Friday, January 6, 2012

Deadly Bombings On January 5, 2012 Unlikely To Change Iraq’s Status Quo

Just two weeks after a number of bombs wracked Baghdad, another series of mass casualty attacks occurred in Iraq targeting Shiites. This time explosives went off in two neighborhoods of Baghdad, and a small town in Dhi Qar province where pilgrims were walking towards Karbala for a religious ceremony leaving over 200 casualties. The press tied the attacks to the current political crisis within Iraq’s government, but they were probably planned out far before the current breakdown between political parties. There was also talk of Iraq descending back into civil war. While no one took responsibility yet, the bombings were likely the work of al Qaeda in Iraq. A look back at their operations showed that they carried out the exact same types of attacks in January 2011, and there was no retaliation by Shiites that could lead to a new civil conflict. The recent violence then, was just a continuation of the current status quo, not a change in Iraq’s security situation.
January 5, 2012’s violence specifically targeted Shiites. The attacks started at 7 a.m. when a bomb attached to a motorcycle went off in Sadr City next to a group of day laborers. Thirty-minutes later, when emergency workers arrived on the scene, two more bombs detonated, killing nine and wounding 35. About an hour later, two car bombs went off in the Kadhimiya district leaving 15 dead, and 50 wounded. Then, in the southern Iraqi town of Batha outside of Nasiriyah in Dhi Qar province, a suicide bomber slipped through security to enter a crowd of Shiite pilgrims walking towards Karbala. Two soldiers noticed the attacker, and tackled him to the ground when he set off his bomb vest. 48 ended up being killed, and another 81 were wounded. The pilgrims were heading towards the holy city of Karbala to commemorate Arbayeen, a ceremony to mark the death of the Imam Hussein Ibn Ali who died in a battle in the city in 680 A.D. Hussein was the grandson of the Prophet Mohammed. Early reports had a total of 72 deaths and 166 wounded. No one took responsibility, but they closely followed previous operations by Al Qaeda in Iraq, which has repeatedly targeted Shiites during their religious holidays and events.
Damage done in Sadr City, Baghdad (Reuters)
Kadhimiya, Baghdad (AP)
Another scene from Kadhimiya (AFP)
The western press and pundits linked the bombings to the on-going crisis between Iraq’s political parties. In late December 2011, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki asked for a no confidence vote against his deputy Saleh al-Mutlaq for neglecting his duties, and issued an arrest warrant for Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi on terrorism charges. Both are leaders in the rival Iraqi National Movement. The problem with that analysis is that attacks like these take weeks of preparation, planning, intelligence, etc. These probably started before the current crisis even began.The bombings have also not had a noticeable affect upon the political dispute.

Another line of argument made in media reports was that the bombings could lead to a new civil war in Iraq. The Christian Science Monitor for example, ran the headline “Iraq bombings, political crisis raise concerns of renewed civil war.” The Washington Post quoted Kenneth Pollack of the Brookings Institution and an analyst from the National Defense University warning about possible retaliation by Shiite militias such as Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army. Again, these arguments had problems because they missed previous attack patterns, and how Shiite politicians and groups have responded. For instance, Al Qaeda in Iraq conducted very similar operations a year ago. On January 20, 2011, 56 Shiite pilgrims were killed by car bombs in Karbala, followed by another 33 killed as they walked towards the holy city four days later. That was followed by a February 12 attack upon Shiites heading towards the Samarra mosque in Salahaddin, and 22 pilgrims executed in Nikhaib, Anbar on September 22. In fact, nearly every Shiite pilgrimage, holiday, or ceremony has been attacked for years now. Since the end of the civil war in 2008, the community has condemned the violence, but not struck back. There doesn’t appear to be any reason why they would suddenly change this time around.

Iraq is still a deadly country with daily occurrences of shootings and explosions. Security incidents actually dropped in the last year by nearly 40%. Total deaths were largely unchanged from 2010 to 2011 however, because of mass casualty attacks like those that occurred on December 22 and January 5. Al Qaeda in Iraq is not what it used to be, but it is still very capable of conducting these deadly operations nearly every month. Whether the United States kept their forces in Iraq or not, this situation would continue, since the Americans were not able to stop the previous bombings. Unfortunately, they have become the norm within the country, which means that they are unlikely to change the current status quo, and lead to a new civil war. The government and the Shiite community have not responded with anything but words to this violence, and this new round of explosions does not look to change that.


Aswat al-Iraq, “SECURITY: Victims of al-Batha’a township, Thi-Qar Province, rise to 30 killed, 70 injured,” 1/5/12

Dagher, Sam and Ammar, Munaf, “Deadly Attacks Target Shiites in Iraq,” Wall Street Journal, 1/5/12

BBC, “Iraq: Bombings in Baghdad and Nasiriya kill scores,” 1/5/12

Latif, Nizar, “Civil war fears rise as 72 killed in Iraq bombings,” The National, 1/5/12

Memmott, Mark, “Baghdad Rocked Again By Deadly Bomb Blasts,” NPR, 1/5/12

Moran, Lee, “Bomb attacks on Shiites kill 72 as fears rise Iraq is imploding,” Daily Mail, 1/5/12

Morse, Dan, “Bombs targeting Shiites kill at least 72 in Iraq,” Washington Post, 1/5/12

Salman, Raheem and Zavis, Alexandra, “Scores killed in strong of bombings in Iraq,” McClatchy Newspapers, 1/5/12

Schmidt, Michael, “Explosions Across Iraq Kill Dozens Amid Political Crisis,” New York Times, 1/5/12

Schreck, Adam, “Scores killed in Iraq bombings targeting Shiites,” Associated Press, 1/5/12

Zirulnick, Ariel, “Iraq bombings, political crisis raise concerns of renewed civil war,” Christian Science Monitor, 1/5/12


Anonymous said...

Still many people inside Iraq are blaming Badder brigades for Samarra bombs (gold dome) and sectarian violence. Missan governor has one hand with Mahdy and other with Asib ahl-Haq.Same for Iraqi police in Sadder city...(Ahmed Maliki too in GZ?). Also many people blame Baghdad December bombs on Iranian proxies, very similar with the bombs as is happening in Damascus..., as demonstration that Assad regime is under radical sunni terrorist attacks and Maliki under sunni radical terrorist attacks too.

Do you know if Asib ahl-Haq and Abu-dera are following Ayatollah Haeri (as Moq.Sadder)?

Joel Wing said...

No idea about Abu Dura, but the League said that they follow Haeri and Shahroudi.

As for the conspiracy theories, Maliki doesn't need to show that there are Sunni terrorists, they've existed in Iraq since 2003, and routinely take responsibility for the mass casualty attacks. Iran and everyone else, doesn't have to make them up.

Anonymous said...

Is notoriously known Badder is under Iran payroll, so the same for some in Dawa, Madhy army, Abu Dera and Asib ahl-Haq. Also is not coincidence Iran meddling in Afghanistan and Iraq trough Al Qaeda (Zarqawi-Diyala-Iran...or Qaeda/Teheran to Herat to Kandahar...)? Is reported by U.S that Al Qaeda finance officer was living in Teheran...
So who can benefit for the timing regarding bombs in Damascus and Baghdad? Maliki’s is gambling with Asib ahl-Haq and Sadder to remain in power. His son is controlling GZ (also reported). Maliki support openly Assad (reported).
Last time when I tried to reach some friends in Basrah and Amarah I couldn’t (most of them “secular Shiia”) because they vanished due to militia harassment.
Meanwhile by sectarian killings/bombs Maliki is getting rid of anybody could dare to oppose him. After all as we know Dawa, Madhy Army, Abu Dera, Badder … are not known by their achievements in Medicine, Engineering, Culture ….,but their knowledge in torture, blackmailing, harassment, killing and… of course very open to kickbacks!
As always thanks for your effort to provide reliable information and analysis. Just I missed many times the mention of the hand behind of most of this mess in our country. I am afraid of my family and friends in Iraq and the uncertainty make me get almost crazy about what is ongoing in Iraq. I hope one day I could be again with my husband in Iraq, and my sons could say God Bless Iraq because is a free and democratic country regardless your position, sex, religion or ethnicity. (sorry for my long writing!).

Muhannad said...

"Still many people inside Iraq are blaming Badder brigades for Samarra bombs"

Many people, as in Sunni Arab people?

Joel Wing said...

Yes, there are plenty reports that Iran has been supporting Al Qaeda central in Pakistan and Afghanistan. I would not be surprised if they have some links with Al Qaeda in Iraq.

That being said, who benefits from the recent bombings in Iraq? Al Qaeda in Iraq. As I tried to point out, these attacks are nothing new. They are not a change in security, but rather what has become the status quo. These attacks in fact, are great benefit to Al Qaeda because they are getting press coverage around the world. People are talking about Iraq falling apart and descending into a new civil war. This is exactly what Al Qaeda wants. The whole point of these attacks is to get media attention, and in turn that will be used to raise more money from their supporters.

Maliki will not benefit from them at all. It makes his government look incapable of protecting the country, and other parties like Iraqiya have criticized him for it.

Muhannad said...

It is true that these bombings make the Iraqi govt look incapable of protecting the people. I find it interesting that an American understands Iraq more than many Arabs do. Great analysis as usual, Joel.

Anonymous said...

I always recommended this blog to my friends in U.S, Amarah, Baghdad and London. As Muhannad said an American can understands Iraq more than other Arabs, Yes I am totally agree after living in Amarah, Basra, Sadder City and Karrada, Kuwait and Jordan and discussing with the locals about Iraq. Also I am very grateful to the amazing job done by Gral.Petraeus, an honorable man that understood how to deal with the Shiia militia/terrorist and AlQaeda. But please after I witnessed in place day by day how Iraq is becoming a backyard of Iran thanks Dawa, Sadrist and ISCI/Badder I have all the right to believe that Maliki/Sadder/Talabani/Qassem Suleimani are getting strongest day by taken over the security of Iraq

Anonymous said...

Muhannad I hoped you are not thinking in Bremer, Rumsfeld or J.Biden when you talk about the understanding of Americans...

Anonymous said...

"Maliki will not benefit from them (bombs)". So let me quote a recent post I read in other blog applied to other kind of subject but also perfectly with the bombs:
-Those parties benefiting from sectarian voting are thriving in an atmosphere of terror and maybe helping in creating it.-
So that ring the bell? Dawa..., Sadrist....,Badder??

Joel Wing said...

Again, here we go with the conspiracy theories and the idea that the Shiites must somehow be behind this new round of violence.

Who do you think gets blamed when bombs go off in Baghdad? How exactly would this build support for Dawa and Maliki? How are the Sadrists even involved? And Badr? Really, they hardly get any votes anymore, have almost split from the Supreme Council, and are now close allies of Maliki.

Anonymous said...

Dawa and Sadrist don’t believe in democracy. As religious (radical) and SECTARIAN parties they believe in elections as a way to grab power and keep it. Do you really think Maliki or Moqtada both care about elections and parliament? (I am not mentioning ISCI/Badder since they’re not relevant in terms of power right now). Sadrist and Dawa/Maliki by the army/police/gangs and the protection of Iran don’t need democracy. Do they care about the accountability and transparency regarding budgeting and public spending? Check and Balances? Independent judges? Women rights??? Their model is a Islamic Republic but more moderate than Iran. Sadrist are currently implementing their political believes in Missan and Sadder City and believe me if you are a young woman you can’t dare go to walk without a scarf or with make up! In Sadder City, Karrada or Kadhimia if you drive alone (being woman) you risk to be harassed by the police…I don’t want Hezbolla/Nasrallah style in my country. More bombs and low level violence means tightening more the security and green light for Dawa/Sadrist intimidation to Iraqis. By fear and $ they rule Iraq and they build their support.

Anon said...

However I disagree with your reason that Maliki and his govt haven't gained anything from it. You ask who is being blamed for these bombings. Well actually Shiites appear to all think Hashmi/Al Iraqiya did it. The agenda of the govt and Shiite islamists has been to make 'sunni arab', 'baath' and 'al qaeda' synonymous with each other, which appears to be working. This has served to solidify support for Maliki in his campaign to marginalise Sunni politicians (which is no loss to him as he lost the Sunni vote a long time ago). It also diverts from the failures of the government to make much progress on the Iraqi economy, corruption etc. He stands to gain a lot with Hashmi and other leading Sunni politicians out of the picture.

Iraqi Mojo said...

The problem with your theory is that suicide bombers were involved. So Shia kill themselves among Shia to help Maliki? Or Sunni Arabs kill themselves among Shia to help Maliki? None of it makes any sense.

From 2004 to 2008 the Arabs were blaming America and Israel for the bombings. Their conspiracy theories about America and Israel were similarly flawed because so many suicide bombers were involved.

In August 2010 I asked "How stupid is the Iraqi govt?"

I wrote in that post: "Hundreds of young Iraqi men were in line to apply for a job with the Iraqi army. How many times has a suicide bomber killed army recruits this easily? One would think that after so many horrible experiences, the Iraqi government would not allow recruits to gather in one place. One would think that after so many painful lessons, the Iraqi government would figure out how to prevent such murder. But the Iraqi government is lame..."

Most Iraqi Shia I know are sick of the corruption and the govt's inability to provide security, potable water, and electricity for ordinary Iraqi people. Their biggest concern is SECURITY.

Joel Wing said...

7:18am Anonymous,

Yes, the Sadrists have always tried to impose things like head scarves, etc. since 2003. Some in Dawa, especially at the provincial and local level have the same philosophy, but others not so much so.

As for whether they care about democracy, transparency, etc. I don't really see any of the major parties pushing for that, not just State of Law and the Sadrists.


I still don't see Maliki gaining from the wave of bombings. He always gets blamed for them, especially now becuase he has more control over the security forces than ever before. I don't consistently keep up with the Iraqis press right now, but I haven't seen any reports in the media at least blaming Allawi, Hashemi or Iraqiya for the recent spate of bombings.

Plus over the last several years, the economy, not security have been the top priority of Iraqis in opinion polls. That's true of a survey I just read from Nov. 2011.

Finally, Hashemi and Mutlaq don't have any real power within the government. The Vice Presidency for example is a completely symbolic position now. If they were never appointed or their positions were never created the current government would not be changed one bit. Finance Minsiter Issawi, who is allegedly under investigation, is the only Iraqiya politicians with real authority who has been mentioned in the recent crisis.

Anon said...

Just to clarify my previous message, it missed out a sentence at the beginning as I double posted, hence the However at the beginning. I think you deleted the wrong one!

It read I highly doubt Maliki or any Shiite group were responsible. But my point was that he still capitalised on it.

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