Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Who Was Responsible For Attacks Across Northern, Central, and Southern Iraq?

(New York Times)
In mid-January 2011 insurgents launched a series of high-profile attacks across Iraq. These took place in Salahaddin in the north, Diyala in the east, Baghdad in the center, and Karbala in the south. The bombings were all blamed upon Al Qaeda in Iraq and the Baathists, as usually happens, but in reality they were the work of several different groups.

The first attack took place on January 18 in Tikrit, Salahaddin. There a suicide bomber struck a police recruitment center. At the time, hundreds of men were lined up to apply for 2,000 new positions offered by the security forces. At 10 a.m. the insurgent set off his device, killing 54 and wounding 137

The next day insurgents targeted the security forces again, this time in Baquba, the provincial capital of Diyala. This was another suicide attack, this time using an ambulance, which struck the Facilities Protection Service headquarters in the city. Five were killed, and 7 wounded, although another report said 12 died.

Militants then moved to Shiites participating in the pilgrimage to Imam Hussein’s tomb in Karbala. On December 19 a suicide car bomb went off amongst politicians and pilgrims outside of Baquba, Diyala. The target was likely the deputy head of the provincial council, Sadiq al-Husseini, who had stopped along the highway to great pilgrims heading for Baghdad. He, along with four of his bodyguards were all killed. The following day three car bombs went off near police checkpoints around Karbala. 52 ended up dead, with another 203 wounded. January 23 saw a bobby-trapped car go off next to a bus in Baghdad carrying Iranian pilgrims to Karbala, killing one and leaving eight wounded. January 24, eight were killed and 88 wounded when two bobby-trapped cars went off in two different sections of Karbala. Finally, on January 25 another bus, this time bringing people back from their pilgrimage, was bombed in Baghdad, wounding six.  

The question is who was responsible for all of these breaches in security? Local Iraqi officials immediately blamed Al Qaeda in Iraq and Baathists as the most likely culprits. Al Qaeda’s front group, the Islamic State of Iraq originally praised the Tikrit bombing, but did not claim responsibility. About a week later however, the Islamic State said that it was behind both the Tikrit and Baquba attacks upon the security forces on a jihadist forum. The change in stance might mean that the Islamists were simply trying to take credit for another group’s work. In actuality, a mix of different insurgents were probably behind the series of bombings. On January 22 for example, police arrested the head of a Sons of Iraq (SOI) unit and his deputy in Hamiyah, Babil for the three car bombings in Baghdad on January 20. The Islamic Army used to be one of the largest insurgent groups, but recently went through a series of divisions. The Army is an Islamist organization, mostly made up of former soldiers who have largely remained independent of Al Qaeda. A few days later, police arrested sixteen suspects behind the January 24 car bombings in Karbala. One was a local official from Iskandiriyah in Babil. A security source in Diyala also told the press that there were many militants active in the province including the Islamist group Ansar al-Sunna, and the Naqshibandi Group, and Hizb al-Awda, both Baathist led organizations. 

The recent wave of attacks show the new phase of the insurgency. Al Qaeda and its Islamic State of Iraq are still active, and were probably behind some of the bombings around the country, but today they are mostly in it for the publicity. Other groups made up of Islamists, former soldiers, and Baathists are more active in the day-to-day attacks that still plague Iraq. The arrest of the SOI members and local official in Babil, one of which was connected to the Islamic Army of Iraq, are a sign of this change. In total, 127 were killed and 512 wounded in just over a week. That makes it one of the bloodiest in recent months. Security incidents and casualties ebb and flow in Iraq, and militants were mostly taking advantage of the huge number of people traveling throughout the country to reach the Shiite shrine in Karbala, which happens nearly every year. There was no retaliation by militias, and attacks are likely to drop off until the next surge. These unfortunate events then, symbolize the current security situation in the country.


Agence France Presse, “Iraq nabs Sunni militiamen over Karbala attack,” 1/22/11

Ali, Rafid Fadhil, “Split in the Islamic Army of Iraq over Post-Occupation Strategy,” Terrorism Monitor, Jamestown Foundation, 11/4/10

Aswat al-Iraq, “3 armed groups pose greatest threat to Diala – source,” 1/22/11
- “Civilian killed, 8 injured in booby-trapped car blast against Iranian visitors in Iraq:,” 1/23/11
- “Eight killed, 88 wounded in two Karbala explosions,” 1/24/11
- “Iraq’s former Baath Party elements, al Qaeda, behind attacks in Karbala, MPs say:,” 1/22/11
- “Karbala blasts leave 28 killed, 203 wounded – medic,” 1/21/11
- “QRD arrests 16 gunmen involved in Karbala bombings,” 1/25/11
- “Six Iraqi civilians injured in explosive charge blast during their return from religious visit,” 1/25/11
- “Suicide attack leaves 45 casualties in Tikrit,” 1/18/11
- “Suicide bombing kills 2 visitors, injures 15 in Diala,” 1/19/11
- “Tikrit attack’s toll reaches 54 dead, 137 wounded,” 1/18/11

Al Dulaimy, Mohammed and Bengali, Shashank, “With U.S. forces set to go soon, Iraqi police step up,” McClatchy Newspapers, 1/21/11

Jakes, Lara, “Iraq’s security berated after 52 die in bombing,” Associated Press, 1/18/11

Jihad and Terrorist Threat Monitor, “Al-Qaeda Organization Claims Responsibility for Recent Large Scale Attacks in Tikrit and Diyala Province,” MEMRI, 1/23/11

Leland, John, “Bomber Uses Ambulance to Hit Iraq Police Headquarters,” New York Times, 1/19/11
- “Car Bombings Kill Dozens on Pilgrims’ Route in Iraq,” New York Times, 1/20/11


AndrewSshi said...

One of the maddening things here is that it's hard to figure out from the police/Iraqi Army S-2 investigation who the actual culprits were. It seems really likely that they'll do the normal routine of grabbing someone, beating a confession out of him, and then triumphantly proclaiming that they've caught the perp.

As for your doubt as to whether it's AQI or some sort of splinter groups, my actual guess is going to be AQI. After all, it was a series of attacks that was pretty close together in time, many of which targeted Shi'ites. That's pretty much AQI's MO in a nutshell.

amagi said...

Yeah, conspiracy theories are cheap, but I'm betting AQI and, really, there's probably about a dime's worth of difference between all these different outfits.

What I want are reliable figures for the number of pilgrims who passed through Karbala for Arbain. I've read anywhere from 'hundreds of thousands' to 15 million Iraqis and 500,000 Shia from elsewhere. Whatever the number is, it's a lot. Every time the violence upsets me, I try to remind myself that millions of people are able to take these pilgrimages now that were banned under Saddam.

Joel Wing said...

Andrew and Amagi,

I would usually agree with you because all of the bombings were high profile attacks which is what AQI aims for, but in this case I think there were a couple different groups involved.

There is also definitely differences between the different groups. AQI remains largely foreign led, and has attempted to import a foreign ideology and implant it in Iraq. Many of the Iraqi bred insurgents are Islamists as well, but have developed their ideas within the country, and tend to have a strong nationalist tint as well. I would guess that the domestic groups last longer than AQI.

Review Between Muslims, Religious Differences In Iraqi Kurdistan

Bush, J. Andrew, Between Muslims, Religious Differences In Iraqi Kurdistan , Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2020   Between Muslims...