Monday, June 3, 2013

Iraq’s Insurgency Goes On The Offensive Resulting In Highest Monthly Death Counts in Years


Iraq’s security situation has literally exploded. Al Qaeda in Iraq was already at the tail end of its latest offensive when security forces used excessive force against protesters in the town of Hawija in Tamim province in April 2013. That allowed militant groups to exploit the growing anger amongst the Sunni population, and launch a new wave of retaliatory attacks. That has led to a growing number of bombings and mass casualty attacks that have resulted in the highest death counts seen in years.

All four organizations that track casualties in Iraq saw a dramatic jump from April to May 2013. Iraq Body Count went from 561 killed in April to 883 in May. That was the largest amount since 1,266 in April 2008 when the civil war was still going on. Baghdad’s ministries reported 681deaths, up from 208 in April. That was the most since 851 in July 2008. Agence France Presse had 614 killed. The highest figure was from the United Nations with 1,045 casualties, compared to 712 in April. The U.N. had not recorded that many deaths since October 2008. Together, Iraq Body Count, the government, and the U.N. averaged out to 869 deaths for the month, and 28.0 killed per day versus 16.4 in April. Casualties had been going up since December 2012 when Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) launched its latest offensive. They have now been joined by a major effort by other militant groups such as the Baathist Naqshibandi group. They are all trying to portray themselves as defenders of the country’s Sunnis against the Shiite led government. They are using that to actively recruit amongst the protesters and tribes in provinces like Anbar, Salahaddin, Diyala, Tamim, Ninewa, and Baghdad. AQI is also going after both Sunni and Shiite targets in its continuing effort to restart the sectarian civil war.

Deaths In Iraq 2011-2013
Month
Iraq Body Count
Iraqi Ministries
United Nations
Avg. Monthly Deaths
Avg. Daily Deaths
Agence France Presse
Jan. 2011
389
259
265
304
9.8
N/A
Feb.
252
167
267
228
8.1
N/A
Mar.
311
247
268
275
8.8
N/A
Apr.
289
211
279
259
8.6
N/A
May
381
177
319
292
9.4
N/A
Jun.
386
271
424
360
12.0
N/A
Jul.
308
259
381
316
10.1
N/A
Aug.
401
239
455
365
11.7
N/A
Sep.
397
185
405
329
10.9
N/A
Oct.
366
258
416
346
11.1
N/A
Nov.
279
187
264
243
8.1
N/A
Dec.
388
155
313
285
9.2
N/A
2011 Mo. Avg.
345
217
338
300
9.8
N/A
2011 Totals
4,147
2,615
4,056
-
-
-
Jan. 2012
524
151
500
391
12.6
N/A
Feb.
356
150
254
253
9.0
N/A
Mar.
377
112
294
261
8.4
N/A
Apr.
392
126
320
279
9.3
N/A
May
304
132
332
256
8.2
N/A
Jun.
529
131
401
353
11.7
282
Jul.
469
325
338
377
12.1
278
Aug.
422
164
292
292
9.4
278
Sep.
396
365
398
386
12.8
253
Oct.
290
144
189
207
6.6
136
Nov.
239
166
330
245
8.1
160
Dec.
275
208
230
237
7.6
144
2012 Mo. Avg.
381
181
323
294
9.6
218
(7 mo.)
2012 Totals
4,573
2,174
3,878
-
-
1,531
(7 mo.)
Jan. 2013
357
177
319
259
8.3
246
Feb.
358
136
418
242
8.6
220
Mar.
394
163
456
337
10.8
271
Apr.
561
208
712
493
16.4
461
May
883
681
1,045
869
28.0
614
2013 Mo. Avg.
510
273
590
440
14.4
362
2013 Totals
2,553
1,365
2,950
-
-
1,812



Site of a bombing in eastern Baghdad on May 20, the deadliest day of the year (AP)

The signs of this increased activity by the insurgents are everywhere. First, the number of days per month that have seen 30 or more fatalities according to Iraq Body Count has gone up. In May, there were ten such days topped off by May 27 when 81 were killed, May 17 when 93 were killed across Diyala, Baghdad, Anbar, Salahaddin, Ninewa, and Tamim, and May 20 when 134 died in Baghdad, Basra, Salahaddin, Babil, Anbar, Diyala, Ninewa, Qadisiyah, and Tamim. In April, there were seven such days with 71 killed on April 23. In March and April there were only three days like that in each month, while there were five in January.

Days With 30 Or More Fatalities Per Month In 2013, Iraq Body Count
January 2013
1/23/13 – 46 killed
1/22/13 – 34 killed
1/17/13 – 31 killed
1/16/13 – 46 killed
1/3/13 – 34 killed
February 2013
2/17/13 – 59 killed
2/8/13 – 38 killed
2/3/13 – 40 killed
March 2013
3/29/13 – 30 killed
3/19/13 – 73 killed
3/14/13 – 34 killed
April 2013
4/29/13 – 34 killed
4/24/13 – 32 killed
4/23/13 – 71 killed
4/18/13 – 30 killed
4/15/13 – 62 killed
4/6/13 – 34 killed
4/1/13 – 55 killed
May 2013
5/30/13 – 34 killed
5/29/13 – 35 killed
5/28/13 – 45 killed
5/27/13 – 81 killed
5/21/13 – 46 killed
5/20/13 – 134 killed
5/18/13 – 33 killed
5/17/13 – 93 killed
5/15/13 – 40 killed
5/1/13 – 31 killed

Insurgents have also attacked a mix of Sunni and Shiite targets to try to increase tensions between the two communities, and hopefully get them to turn upon each other. At the beginning of May, there was an attempted bombing in Karbala. On May 20, the deadliest day of the year so far, eight car bombs went off in mostly Shiite areas of Baghdad, and two car bombs detonated in Basra, and a suicide bomber and roadside bomb detonated outside a Shiite mosque in Hillah, Babil. During the month, there were also attempts upon the Salahaddin, Ninewa, and Anbar governors. The attacks in the south were likely done by Al Qaeda in Iraq, which is still carrying out a major offensive. Bombings in southern Iraq is a hallmark of their increased operations. The other bombings could have been done by any insurgent group such as the Naqshibandi or the Islamic Army.

PM Maliki has gone on a public relations campaign visiting checkpoints in Baghdad (Al-Mada)

The government has responded by launching major military operations of its own, and reshuffling the military and intelligence leadership. On May 16, Baghdad announced The Ghost, which was aimed at flushing out Al Qaeda camps in the outback of Anbar province. Later, the Defense Ministry said that it was increasing operations against AQI in Anbar, Ninewa, Diyala, Salahaddin, Babil, and Baghdad. Towards the middle of May Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki reshuffled his commanders. Ground forces commander General Ali Ghidan was replaced by General Salahaddin Mustafa. The Director of the Office of the Commander in Chief General Farouk Araji was replaced by General Qasim Atta. The Chief of military intelligence General Hatem Magsusi will have his position taken over by General Mohammed Karawi, the commander of the 47th Brigade in the 12th Division. The head of the 10th Division General Abed al-Amir Shamari will take over the Baghdad Operations Command from General Ahmed Hashim. Several division commanders will be reassigned as well. There are reports that the premier has gotten rid of some intelligence officers after complaints about their performance during the current upsurge in violence. Maliki has also gone on a public relations campaign visiting the headquarters of security forces in the Mansour and Yarmouk neighborhoods of Baghdad, and going to checkpoints in Jihad, Amiriya, Kadhimiya, and Adhamiya in the capital. He told the press that the government could withstand the current wave of attacks, and would soon regain control of the situation in Baghdad. The problem with this response is two fold. First, none of the military commanders is likely fired for their failure to protect the public. They’re probably just going to be reassigned within the military. That’s because they are all Maliki loyalists. Moving officers around just gives the image of change when nothing systemic is going to be different. That’s the other issue. Responding to the insurgents’ provocations with security operations has no chance of tamping down violence. The Iraqi forces no longer carry out counterinsurgency operations, which are proactive and include working with the local population. Instead, the Iraqis now act like the U.S. did before the Surge, which is they carry out mass arrests, take away large numbers of fighting aged men, and their family members, and these people are then tortured and abused in detention facilities, which only turns the population against the government. Operations like The Ghost are only temporary, because they might be able to disrupt some insurgent camps, but when the security forces leave the militants will come right back. These reactive and punitive tactics have more chances of making the situation worse, than improving it. Only a more cooperative approach to the population, and political compromises at the national level have a chance to relieve the current dilemma the country is facing.

Iraq has not seen such levels of violence since the very end of the civil war in 2008. Al Qaeda in Iraq is continuing with its offensive, and has now been joined by the Naqshibandi group, and other insurgents after the Hawija incident. That opened up all kinds of opportunities to exploit the growing anger amongst some Sunnis, and for militants to push for the use of force as the only response to the government. Baghdad has been ineffective so far in trying to get control of the situation, and will probably not do any better in the future, because of its repressive tactics. Does that mean Iraq is on the verge of a new civil conflict? Not yet. During the sectarian war of 2005-2008 Sunnis and the Sadrists boycotted the government, Shiite militias were cleansing parts of Baghdad with the support of the security forces, and were then fighting each other for control. Finally life generally stopped for the public. Many government workers could not go to their jobs out of fear, families did not send their children to school, and business became stagnant. None of that has happened so far. What has occurred is growing apprehension amongst Iraqis that things will only get worse. The government may not have collapsed, but it is dysfunctional, and that means concessions and political deals are impossible right now. Rather than a new civil war, Iraq looks to be heading towards a period like it faced after the 2003 invasion with a growing insurgency.

SOURCES

Agence France Presse, “Iraq hit by worst violence since 2008,” 6/1/13
- “Over 1,000 people killed in May Iraq violence: UN,” 6/1/13

AIN, “4 IPs killed in Karbala,” 5/2/13

Ali, Ahmed, “2013 Iraq Update #21: Maliki changes security leaders: Is it the solution to Iraq’s security challenges?” Institute for the Study of War, 5/24/13

Iraq Body Count

Al-Mada, “Leaders hold intelligence officers responsible for the collapse .. And Commander-in-Chief pulls employees,” 6/1/13

Al-Qaisi, Mohammed, “Iraqi forces launch operation in response to recent attacks,” Al-Shorfa, 5/31/13

Al-Rafidayn, “Maliki vows to re-secure Baghdad and absorb the current onslaught chest .. and thank him and asking for the suppression of militias,” 6/1/13

Al-Rayy, “Governor of Nineveh province survived an assassination attempt when a roadside bomb west of Mosul,” 6/1/13
- “Najat governor of Salahuddin an assassination attempt mortar shells falling on his home north of Tikrit,” 6/1/13

Sadah, Ali Abel, “Al-Qaeda-Iraq Statement A Sign Of Rising Sectarian Violence,” Al-Monitor, 6/31/13

Tawfeeq, Mohammed and Sterling, Joe, “Shiites targeted in Iraq in another day of sectarian strife,” CNN, 5/20/13

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