Insurgents in Iraq have carried out a series of both high and low profile attacks in January 2012. Most of these were aimed at Shiite pilgrims heading to Karbala or another prominent mosque in Basra. There was also an attack upon a police headquarters in Anbar province. The press has called this a dramatic escalation of violence, but it largely followers the pattern of insurgent operations from previous years.
Since the beginning of the year, militants have been targeting Shiite pilgrims. January is Arbayeen, when Shiites commemorate the death of the Imam Hussein Ibn Ali who died in a battle in Karbala in 680A.D. Ali was the grandson of the Prophet Mohammed. Iraqis from around the country and world make a yearly pilgrimage to the holy city during this time, which has provided a variety of targets for insurgents for years now. In 2012, the attacks started on January 5 when bombs went off in Batha outside of Nasiriyah in Dhi Qar killing 45, in Baghdad killing 15, and in Mosul leaving one additional casualty. The next four days were full of violence as well. On January 6, two bombs wounded ten pilgrims in southwest Baghdad. On January 7, one person was killed, and five injured in Mahmudiyah, Babil from a bomb. The following day, two pilgrims were killed, and 13 wounded by an explosive at a checkpoint north of Karbala. January 9 was marked by two attacks, starting with one killed and six wounded in Mahmudiyah by a bomb on the highway, and then a car bomb at a checkpoint in Hindiya, Karbala that left one dead, and thirteen wounded. That same day, police found a motorbike packed with explosives and a car bomb in Karbala, while four Al Qaeda operatives were arrested in Babil province planning more attacks. On January 10, the police announced the arrest of 57 terrorists and the dismantling of fourteen bombs that were all aimed at people travelling to Karbala. The largest attack to date came on January 14, when 64 were killed and 137 wounded when a bomb went off targeting Shiites who were heading to the Khatwa mosque in Zubayr in Basra province. Some Iraqis in the south who can’t make the trip to Karbala instead head to Zubayr for the end of Arbayeen. Since millions of Iraqis and foreigners travel from around the country and world to Karbala and Zubayr during January, they provide a wealth of targets for insurgents. The security forces can only protect so much of this traffic, providing ample opportunities for militants to plant bombs or carry out suicide attacks. As people travel back home they will still be under threat, but after that hopefully the violence will diminish. While Al Qaeda is blamed for most of these operations, other insurgent groups are likely involved as well, because of the width and breadth of attacks throughout the country.
|Aftermath of the January 14 bombing in Basra province (Radio Nawa)|
Insurgents also found the time to attack the provincial police headquarters in Ramadi, Anbar. On January 15, starting at 8:30 am, a small group of militants set off four car bombs in the provincial capital. When police went to investigate those blast sites, a small team assaulted the security complex dressed in official uniforms. They got trapped inside, and had a three-hour shootout with the security forces, until they eventually set off suicide bomb vests. Besides the five insurgents, 7 police were killed, and thirteen people wounded. Some Iraqi officials thought that the militants were trying to break out some of their compatriots from a prison that was part of the headquarters. This type of assault has the hallmark of Al Qaeda, as it has carried out similar, high profile operations in the past. In March and June 2011 for instance, it went after the Salahaddin and Diyala provincial council buildings respectively. Even though nothing seemed to have been achieved by the attack, it did receive lots of press, which is a major goal of the organization, because it helps with fund raising, and makes it seem like Al Qaeda is still a major group within the country. It also shows that militants are not just about sectarian attacks since they are Sunnis and this target was Sunni as well.
|Burning police cars from the attack upon the Anbar provincial security complex in Ramadi (Al Badeel Iraq)|
The press is noting that this is a dramatic increase in violence in Iraq, but it resembles almost exactly what happened in January 2011. In that month, Shiites and the security forces were attacked as well. Starting on January 18, a bomb went off at a police recruiting center in Tikrit, Salahaddin killing 54 and wounding 137. That same day, there was an explosion in northern Baghdad wounding five pilgrims heading for Karbala. On January 19, a police training center in Baquba, Diyala was hit with a suicide car bomb leaving three dead, and 18 wounded, two pilgrims were killed and fifteen others wounded in Baquba, Diyala, and four terrorist cells consisting of 45 men were rounded up by the security forces for planning more attacks upon pilgrims. They belonged to Al Qaeda, the Islamic Army, and al-Awda Party, showing that not just the first group was responsible for all the violence against the Shiites. The next day, two Shiites were killed and twenty wounded in bombings in southern Baghdad and Baquba. Then on January 21, pilgrims were hit in Karbala by two car bombs, killing 33 and wounding 203. Two days later, one Iranian pilgrim was killed and eight wounded when a car bomb went off next to their bus. On January 24, a car bomb killed one and wounded 20, and then three others left 12 killed, and 163 wounded, both in Karbala. Finally, on January 25, an improvised explosive device wounded six on a bus returning from Karbala to Baghdad, and then on January 27, a funeral was bombed, killing 48, and wounding 121. According to Iraq Body Count, 387 Iraqis were killed by the end of the month. That was the third deadliest for the year, and was the bloodiest in the previous five months. January 2012 looks to match that number, showing that this year’s violence is much like last year’s. It does not mark a new period of insurgent activity, nor a move towards civil war since Shiites have been attacked like this every year, and have not retaliated since 2008.
January obviously marks an increase in activity for insurgent groups. Now that the United States has withdrawn its forces, and the government is stuck in its latest crisis, the media and some pundits seem to be caught up in characterizing Iraq as unraveling. This ignores the fact that this January mirrors last January in terms of deaths and security incidents, and that Iraq’s politicians have been in one long drawn out dispute since the March 2010 elections. When the month is over, attacks will likely go back to what they were the month before as they have done in the past, and the political parties will continue to argue. Despite all that, life goes on in Iraq. Violence is not as widespread as it use to be, and many Iraqis go about their business no longer affected by it. January unfortunately, is one of those months that militants mark on their calendars each year to try to do their best at killing as many as possible, and sow as much chaos as possible.
Aswat al-Iraq, “3 killed, 18 wounded in Diala suicide attack,” 1/19/11
- “4 armed cells dismantled before targeting Shiite visitors,” 1/19/11- “5 Shiite visitors injured in Baghdad,” 1/18/11
- “10 casualties in 2 explosions in Baghdad,” 1/6/12
- “13 casualties in 2 Karbala explosions,” 1/8/12
- “64 killings, 137 wounded in Basrah explosion,” 1/14/12
- “Baghdad car bomb casualties up to 169,” 1/27/11
- “Bombed car with permit captured in Karbala,” 1/9/12
- “Car blows up in Karbala causing several casualties,” 1/9/12
- “Civilian killed, 8 injured in booby-trapped car blast against Iranian visitors in Iraq:,” 1/23/11
- “Four Qaeda member arrested in Karbala,” 1/9/12
- “Fresh attack on Shiite visitors in Baaquba, 11 casualties,” 1/20/11
- “IED kills, wounds 11 Shiite visitors in Baghdad,” 1/20/11- “Karbala Police foil attempt by terrorists on motorbikes to attack city,” 1/9/12
- “Karbala blasts casualties rise to 175,” 1/24/11
- “Karbala blasts leave 28 killed, 203 wounded – medic,” 1/21/11
- “Karbala witnesses booby-trapped car blast:,” 1/24/11
- “SECURITY: Child killed, 5 women injured in explosion against Imam Hussein Day’s visitors in Mosul,” 1/5/12
- “Shiite pilgrim killed in Baghdad,” 1/7/12
- “Six Iraqi civilians injured in explosive charge blast during their return from religious visit,” 1/25/11
- “Suicide bombing kills 2 visitors, injures 15 in Diala,” 1/19/11- “Tikrit attack’s toll reaches 54 dead, 137 wounded,” 1/18/12
- “URGENT / Car bomb explodes near police training center in Diala,” 1/19/11
- “Victims of Karbala explosions last week reach 33 killed,” 1/23/11
- “Visitor killed, 6 injured in Mahmoudiya,” 1/9/12
BBC, “Iraq city of Ramadi hit by attacks on police station,” 1/15/12
Dagher, Sam and Yaseen, Jabbar, “Gunmen Storm Iraq Compound, Kill 7 Police,” Wall Street Journal, 1/15/12
Healy, Jack, “Iraqi Militants Kill 7 at Provincial Offices,” New York Times, 6/14/11
Iraq Body Count
Juhl, Bushra, “Gunmen storm Iraq compound, kill 7 people,” Associated Press, 1/15/12
Schmidt, Michael, “Blast Kills Dozens of Shiite Worshippers in Southern Iraq,” New York Times, 1/14/12