Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Islamic State Launches New Car Bomb Wave In Iraq

After a three year low in monthly car bombs in December 2014, the Islamic State (IS) has been ramping up their use. From January to March 2015 there was a steady increase in the number of vehicle borne improvised explosive devices (VBIEDs) per month. There has also been a new focus upon hitting military targets instead of primarily civilian ones. This points to IS rebuilding its networks after they were disrupted by recent security operations, and returning to their previous level of activity.

December 2014 saw the fewest number of VBIEDs since 2012. There were just 21 car bombs that month. In comparison, in November there were 59. One major cause of the drop appeared to be the Islamic State losing several of its VBIED factories in central Iraq. Jurf al-Sakhr in Babil for example was the group’s major base for launching car bombs into southern Baghdad and southern Iraq overall. That was cleared in October. Security sweeps through southern Salahaddin broke up other suspected car bomb bases as well. IS was also focused upon hitting military targets leading to many VBIEDs either being destroyed or not being reported in the press.

Starting in 2015 IS has rebuilt its resources and launched more and more car bombs each month of the year. In January there were 45 VBIEDs, followed by 52 in February, and 63 in March. The number of days there were car bombs also increased from 13 in December to 16 in January, 17 in February and 18 in March. The number of VBIED waves, three or more days straight with bombings, went from one in December to two each in January and February to nine straight days in March. These all pointed to IS not only recovering from what ever losses and disruptions it suffered at the end of last year to beginning a new phase of car bomb attacks.

Car Bombs Iraq Dec 2014-Mar 2015
Car Bombs
Days With Car Bombs
# of Waves
(3 or more days straight of Car Bombs)
Dec 2014
1 (Dec 9-11)
Jan 2015
2 (Jan 7-9,
Jan 29-31)
2 (Feb 2-5,
Feb 9-12)
1 (Mar 7-15)

Car Bomb Targets Dec 2014-Mar 2015
Dec 2014
Bridges 2
Checkpoints 2
Shops 3
ISF Base/station 4
General 7
Jan 2015
Sheikh Abu Risha’s compound
Ex-MP Convoy
ISF/Militia Base 4
Checkpoint 7
General 15
Fire station
Oil field
Power station
Govt Office/Court 2
Shops/market 3
General 5
ISF/Sahwa/Militiamen 6
Checkpoint/Border crossing 9
Political office
Truck stop
Shops/market 3
ISF base 4
Checkpoints/Border crossing 6
General 7
ISF/Militias 10

The renewed number of car bombs comes with a new strategy in their use as well. Before the vast majority of VBIEDs were used against civilian targets in terrorist attacks to incur the highest number of casualties. In 2013 571 out of 749 targets, 76% were places like markets, shops, mosques, pilgrims, etc. In 2014 525 out of 763 targets, 68%, were civilian. By 2015 however just 45 out of 99 locations bombed were civilians ones or 45%. Instead most of the targets were checkpoints, military convoys, army bases, police stations, etc. In fact, many more VBIEDs were used and destroyed before they even reached their targets in tactical attacks upon the Iraqi Security Forces, peshmerga, and Hashd al-Shabi in recent months.

That shift from civilian to military targets is also seen by the fact that Baghdad is no longer the main target for VBIEDs. From 2012-2014 Baghdad regularly saw the most car bombs each month. That was because not only was it the seat of power, but also IS wanted to attack its Shiite population to rekindle the civil war. For 11 out of 12 months in 2014 for instance, the capital province suffered the most car bombs. In comparison, this year Baghdad has not seen the most car bombs for any month. Instead Salahaddin and Anbar have regularly been at the top of the list in 2015 as that has been where the major fighting has been going on with the government forces.

Car Bomb Locations Dec 2014-Mar 2015
Dec 2014
Baghdad 3
Babil 4
Salahaddin 5
Anbar 7
Jan 2015
Babil 2
Baghdad 2
Diyala 2
Ninewa 3
Salahaddin 9
Anbar 12
Anbar 3
Babil 3
Diyala 3
Baghdad 4
Salahaddin 17
Kirkuk 2
Baghdad 7
Salahaddin 10
Anbar 15

The Islamic State’s renewed wave of car bombs points to three important developments in Iraq. First, every spring the insurgents pick up their attacks, which lasts throughout the summer. The recent increase in VBIEDs could be the earliest sign of this uptick. It also points to IS rebuilding some of its lost networks. Car bombs require cars, explosives, secure areas to build them, intelligence gathering, and people to plant them or suicide bombers to drive them. It appeared that government forces were able to disrupt some of these networks at the end of 2014, but now IS has recuperated. Finally, although IS is based around gaining territory and creating a state it is still a terrorist organization. Even though it is now losing ground it is still fully capable of carrying out deadly attacks. This new round of VBIEDs shows that the government’s victories are only half the battle. Only when IS’s networks are dismantled will it cease to be a threat to the country.

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