Since the United States withdrew its military in December 2011, Iraq’s insurgents have grown bolder and deadlier. Press reports of large scale attacks in 2012 would seem to point to this turn of events, but the number of deaths and security incidents are largely unchanged from 2011 to 2012. It’s only upon closer examination of the number of casualties per attack and the fact that Shiite Special Groups have largely ceased their operations that the turn in security can be deciphered. This largely undermines hopes that the insurgency would be fading now that foreign forces are out of Iraq.
The aggregate numbers on security in Iraq show little change over the last fourteen months. According to the United Nations, there was a drop in attacks from the first half of 2011 to the second, but then they have held steady into 2012. In the first quarter of 2011 there was an average of 441 attacks per month. That went up to 524 in the second quarter, but then decreased to 354 and 322 in the last two quarters of the year. The number of security incidents then stayed relatively level at 289 in the first quarter of 2012 and 326 in the second. Deaths have plateaued as well. Using figures from the U.N. and Iraq Body Count, in the first quarter of 2011 there were an average of 292 casualties per month, 344 in the second, 392 in the third, and 343 in the fourth. That trend continued into 2012 with averages of 354 casualties in the 1st quarter, and 342 in the next. Recent news stories of mass casualty attacks would seem to point to the security situation in Iraq worsening, but the statistics show that for the last twelve months there has been little change within the country. From the third quarter of 2011 to the second of 2012 attacks and deaths have almost flat-lined. That shows despite the headline grabbing attacks groups like Al Qaeda in Iraq are carrying out there are within the norm, and do not point towards increasing insecurity. A deeper analysis is needed to really understand what is currently going on however.
A break down of the daily attacks in Iraq, and an analysis of who is responsible for these incidents provides further insight into the security situation. When casualties per attack are analyzed it reveals that Iraq’s militants are growing deadlier. Using U.N. statistics, there was an average of 0.63 deaths per attack in the first quarter of 2011. That level was continued into the second quarter with an average of 0.64. Over the course of the next year however, those numbers nearly doubled. In the third quarter of 2011 there was an average of 1.21 deaths per incident, then 1.1 in the fourth, 1.19 in the first quarter of 2012, and 1.07 in the next. Those were higher than any quarterly counts since the start of 2008. It’s also important to note that a whole class of attacks has largely ceased in the country. Those are by Special Groups and Shiite militias. Before the U.S. withdrawal in December 2011, they were picking up their operations to try to cause as many American casualties as possible, so that the Shiite militants could claim that they were responsible for the U.S. leaving. Now, those parties may only be responsible for a few assassinations of their political opponents per month. That means insurgents have vastly increased the scope of their attacks since the monthly numbers have largely stayed the same from the end of 2011 into the first half of 2012. Both trends point to an increasingly efficient group of Sunni armed groups within the country.
The withdrawal of American forces from Iraq has not improved security. In fact, the country has become more dangerous since their departure. Al Qaeda in Iraq, the Baathist Naqshibandi, and other insurgent groups are now carrying out more operations, and killing more people in each attack. That undermines hopes that militants would be in decline after foreign forces were out of the country, and that reconciliation might be possible. Instead, Sunni militants have simply gone from targeting the Americans to the Iraqi security forces and government officials. Al Qaeda in Iraq and its umbrella organization the Islamic State of Iraq are ideologically driven and have a deep hatred of Shiites who they consider apostates. Baathists, seeing successive waves of arrests of alleged former regime members and the barring of candidates for ties to the party in recent elections see no reason to compromise either. Other insurgent groups also believe that the consolidation of power by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki means that Shiite parties have no reason to compromise with Sunni ones, and see Baghdad as being tools of Iran who has always been an existential enemy of Iraq. The continued political disputes since the 2010 parliamentary vote also means that the ruling elites are more concerned with their personal struggles over power than the security situation. Iraq’s security forces are no longer carrying out counterinsurgency operations like they did when they were cooperating with the Americans. All together that means there will be no respite in attacks and casualties. At the same time, it is very important to note that violence in Iraq is nothing like what it was before during the sectarian civil war. Despite the deadlier attacks, those are concentrated in specific areas, and target certain groups. For Iraqis in southern and northern Iraq for instance, bombings and shootings are very rare. Even in Baghdad, areas away from government buildings, checkpoints, and Shiite shrines are largely quiet. This all points to the complicated security situation that exists in Iraq, which daily reporting on attacks and monthly statistics on casualties cannot capture.
Inter-Agency Information and Analysis Unit, “Security in Iraq”
Iraq Body Count