Monday, August 5, 2013

Iraq’s Insurgents Launch Ramadan Offensive


July was a bloody month for Iraq. Insurgent groups, especially Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) launched an offensive characterized by a series of bombings in quick succession, plus the dramatic attack upon the Abu Ghraib prison. What made the situation worse was that the security forces knew an offensive was coming, and even knew about the prison raid, but were completely unable to stop any of it from transpiring. That showed that the militants are in the driver’s seat, able to dish out death anytime they want with little to no resistance from government forces.

Aftermath of a car bombing in Baghdad’s Sadr City on July 29 when 11 car bombs went off in nine parts of the city. A total of 60 Iraqis died that day due to violence. (AFP)

All the agencies that track Iraq casualties saw a large increase from June to July. Agence France Presse reported 848 killed, almost double June’s count of 452. Iraq Body Count recorded 968 deaths up from 622, and the United Nations went from 761 in June to 1,057 in July. Those were both the highest figures since April 2008. Even the Iraqi government counted 989 killed, the most since May 2008, and four times higher than its June figure of 240. For the last two years Baghdad has been reporting far lower numbers than the others with regards to casualties, so it’s rare when they all agree on violence levels. For the month, there were anywhere from an average of 27-34 deaths per day, up from 8-25 per day in June. Again that harkens back to the 2008 period when there was 24-31 people killed a day. The number of deaths is still below the civil war period, but they are showing a troubling trend. The Iraqi government and U.N. have already reported more deaths in the first seven months of 2013, 2,594 and 4,768, than all of 2012, 2,174 and 3,878. By August, Iraq Body Count will also have surpassed its 2012 total as well. Iraq is not in a civil war yet, but the insurgency is having free reign throughout the central part of the country.


Deaths In Iraq 2003-2013
Month/Year
Iraq Body Count
Avg. Daily Deaths
Iraqi Ministries
Avg. Daily Deaths
United Nations
Avg. Daily Deaths
Agence France Presse
Avg. Daily Deaths
2003
4,675
19.0
-
-
-
-
-
-
2004
11,608
31.8l
11,313
30.99
-
-
-
-
2005
16,186
44.2
15,817
43.3
-
-
-
-
2006
29,144
79.8
32,622
89.3
34,452
94.3
-
-
2007
25,519
69.9
19,155
52.4
-
-
-
-
2008
9,839
26.9
9,046
24.7
11,536
31.6
-
-
2009
5,132
14.0
3,682
10.0
4,611
12.6
-
-
2010
4,109
11.2
3,949
10.8
4,855
13.3
-
-
2011
4,147
11.3
2,781
7.6
4,150
11.3
-
-
2012
4,573
12.5
2,174
5.9
3,878
10.6
1,531
(7 mo.)
7.1
Jan. 2013
357
11.5
177
5.7
319
10.2
246
7.9
Feb.
358
12.7
136
4.8
418
14.9
220
7.8
Mar.
394
12.7
163
5.2
456
14.7
271
8.7
Apr.
544
18.1
208
6.9
712
23.7
461
15.3
May
883
28.4
681
21.9
1,045
33.7
614
19.8
Jun.
622
20.7
240
8.0
761
25.3
452
15.0
Jul.
968
31.2
989
31.9
1,057
34.0
848
27.3
2013 Totals
4,126
19.3
2,594
12.0
4,768
22.3
3,112
14.5



A sign of the worsening security situation can be shown in the number of days with at least 30 killed. In June there were seven such days. That doubled to 14 in July. Not only that, but they came one after the other with hardly any time in between. On July 1, 43 were killed, marked by 23 dying at the hands of a suicide bomber in Diyala’s Muqtadiya. The next day 59 died, with 34 fatalities across Baghdad due to bombings. Nine days later, another 59 passed mostly due to car bombings in Salahaddin and Diyala. The next day 49 died, 38 of which were killed by a suicide bomber in Kirkuk, followed by 37 deaths on July 13, and 66 on July 14. It only took five days for 26 more to die in a mosque bombing for a total of 36 on July 19. July 20 was the deadliest day of the month with 80 killed, 67 of which were due to bombings across Baghdad. July 21 had 41 fatalities, July 23 38, July 24 37, July 25 48, finished off by 60 killed on July 29 and 50 on July 30. That showed a dramatic increase in the pace of operations by insurgents. Since most of these were bombings Al Qaeda in Iraq was the likely culprit as they specialize in mass casualty attacks upon civilian targets. AQI also continued with a campaign in the south with bombings in Basra, Wasit and Dhi Qar on July 14, and Wasit and Basra again on July 29. Luckily for the south, these occasional bombings in major cities are all the violence that they witness. Most of the attacks continue to be concentrated in just a few provinces, Baghdad, Salahaddin, Ninewa, Diyala, Tamim, and Anbar. The south and Kurdistan for the most part is untouched.

Days With 30 Or More Fatalities Per Month In 2013, Iraq Body Count
January 2013 – 5 Total
1/3/13 – 34 killed
1/16/13 – 46 killed
1/17/13 – 31 killed
1/22/13 – 34 killed
1/23/13 – 46 killed
February 2013 – 3 Total
2/3/13 – 40 killed
2/8/13 – 38 killed
2/17/13 – 59 killed
March 2013 – 3 Total
3/14/13 – 34 killed
3/19/13 – 73 killed
3/29/13 – 30 killed
April 2013 – 7 Total
4/1/13 – 55 killed
4/6/13 – 34 killed
4/15/13 – 62 killed
4/18/13 – 30 killed
4/23/13 – 71 killed
4/24/13 – 32 killed
4/29/13 – 34 killed
May 2013 – 10 Total
5/1/13 – 31 killed
5/15/13 – 40 killed
5/17/13 – 93 killed
5/18/13 – 33 killed
5/20/13 – 134 killed
5/21/13 – 46 killed
5/27/13 – 81 killed
5/28/13 – 45 killed
5/29/13 – 35 killed
5/30/13 – 34 killed
June 2013 – 7 Total
6/10/13 61 killed
6/16/13 49 killed
6/18/13 39 killed
6/23/13 36 killed
6/24/13 46 killed
6/25/13 45 killed
6/27/13 34 killed
July 2013 – 14 Total
7/1/13 43 killed
7/2/13 59 killed
7/11/13 59 killed
7/12/13 49 killed
7/13/13 37 killed
7/14/13 66 killed
7/19/13 36 killed
7/20/13 80 killed
7/21/13 41 killed
7/23/13 38 killed
7/24/13 37 killed
7/25/13 48 killed
7/29/13 60 killed
7/30/13 50 killed

July also witnessed AQI’s raid upon the Abu Ghraib and Taji prisons in Baghdad governorate. On the night of July 21, Al Qaeda assaulted the two prisons with mortars, rocket propelled grenades (RPGs), suicide bombers, and car bombs, while prisoners inside started riots. The fighting lasted throughout the night and resulted in at least 500 inmates escaping. 40% of those that got out were said to be AQI members, including the group’s Minister of War. Afterward, the organization said that the attack was the culmination of the Breaking Walls campaign announced exactly one year beforehand. Like most prison escapes, guards were likely involved. The assault upon the prisons was not only a huge public relations coup for AQI showing that it could successfully launch a sophisticated and well-planned operation against a hardened target. It will also swell its ranks, which are already apparently growing in number, thanks in part to the fighting in Syria.

Iraqi forces knew a wave of attacks was coming in July, but proved completely incapable of stopping them (Al-Mada)

What made July all the worse was that the government knew that a wave of attacks was imminent, and its plans to foil them failed. At the beginning of the month intelligence sources warned Al-Mada newspaper that Al Qaeda was preparing for a Battle of Baghdad. Police in Salahaddin noted an increase in Syrian and foreign fighters in the province getting ready for a Battle of Ramadan. The authorities claimed they were ready with the Anbar Operations Command announcing a new security plan for the holy month, which they later said was responsible for the deaths of four top AQI leaders. None of that worked. The army and police continued to be reactive as when they moved in extra forces into Diyala after a series of bombings in the middle of the month. Likewise, the Tigris Operations Command stated that it was launching a new campaign in Diyala, Salahaddin, and Tamim to track down those responsible for attacks during Ramadan, but at the end of the month. There was also talk of building a wall along the Syrian border in Anbar. At the same time, there were complaints that there was a lack of actionable intelligence being provided, no control over the border areas, insurgents buying off members of the security forces, and soldiers paying bribes to their commanding officers to avoid work in violent areas. A further sign of the poor state of the military was General Nasser Ghanem, the head of the 17th Division with responsibility for southern Baghdad resigning over what he said were “unprofessional orders and the wrong policies” by the country’s leadership. This was the first time a commanding officer quit since 2003. Worse yet, it was revealed that Iraqi intelligence knew about the prison attacks beforehand, but nothing came of their reports. As one parliamentarian aptly noted, the insurgents hold the initiative today, not the government. Militants are constantly changing targets and tactics, leaving the police and army to play catch up. The authorities simply have no way to prevent these on going attacks with their lack of intelligence and reactive tactics. They actually make the situation worse by conducting mass arrests after each bombing. July was simply the culmination of all these failures by the government to secure the country.

Just a few years ago it appeared that the insurgency was dying a slow death, but that’s no longer true. It is not just Al Qaeda in Iraq, which garners the most headlines with its mass casualty attacks, but other groups like the Baathist Naqshibandi and Ansar al-Sunna that are more active in the country. There are parts of the country where militants can freely move around, train, and plan their next wave of operations. The government forces are powerless to stop them even when they have advanced warning like what happened in July. Baghdad needs to return to the counterinsurgency tactics that it learned from the Americans, and more importantly, start reaching out to the Sunni population by offering it political concessions to cut into the support that the militants are garnering. Unfortunately, that’s not happening as politicians are simply trying to pass blame around. The upcoming 2014 parliamentary elections also mean that no party is willing to pass major legislation that Premier Maliki could claim as a victory. The result is that the country will continue to descend into increasing instability in the coming months, just as it did after the 2003 invasion.

SOURCES

Abbas, Mushreq, “Al-Qaeda Militants Raid Iraq’s Abu Ghraib, Taji Prisons,” Al-Monitor, 7/25/13

Agence France Presse, “989 killed in Iraq in July, most since 2008: govt,” 7/31/13
- “Iraq casualties from violence (2013)”
- “Iraq death toll down in November,” 12/1/11
- “Iraq death toll falls by half in September: officials,” 10/1/09
- “Iraq death toll falls sharply in June: ministries,” 6/30/10
- “Iraq death toll in 2009 lowest since the invasion,” 1/1/10
- “Iraq death toll in April almost same as last year,” 5/1/10
- “Iraq death toll in May lowest in 2011,” 6/1/11
- “Iraq death toll up sharply in October,” 11/1/11
- “Iraq monthly toll lowest in a year,” 12/1/10
- “Iraq sees lowest monthly toll since January,” 10/1/10

Ahlul Bayt News Agency, “Al Qaeda will launch a battle as the “Battle of Baghdad” unconventional weapons may be used,” 7/3/13

Ahmed, Saif, “Anbar River Police step up security in border marshes,” Al Shorfa, 7/26/13
- “Iraq starts building Syria border wall,” Al Shorfa, 7/30/13
- “Iraqi security forces foil attacks across Anbar,” Al-Shorfa, 7/3/13

Alsumaria, “Iraq death toll lowest since five years,” 2/2/09
- “Iraq violence kills 320 people in October,” 11/1/08
- “Military reinforcements arrive to Al Moqdadiyah, Iraq,” 7/16/13

Associated Press, “High Iraq deaths cast doubt on U.S. stability talk,” 8/2/10
- “Hundreds escape in deadly insurgent attacks on Iraq prisons holding al-Qaida militants,” 7/22/13
- “Iraq: December the least deadly month of the year,” 1/1/11

Aswat al-Iraq, “3 killed, 4+ wounded in Basra explosion,” 7/29/13
- “4 killed in double explosion in Basra,” 7/14/13
- “Double explosion in Kut,” 7/29/13

Babylon & Beyond, “IRAQ: U.N.’s Iraq report still missing casualty count,” Los Angeles Times, 12/3/08

Chaudhry, Serena, “Iraqi violent deaths, but injuries drop in April,” Reuters, 5/1/11

Dunlop, W.G., “2010 Iraq death toll tops 2009: government,” Agence France Presse, 1/1/10
- “2010 Iraq death toll tops 2009: government,” Agence France Presse, 1/1/10

Faraj, Salman, “Iraq death toll for July second highest on 2011,” Agence France Presse, 8/1/11
- “Iraqi death toll rises markedly in February,” Agence France Presse, 3/1/10
- “Iraqi MPs, Sadr meet in Iran in bid to end clashes,” Agence France Presse, 5/1/08

Fischer, Hannah, “Iraqi Civilian, Police, and Security Forces Casualty Statistics,” Congressional Research Service, 9/17/09

Freeman, Colin, “Mass al-Qaeda jailbreak in Iraq was ‘insider job,’” Telegraph, 7/23/13

Gordon, Michael and Adnan, Duraid, “Brazen Attacks at Prison Raise Worries of Al Qaeda’s Strength in Iraq,” New York Times, 7/23/13

Iraq Body Count, “20-27 Shiite pilgrims by car bomb or suicide car bomb at bus stop near Tahrir Sq, Musayyib”
- “Recent Events”

Al Jazeera, “Hundreds escape after Iraq prison attacks,” 7/22/13

Joint Analysis and Policy Unit

Karim, Ammar, “UN envoy probes Baghdad security as death toll doubles,” Agence France Presse, 11/2/09

Lewis, Jessica, “Al Qaeda in Iraq’s “Breaking the Walls” Campaign Achieves Its Objectives at Abu Ghraib—2013 Iraq Update #30,” Institute for the Study of War, 7/28/13

Al-Mada, “Iraq army begins a “big” military operation in three provinces resulted in the arrest of four gunman and found “blood stains,”” 7/28/13
- “A security source: the armed forces at their worst moral because of the dismissal lists dozens of officers,” 7/16/13

Al-Qaisi, Mohammed, “’Hell of Terrorism’ operation making progress: Iraqi army,” Al-Shorfa, 7/22/13

Radio Nawa, “Intelligence Agency asserts that it brought the information before the smuggling of prisoners from Abu Ghraib,” 7/27/13

Raghavan, Sudarsan, “Deaths of Iraqis in July Lower Than in May, June,” Washington Post, 8/2/08

Al Rayy, “Anbar Operations announces a plan especially the Holy Month of Ramadan,” 7/1/13

Reid, Robert, “Britain Delays Cutting Troops in Iraq,” Associated Press, 4/1/08

Reuters, “Iraq has fewer violent deaths in February,” 3/1/11
- “Iraqi civilian deaths in December lowest level in 2011,” 1/1/12
- “Militants kill 14 Shi’ites after checking ID cards at makeshift roadblock in north Iraq,” 7/25/13

Salaheddin, Sinan, “Government says 85,000 Iraqis killed in 2004-08,” Associated Press, 10/14/08
2008

Al-Salhy, Suadad, “INSIGHT-Iraq security forces outmatched as “open war” returns,” Reuters, 7/30/13
- “Al Qaeda claims Iraq prison raids, says 500 inmates freed,” Reuters, 7/23/13

Sami, Zayna, “’Terror’ attacks killed 7,473 Iraqis in 2008,” Azzaman, 4/16/09

Shafaq News, “Intelligence source: Abu Ghraib and Taji prisons’ fugitives went to four western regions,” 7/23/13
- “Parliament declares the resignation reason of 17th Division commander in the Iraqi army,” 7/22/13

Al-Tamimi, Iyad, “Security and Defense: a huge shortage of guards the border with Syria, and there is no intelligence in hot spots,” Al-Mada, 7/16/13

UNAMI Human Rights Office and Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, “Report on Human Rights in Iraq: 2011,” May 2012

United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq, “UN Casualty Figures for July,” 8/1/13

United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, “Humanitarian Update Iraq April 2009,” 6/2/09
- “Humanitarian Update Iraq February 2009,” 2/28/09
- “Humanitarian Update Iraq, March 2009” United Nations, 4/27/09
- “Humanitarian Update Iraq, December 2008-January 2009” United Nations, 1/31/09

UPI, “Syrian and foreign fighters entered Iraq to implement the “Battle of Ramadan,”” 7/11/13

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