Maliki’s Dawa Party were fighting over control of the security forces and areas of the country. That led them to take advantage of the wave of assassinations to carry out some of their own against officers in the security forces, politicians, and others. Kenneth Pollack of the Brookings Institution also penned an article in the National Interest where he claimed the political deadlock in the country after the March 2010 national elections had led the leading parties to resort to tit for tat attacks upon each other. While these two authors’ claims are far from definitive it would not be shocking that parties were carrying out some of these hits. It was just a few years ago that these Shiite parties were killing each other during the civil conflict. The Sadrists and the Supreme Council for example, had a running war throughout the country. With all the killings going on at the hands of insurgents and Special Groups, it would be quite easy for the parties to sneak in a few of their own as the political deadlock dragged on, and tempers wore thin. This also connects to the security forces, because many of the police are loyal to one political party or another

After the number of assassinations ballooned in the summer, the government was forced to respond. The security forces have reportedly captured many of the assassination gangs working in Baghdad. That may be the reason why there are not as many happening now as before, and why the killings have moved outside of the capital. Who is behind them is still not completely clear. Shiite and Sunni militants are obviously behind the vast majority of them. The question is whether the political parties are actively involved. If they are that would bring these assassinations to a completely different level from low level terrorism to political violence. Right now it’s impossible to tell what the truth of the matter is, and only time will tell who is behind all of this.


Al Arabiya, “Government to withdraw police pistols and protection and prevent the use of mobile phones within the security services,” 9/1/11

Arango, Tim, “Iraq’s Forces Prove Able, but Loyalty Is Uncertain,” New York Times, 4/13/10

Aswat al-Iraq, “Former member of Diwaniya Province dies due to injuries,” 9/8/11
- “Housing & Reconstruction Ministry’s Undersecretary escapes assassination,” 9/5/11
- “Al-Iraqiya Coalition’s Legislature escapes assassination attempt,” 9/4/11
- “Kirkuk’s security official escapes assassination attempt,” 9/5/11
- “Sahwa leader assassinated in Diala,” 9/7/11
- “Sahwa leader killed in Salah al-Din,” 9/7/11
- “Sheikh killed, ex-official wounded in Diwaniya,” 9/7/11
- “URGENT / Baghdad Operations Commander escapes assassination attempt,” 9/5/11

Bakri, Nada, “In Iraq, battling an internal bane,” Washington Post, 10/22/09

Knights, Michael, “Iraq’s Relentless Insurgency: The Fight for Power ahead of U.S. Withdrawal,” Foreign Affairs, 8/22/11

McClatchy Newspapers, “Death squads have infiltrated Iraqi government, al-Maliki says,” 6/16/11

National Iraq News Agency, “SIIC official escapes assassination in Kut,” 9/7/11

Pollack, Kenneth, “Something Is Rotten in the State of Iraq,” National Interest, 8/24/11

Radio Nawa, “Qassim Atta: League of the Righteous, and Al Qaeda were responsible for the death in Baghdad,” 7/29/11

Raghavan, Sudarsan, “Shiite Clerics’ Rivalry Deepens In Fragile Iraq,” Washington Post, 12/21/06

Al-Sabah al-Jadid, “Senior Military Official: Most Assassinations in Baghdad Carried Out With Government Weapons,” MEMRI Blog, 8/25/11

Al-Zaman, “Baghdad Military Command Attributes Assassinations to Iran-Financed Shi’a Militia, Not Al-Qaeda,” MEMRI Blog, 5/17/11

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