Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Why Has There Been A Dramatic Drop In Car Bombs In Iraq?


Car bombs (Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Devices – VBIEDs) have been one means to track the growth and operational strength of the Islamic State (IS). VBIEDs require supply systems to provide explosives and cars, intelligence gathering to find targets, and means to plant the bombs. In 2012 there was a dramatic increase in the use of car bombs marking IS’s return from its nadir in 2011. At the end of 2014 leading into the new year there has been just as sharp a drop in the number of VBIEDs deployed. This could point to a major disruption of the Islamic Sate’s networks.

2011 was a low point for the Islamic State, and 2012 was the beginning of its return. In that former year much of the organization’s leadership had been killed or captured, and it had lost popular support amongst Iraqis. 2012 was a turning point. First, the United States no longer had forces in the country, which was not only important for carrying out operations, but also for air support and intelligence gathering. The Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) also reverted to traditional raids, mass arrests, and manning checkpoints, which had proven ineffective at the start of the Iraq War. Finally, the Syrian conflict allowed IS to expand and find new sources of funding and recruiting.

IS used VBIEDs to announce its return in 2012. From January to May there was an average of 18.6 car bombs per month. There was a high of 25 in January and a low of 17 in May. The group launched a summer offensive that year, which was officially announced in July as Breaking Walls. As part of that campaign there was a doubling of the number of car bombs deployed. From June to December there was an average of 42.1 per month topped off by 63 in September. The number of days with VBIEDs increased during that period as well. From January to May there were car bombs 8.2 days each month, increasing to an average of 13 days for the rest of the year. June also saw the first car bomb wave calculated as three or more consecutive days with attacks with an average of two per month until the end of 2012. The use of so many VBIEDs showed that IS’s networks were re-built and re-activated, and the group was once again a major threat to Iraq. That was proven by its activities in 2013.

Car Bomb Attacks In Iraq 2012
Month
# of Car Bombs
Dead
Wounded
# Of Days With Car Bombs
Car Bomb Waves
(3 or more consecutive days of VBIEDs)
Jan
25
123
324
12
1
Feb
23
79
181
7
0
Mar
19
84
178
4
1
Apr
18
64
126
7
0
May
17
39
120
11
0
Jun
41
168
654
9
1
Jul
52
236
591
12
2
Aug
32
125
395
15
3
Sep
63
191
762
19
4
Oct
23
68
168
21
1
Nov
43
209
691
13
2
Dec
41
109
401
11
2
TOTAL
397
1,495
4,591
141
17


In 2013 the number of car bombs used, the number of days with VBIEDs, and the amount of waves launched doubled in almost all of those categories. The beginning of the year started off at the exact same level that 2012 ended at. From January to April there was an average of 50 VBIEDs per month. Then there was a large jump from May to September starting with 82 in that first month and ending with 93 on the last for an average of 80.4 per month. That coincided with IS’s new campaign, this one called Soldier’s Harvest that began in July. By the end of the year there were a total of 815 car bombs compared to 397 in 2012. The number of days with VBIEDs in 2013 was 242 up from 141 in 2012. Finally, there were 36 waves versus 17 the year before. Those increases had costly results as the number of fatalities went from 1,495 in 2012 to 2,738 with injuries going from 4,591 to 9,217. This highlighted that IS was truly back. It not only had access to vast stores of explosives and vehicles, but it could utilize them to deadly affect largely at its choosing.

Car Bomb Attacks In Iraq 2013
Month
# of Car Bombs
Dead
Wounded
# Of Days With Car Bombs
Car Bomb Waves
(3 or more consecutive days of VBIEDs)
Jan
43
179
833
21
2
Feb
45
229
554
20
3
Mar
56
215
920
19
4
Apr
56
153
539
16
2
May
82
259
1,011
21
3
Jun
59
160
521
18
3
Jul
88
246
816
23
3
Aug
80
217
882
17
2
Sep
93
347
974
24
4
Oct
65
241
684
21
4
Nov
64
231
659
19
2
Dec
84
261
824
23
4
TOTAL
815
2,738
9,217
242
36


2014 looked like it was going to be even worse, but the number of car bombs actually trailed off finishing with a two year low. From January to May there was an average of 91.6 VBIEDS per month topped off by 104 in February, the highest amount in years. It was obvious that IS was ramping up its operations at the beginning of the year to prepare for its summer offensive. That started in June. Surprisingly the number of car bombs went down after that point. From June to December there was an average of 51.7 VBIEDs per month. That was the same level seen at the start of 2013. Given the fact that IS captured huge stockpiles of explosive and military vehicles when it swept through northern, western and central Iraq during the summer IS had the potential to launch far more car bombs, but did not. In fact, they tapered off at the end of the year going from 74 in October, to 59 in November to 21 in December, the lowest amount since May 2012. There was also only one car bomb wave in December compared to 3.1 for the rest of the year. That trend has continued into the first week of January when there were just six car bombs. In the end, the number of VBIEDs went up in 2014 to 830 total, and the number of days they were successfully used went from 242 to 276. However that was mostly due to the heavy numbers at the start of 2014. Something had obviously changed by the end of the year.

Car Bomb Attacks In Iraq 2014
Month
# of Car Bombs
Dead
Wounded
# Of Days With Car Bombs
Car Bomb Waves Per Month
(3 or more consecutive days of VBIEDs)
Jan
94
353
1,000
27
3
Feb
104
310
938
26
2
Mar
96
389
931
27
3
Apr
79
337
859
26
2
May
85
298
706
25
3
Jun
58
265
877
19
2
Jul
42
259
585
21
3
Aug
58
261
733
26
6
Sep
60
346
882
21
4
Oct
74
599
1123
25
4
Nov
59
401
909
20
3
Dec
21
91
214
13
1
TOTAL
830
3,909
9,757
276
36


Car Bombs In Iraq Dec 2014-Jan. 2015
Date
Location
Dead
Wounded
Dec 1



Dec 2
Mahmudiya, Babil

1
Dec 3



Dec 4
Sadr City & Shaab, Baghdad
Shorja, Kirkuk
39
97
Dec 5



Dec 6



Dec 7
Salman, Salahaddin
9
17
Dec 8



Dec 9
Nikhaib, Anbar


Dec 10
Ramadi, Anbar
Dijla & Mutasim, Salahaddin
11
22
Dec 11
Ramadi, Anbar
2
4
Dec 12



Dec 13
Haditha x2, & Ramadi, Anbar
15
33
Dec 14



Dec 15



Dec 16



Dec 17



Dec 18
Mahmudiya, Babil
Husseiniya, Baghdad
10
25
Dec 19
Samarra, Salahaddin
2
5
Dec 20



Dec 21
Makhmour, Ninewa

4
Dec 22



Dec 23
Yusifiya, Babil
Dhuluiya, Salahaddin
3
6
Dec 24



Dec 25



Dec 26



Dec 27
Outside Bahgdadi, Anbar


Dec 28
Iskandiriya, Babil


Dec 29



Dec 30



Dec 31



Dec
Totals
21
91
214
Jan 1
Habaniya, Anbar


Jan 2



Jan 3



Jan 4
Sadoun St, Baghdad
Outside Samarra, Salahaddin

5
Jan 5
Anaz, Anbar
4
7
Jan 6



Jan 7
Ayathiya x2, Ninewa
4
3
Jan
Totals
6
8
15


One major change was the clearing of Jurf al-Sakhr in northeast Babil, but it’s unclear whether other security operations have had an effect or not. After twelve unsuccessful security operations in 2014, the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) and militias were finally able to push the Islamic State out of the area in October. Jurf al-Sakhr was the main VBIED base for IS in the south. It produced bombs not only aimed at Baghdad, but provinces like Kabala, Basra, Wasit and Najaf. The disruption of IS there was the reason why there have been no car bombs in the south since Najaf on October 24. The successful campaign in Babil cannot explain the dramatic decline in VBIEDs alone. There are other car bomb factories in places like Tarmiya to the north of Baghdad that have largely been untouched. In December, pro-government forces moved into the Balad area of southern Salahaddin. By the first week of January they were moving on Nibai, which is another suspected VBIED base. That operation might be cutting supply lines to the northern VBIED network. IS also has a presence in the west in Anbar and the Abu Ghraib area, which have largely been unchallenged. Why they are not being used is unknown at this moment. Finally, IS has increasingly used VBIEDs especially suicide ones in tactical assaults upon the security forces and militias. Those types of attacks don’t always get into the press so the decline since December, might partially be explained by omission by the press who simply haven’t picked up on all of these types of attacks.

What appears to be happening is that IS is regrouping and re-organizing right now. Government forces have gone on the offensive and have been able to clear several areas such as Jurf al-Sakhr. This has completely upset the Islamic State’s operations in the south, and thrown the group onto the defense in other sections of the country. That has led to a shift in using car bombs for terrorist attacks upon civilians to using them more as tactical weapons against the security forces. The organization still has many assets available and car bomb bases from which to launch attacks to the west and north of Baghdad. That could mean another massive increase in VBIED attacks is pending as happened in early 2012, but for now those resources are either disrupted or being shifted to other areas resulting in the present lull.

SOURCES

Associated Press, "Suicide, car bombings in Iraq kill at least 43," 10/20/14

Al Forat, "Car bomb explodes in Najaf," 10/24/14

Al Mada, “Daash hold area north of Jurf al-Sakhr..and clearing explosives will require 6 months,” 10/27/14

Morris, Loveday, “Iraq’s victory over militants in Sunni town underlines challenges government faces,” Washington Post, 10/29/14

Radio Nawa, “The start of a major military operation under the supervision of the Minister of Interior for the liberation of areas south of Tikrit,” 12/1/14

Shafaq News, “Security forces and fighters of popular crowd liberate northern Dujail fully and head towards al-Nibai,” 1/5/15

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