Thursday, April 17, 2014

Security In Iraq 2 Weeks Before National Elections

Iraq is set to have parliamentary elections on April 30. Besides the bitter political disputes the country is facing other challenges including securing the vote, and getting people to participate. The insurgents have ramped up their attacks and are actively campaigning against people casting their ballots. During previous elections there was always some violence, but this year may be different. The Americans are not present to help, and the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) is stretched thin because of its commitments in Anbar. That might mean wide spread attacks during the voting, and more importantly, there may be low turnout in provinces like Anbar, Salahaddin, and parts of Ninewa, Diyala, and Babil.

There has been an increase in the number of attacks since the beginning of April. In the first week of the month there were 238 reported attacks, followed by 223 the next. That was a return to the levels seen in February and the first week of March when there were 204 from February 1-7, 226 the next week, followed by 264 the 3rd week, 251 the fourth, 253 from March 1-7, before dipping to 206 the 2nd week of the month, 216 the next, 211 the third week, and 108 from March 28-31. Still, the average number of attacks for each month has been consistent since the beginning of the year. There were 32.6 per day in January, 33.7 in February, 32.0 in March, and 32.9 from April 1-14. The number of casualties was creeping upwards until April. There were a total of 1,379 in January, for an average of 44.4 per day, 1,275 in February, 45.5 per day, 1,607 in March, 51.8 per day, and 621 in the first two weeks of April, 44.3. The number of wounded followed the same pattern. There were 2,634 injured in January, 84.9 per day, 2,526 in February, 90.2 per day, 2,901 in March, 93.5, and 1,196 in the beginning of April, 85.4.

Violence In Iraq 2014

Jan 1-7
Jan 8-14
Jan 15-21
Jan 22-28
Jan 29-31
Feb 1-7
Feb 8-14
Feb 15-21
Feb 22-28
Mar 1-7
Mar 8-14
Mar 15-21
Mar 22-27
Mar 28-31
Apr 1-7
Apr 8-14

ISIS has recently carried out three large parades in Anbar and Baghdad provinces like this one in Fallujah (Institute for the Study of War)

Almost all of the violence is concentrated in central Iraq. The fighting in Anbar means that most of its major cities and towns will be off limits to the Election Commission. On April 13 it announced that it was only able to distribute 312,000 voting cards out of an estimated 900,000 registered voters. Baghdad has seen the majority of bombings. For example, there were 12 car bombs and 2 suicide bombers from April 8-14, 1 car bomb April 1-7, 2 from March 28-31, 6 from March 22-27, 9 from March 15-21, 5 from March 8-14, and 10 from March 1-7. These are the deadliest form of attack. April 9 there were eight in Kadhimiya, Jadriya, Shaab, Karrada, Mamil, Meshahda, and two in Sadr City costing 16 lives and 69 wounded. ISIS is also moving towards the capital city as seen by its recent parade in Abu Ghraib to the west. In Mosul, Ninewa and the surrounding areas the insurgency acts as a mafia extorting money from businesses, and can be said to have more influence than the local government. The situation is so bad there that the Ninewa Operations Command had to set up special flights for security personnel to travel from their homes in Baghdad to their jobs in Mosul due to constant attacks. There are also concerns that voter roles have not been updated because of intimidation of local officials. In Salahaddin militants are operating throughout all districts of the province. In April there were attacks in seven of the governorate’s eight districts. Starting in the north there were 9 in Shirqat, 12 in Baiji, 32 in Tikrit, 14 in Samarra, 4 in Balad, 2 in Tuz Khormato, 3 in Taji from April 1-14. ISIS was also bold enough to hold a parade there on the road from Baiji to Haditha, Anbar on April 13. Salahaddin is one of the deadliest places in the country, sometimes having more casualties than Baghdad. Babil, Diyala and Kirkuk are on the low end of the spectrum with around one incident per day in each, but the numbers only tell half the story. Northern Babil has become a base for ISIS. It has reportedly been moving in forces from Anbar into that province around Jurf al-Sakhr and Musayib. Earlier in the year the ISF tried and failed to clear the area, and since then the Islamists have been carrying out retaliatory attacks and some car bombings as well. This has led to protests against the lack of security and displacement of families. ISIS has also threatened regions of Kirkuk such as Qara Tapa leading some people to flee the area in March. That same month, ISIS took over the town of Buhriz in Diyala. After it left there were reports of a massacre of civilians by militias. ISIS has also launched a campaign in Kirkuk, Diyala, Ninewa, and Baghdad to convince people not to vote. They have passed out flyers and tweeted pictures of their activities. ISIS has always rejected democracy as un-Islamic, and many other insurgent groups are opposed to balloting as well. The government has launched repeated security operations in all of these provinces, but to little affect. Despite the number of insurgents killed and captured and the material that is discovered, the ISF tends to conduct raids and then leaves, which allows militants to move right back in. Its tactics of mass arrests and holding families of those wanted hostage are counterproductive, and turn the populace away from the government. Its forces are also stretched thin across the country with many units having been transferred to fight in Anbar. This has strong parallels to the 2004-2005 period when the U.S. lacked a plan to beat the insurgency, and the first elections since the invasion were held. The Americans played a large role in helping the Iraqi forces secure the country for the balloting, but they are not there anymore to provide that type of support.

Insurgents are active throughout all of Salahaddin’s districts (Wikipedia)

These events raise two questions. One will the police and army be able to protect voters on election day? Last year provincial balloting was held with only minor incidents, but that was a different environment than today where a full fledged insurgency has broken out. With militants operating throughout central Iraq, and able to reach into the south with bombings it is an open question whether the curfews, bans on vehicle traffic, and other added security measures, which are the norm on the day of voting will be enough. More importantly, Sunnis have generally lost faith in the political process, which is a major reason why the insurgency has been able to make come back. Some give militants either open or passive support and have little reason to help the security forces due to its abusive tactics and group punishments. In January 2005 there was a general Sunni boycott of elections. Many later thought that was a mistake and came out in larger numbers in the following rounds of balloting in 2005, 2009, and 2010. Now there is little motivation to do so, and turnout in some areas might be very low as a result. That means this year’s balloting may not only be a deadly one, but lead to a government that is seen as illegitimate by some voters.


Abbas, Mushreq, “ISIS expands in areas around Baghdad,” Al Monitor, 4/4/14

Abdul-Zahra, Qassim, "Car Bombs in Baghdad, Iraqi Town Kill 34 People," Associated Press, 4/9/14

AIN, "Casualties of northern Baghdad bombing reach 11 deaths, injuries," 4/9/14
- “Commission announces the distribution of 312 thousand cards in the safe areas of Anbar,” 4/13/14
- "Kadhimiya bombing results in killing, injuring 15 civilians," 4/9/14
- “ISIL elements launched huge parade in Salah-il-Din,” 4/13/14

Al Forat, "6 Persons killed, wounded northern Baghdad," 4/9/14
- “Dozens of citizens demonstrate in Babel due to deterioration of security situation,” 3/29/14
- "Shamma'iya's bombing Death toll hits 27 deaths, injuries," 4/9/14

Hussein, Taha, “Hundreds flee their homes after ISIS threatens Kurdish town,” Bas News, 3/29/14

Jubouri, Adam, “Bahrez occupation reveals the strained relationship between the parent and the local government and the size of the sensitivity of sectarianism,” 3/25/14
- "Killing and injuring 18 people in two bombings in Baghdad," 4/9/14
- "Killing and wounding six people in detonation of the seventh car bomb in central Baghdad," 4/9/14
- “Paralysis in Nineveh and university circles after militant assassinations of staff,” 12/5/13

Al Rafidayn, “Maliki’s office agrees to conduct flights to transport security personnel in Mosul,” 3/25/14

Al Rayy, “A security source: Daash controlled area in Jurf al-Sakhr and 25 families abandon area,” 4/5/14

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