Tuesday, January 3, 2012

December 22, 2011, Deadliest Day In Baghdad Since Beginning Of The Year

On December 22, 2011, a series of bombs went off across Baghdad early in the morning as people were going to work. The blasts lasted for two hours, and hit different parts of the city. Only one was near a government building, with the rest concentrated in civilian areas. Al Qaeda’s front group the Islamic State of Iraq took responsibility for the attacks that left nearly 275 casualties. That was the deadliest day in the capital since the very beginning of the year.

In a short two-hour period in mid-December, seventeen explosions rocked Iraq’s capital Baghdad. It all started at 6:30 am, as people were heading to their jobs. A total of 10 improvised explosive devices (IEDs), five car bombs, 1 sticky bomb, and a katyusha rocket devastated parts of the capital. Two IEDs went off near a garage in central Baghdad, two more were planted near a primary school in Abu Disheer, southwestern Baghdad. A fifth IED went off in the Bayaa district in central Baghdad. The sixth struck a vegetable market in the Amin district of eastern Baghdad. There was an additional IED near the Diyala Bridge in southeastern Baghdad, two more in the Shula district of eastern Baghdad, and the tenth was aimed at the motorcade of the deputy governor of the Central Bank of Iraq as he travelled through northern Baghdad’s Wahiriya. A sticky bomb attached to a car detonated in Bab al-Maotham, and a katyusha rocket fell on a battery factory in northern Baghdad’s Adhamiya. The car bombs were the deadliest, with two going off near the Tabaqayn Bridge in the center of the city, one in the Amil district of southern Baghdad, a fourth in the Shab district in the north, and the bloodiest one placed near the Christian Nuns Hospital and the Integrity Commission’s headquarters in the Karrada district of central Baghdad that left at least 49 casualties. The security forces found an additional six other booby-trapped car bombs that were either disarmed or had controlled detonations. Early totals had 75 dead, and 182 wounded in the wake of this carnage. All of these areas were civilian ones, with the exception of the bombing outside the Integrity Commission building. That shows that, while militants wanted to make an audacious statement with the width of their operations in a short period of time, they were careful not to go after heavily guarded areas where security would be much tighter. Instead, they targeted a series of soft targets meant to maim and kill as many innocent bystanders as possible. The press also played up the fact that most of these areas were Shiite, but Sunni areas were bombed as well, showing that civilians, regardless of sect, were the intended victims.

Scenes Of December 22's Violence In Baghdad
Shula district in eastern Baghdad (Reuters)
Central Baghdad bombing (Reuters)
Car bomb in central Baghdad (Reuters)
Another car bomb in northern Baghdad's Shab (Reuters)
Another scene from Shab (Reuters)
The deadliest bombing was in the Karrada district (AP)
Map of the bombings (BBC)
Al Qaeda’s front organization, the Islamic State of Iraq eventually took responsibility for all of this death. On December 27, they issued a statement on an Islamist website saying that they were behind all the bombings. The organization said that they were striking against the Shiite led government, while the Baghdad Operations Command said that the militants were trying to re-ignite the sectarian war. A few days before Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki accused members of the security forces of being involved. Allegedly four officers were arrested. It’s widely believed that the Islamists have thoroughly infiltrated the Iraqi police and army, and use these undercover agents to assist their operations. It was also no surprise that Al Qaeda was accountable since they are the only militant group that carries out these types of attacks.

This was the deadliest day in the capital since January. On January 27, 72 people were killed by five bombs that occurred in many of the same neighborhoods as December’s attacks. Those included one death by a roadside bomb targeting an army patrol in Bab al-Maotham, one killed by a roadside bomb aimed at a Finance Ministry convoy in Washiriya northeast Baghdad, two deaths from a roadside bomb going after a police patrol in southern Baghdad, two killed on a bus with a sticky bomb attached in al-Jihad southwest Baghdad, topped off by 65 deaths at a funeral in Shula, northwest Baghdad. Like the December 22 events, all of these bombings took place in civilian areas, although the security forces and public officials were targeted.

Looking back over the entire year, Al Qaeda usually carries out at least one of these media grabbing, mass casualty attacks each month. In January, they had three assaults, killing 65 police recruits in Salahaddin, and 79 Shiite pilgrims heading for Karbala in two separate bombings. In February, a suicide bomber killed 37 Shiite pilgrims in a bus heading for the shrine in Samarra, Salahaddin. In March, an Al Qaeda assault team attacked the Salahaddin provincial council building in Tikrit leaving 71 dead. When the summer came, the Islamists picked up their activity as they have done each year. They began with two attacks in May against a police headquarters in Hilla, Babil, and a triple bombing in the government center in Kirkuk. That was followed by two more in June with a suicide car bombing outside the Qadisiyah governor’s house in Diwaniya killing 27, and 34 killed by bombs in a market in Baghdad’s Jihad Shurt al-Rabaa area. The militants than re-grouped until August when they struck a market in Kut, Wasit, leaving 40 dead, and then a Sunni mosque in Ghazaliya, western Baghdad that killed 32. The next month, 22 pilgrims were executed in Nikhaib, Anbar. On October 12, four separate bombs hit Baghdad with 25 casualties. Finally, on October 27, 34 were killed by an IED in Ur, Baghdad. Once again, Al Qaeda was silent for two months until the December 22 events. The pauses were likely the result of the organization having to plan, gather intelligence, and re-supply for their next wave of attacks. The group was also more active in the first six months of 2011, when it carried out nine major operations leaving behind 383 dead, compared to just six in the second half with 228 killed. Over the course of the year, Al Qaeda also varied their targets between bold assaults upon government offices, brazen attacks on Shiite pilgrims, and bombings of markets and other places where civilians would congregate.

2011’s Deadliest Al Qaeda In Iraq Attacks
  • Jan. 18 65 police recruits killed by suicide bomber in Tikrit, Salahaddin
  • Jan. 20 56 Shiite pilgrims killed by car bombs in Karbala
  • Jan. 24 33 Shiite pilgrims killed in two separate bombings outside of Karbala
  • Feb. 12 37 Shiite pilgrims killed heading to Samarra mosque, Salahaddin
  • Mar. 29 71 killed during assault upon Salahaddin provincial council building in Tikrit
  • May 5 30 killed by suicide bomber outside Hilla police headquarters in Babil
  • May 19 30 killed by triple bombing in Kirkuk government center in Tamim
  • Jun. 21 27 killed by suicide car bomb in Diwaniya by Qadisiyah’s governor’s house
  • Jun. 23 34 killed by bombs in market in Jihad Shurt al-Rabaa, southwest Baghdad
  • Aug. 15 40 killed by bomb in freezer and car bomb in market in Kut, Wasit
  • Aug. 28 32 killed by suicide bomber in Sunni mosque in Ghazaliya, western Baghdad
  • Sep. 22 22 Shiite pilgrims headed for Karbala executed in Nikhaib, Anbar
  • Oct. 12 25 killed in four bombs across Baghdad
  • Oct. 27 34 killed by roadside bomb in Ur, Baghdad
  • Dec. 22 75 killed by 16 bombs and one rocket across Baghdad

In the United States, December’s events were immediately jumped upon by the press, pundits, and politicians to claim that Iraq was unraveling. Many newspapers for example, linked the attacks to the on-going political crisis between Prime Minister Maliki and the Iraqi National Movement. Politicians such as Senator John McCain of Arizona blamed the Obama administration, claiming that its decision to withdraw troops left Iraq vulnerable to coming apart. These statements ignored those made by Iraqi officials, and Al Qaeda’s modus operandi. First, the Islamists might have planned something to mark the end of the U.S. military presence in Iraq, but they have carried out these large operations nearly every month anyway. The head of the security committee in Baghdad’s provincial council thought that the attacks had nothing to do with the Americans, but was rather meant to show that Al Qaeda was still active in the country. He also noted that the U.S. had not stopped these bombings from happening before. Finally, the day’s events took weeks of planning before there was any crisis between Iraq’s leading parties. The two have been disagreeing since the December 2009 parliamentary elections. Whether America had kept troops in Iraq or not, and whether Maliki and the National Movement were arguing or getting along, the country would still face this serious terrorist threat.

Despite all of these large-scale attacks that have occurred this year, Al Qaeda in Iraq is not what it use to be. It no longer holds any territory, and its standing amongst Iraqis has dramatically fallen off. Rather than an insurgent group, it is now more of a terrorist group that has increasingly become a criminal organization similar to the mafia to keep itself afloat. These major operations are aimed at not only undermining the government, but to keep its name in the press so that it can remain relevant, and hope to gain donations from Islamists within and without Iraq. While they are still capable of taking a deadly toll within the country, it is still not as bad as it was a few years ago when the country was in the middle of a sectarian civil war, Baghdad was being ethnically cleansed, and the government was nearly incapable of operating because of the violence. Al Qaeda is still hanging on, but it is definitely on a steady decline.


Aswat al-Iraq, “Baghdad’s Karrada district’s victims reach 13 killed, 36 injured,” 12/22/11
- “Four civilians seriously injured in New Baghdad explosion,” 12/22/11
- “SECURITY:At least 33 civilians killed or injured in series of explosions in Baghdad Thursday,” 12/22/11
- “Security situation under control, Thursday explosions, preplanned, Iraqi official says,” 12/22/11
- “Three civilians killed, 9 others injured, in booby-trapped car blast in east Baghdad,” 12/22/11
- “URGENT: Two civilians killed, 6 others injured in Aadamiya district, after series of Baghdad attacks,” 12/22/11

Gould, Martin, “McCain: Iraq ‘Unraveling’ Under Obama Withdrawal,” Newsmax, 12/22/11

Gutman, Roy and Hammoudi, Laith, “Iraq arrests four security officials following Baghdad bombings,” McClatchy Newspapers, 12/24/11

Healy, Jack, Schmidt, Michael, and Arango, Tim, “Explosions Rock Baghdad Amid Iraqi Political Crisis,” New York Times, 12/22/11

Iraq Body Count

Issa, Sahar, “Bomb assaults throughout Baghdad kill at least 63,” McClatchy Newspapers, 12/22/11

Al Jazeera, “Dozens killed in Baghdad blasts,” 12/22/11

Kadim, Karim, “Al-Qaeda in Iraq says it was behind Baghdad blasts,” Associated Press, 12/27/11

Morse, Dan and Alwan, Aziz, “Baghdad explosions kill at least 63 in first major violence since U.S. departure,” Washington Post, 12/22/11

Wanan, Jaafar, “CBI official survived blast,” AK News, 12/22/11
- “Coordinated Baghdad bombings,” AK News, 12/22/11

Wanan, Jaafar and Shamari, Yazin, “UPDATE: Baghdad blasts kill 49, wound 169,” AK News, 12/22/11


amagi said...

While it's true that Al Qaeda 'officially' holds no territory in Iraq, it's my understanding that Mosul is still tacitly under their control -- i.e. the government has only as much influence as the ISI allows. They've held on far longer than I thought possible -- I hope they eventually get their due. Seems as though we could be waiting a while for a crackdown, however.

Joel Wing said...

Amagi, yes definitely true, Al Qaeda still does have a lot of sway over Mosul. They get a lot of their money there because it's a business/trade hub and they extort money from them. Still, they operate more like a mafia there, and in the shadows. It's not like before when AQI would have parades down the street and were declaring an Islamic Republic in Iraq.

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