Just two weeks after a number of bombs wracked Baghdad, another series of mass casualty attacks occurred in Iraq targeting Shiites. This time explosives went off in two neighborhoods of Baghdad, and a small town in Dhi Qar province where pilgrims were walking towards Karbala for a religious ceremony leaving over 200 casualties. The press tied the attacks to the current political crisis within Iraq’s government, but they were probably planned out far before the current breakdown between political parties. There was also talk of Iraq descending back into civil war. While no one took responsibility yet, the bombings were likely the work of al Qaeda in Iraq. A look back at their operations showed that they carried out the exact same types of attacks in January 2011, and there was no retaliation by Shiites that could lead to a new civil conflict. The recent violence then, was just a continuation of the current status quo, not a change in Iraq’s security situation.
January 5, 2012’s violence specifically targeted Shiites. The attacks started at 7 a.m. when a bomb attached to a motorcycle went off in Sadr City next to a group of day laborers. Thirty-minutes later, when emergency workers arrived on the scene, two more bombs detonated, killing nine and wounding 35. About an hour later, two car bombs went off in the Kadhimiya district leaving 15 dead, and 50 wounded. Then, in the southern Iraqi town of Batha outside of Nasiriyah in Dhi Qar province, a suicide bomber slipped through security to enter a crowd of Shiite pilgrims walking towards Karbala. Two soldiers noticed the attacker, and tackled him to the ground when he set off his bomb vest. 48 ended up being killed, and another 81 were wounded. The pilgrims were heading towards the holy city of Karbala to commemorate Arbayeen, a ceremony to mark the death of the Imam Hussein Ibn Ali who died in a battle in the city in 680 A.D. Hussein was the grandson of the Prophet Mohammed. Early reports had a total of 72 deaths and 166 wounded. No one took responsibility, but they closely followed previous operations by Al Qaeda in Iraq, which has repeatedly targeted Shiites during their religious holidays and events.
|Damage done in Sadr City, Baghdad (Reuters)|
|Kadhimiya, Baghdad (AP)|
|Another scene from Kadhimiya (AFP)|
The western press and pundits linked the bombings to the on-going crisis between Iraq’s political parties. In late December 2011, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki asked for a no confidence vote against his deputy Saleh al-Mutlaq for neglecting his duties, and issued an arrest warrant for Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi on terrorism charges. Both are leaders in the rival Iraqi National Movement. The problem with that analysis is that attacks like these take weeks of preparation, planning, intelligence, etc. These probably started before the current crisis even began.The bombings have also not had a noticeable affect upon the political dispute.
Another line of argument made in media reports was that the bombings could lead to a new civil war in Iraq. The Christian Science Monitor for example, ran the headline “Iraq bombings, political crisis raise concerns of renewed civil war.” The Washington Post quoted Kenneth Pollack of the Brookings Institution and an analyst from the National Defense University warning about possible retaliation by Shiite militias such as Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army. Again, these arguments had problems because they missed previous attack patterns, and how Shiite politicians and groups have responded. For instance, Al Qaeda in Iraq conducted very similar operations a year ago. On January 20, 2011, 56 Shiite pilgrims were killed by car bombs in Karbala, followed by another 33 killed as they walked towards the holy city four days later. That was followed by a February 12 attack upon Shiites heading towards the Samarra mosque in Salahaddin, and 22 pilgrims executed in Nikhaib, Anbar on September 22. In fact, nearly every Shiite pilgrimage, holiday, or ceremony has been attacked for years now. Since the end of the civil war in 2008, the community has condemned the violence, but not struck back. There doesn’t appear to be any reason why they would suddenly change this time around.
Iraq is still a deadly country with daily occurrences of shootings and explosions. Security incidents actually dropped in the last year by nearly 40%. Total deaths were largely unchanged from 2010 to 2011 however, because of mass casualty attacks like those that occurred on December 22 and January 5. Al Qaeda in Iraq is not what it used to be, but it is still very capable of conducting these deadly operations nearly every month. Whether the United States kept their forces in Iraq or not, this situation would continue, since the Americans were not able to stop the previous bombings. Unfortunately, they have become the norm within the country, which means that they are unlikely to change the current status quo, and lead to a new civil war. The government and the Shiite community have not responded with anything but words to this violence, and this new round of explosions does not look to change that.
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