At the start of October 2015 a car bomb went off in Zubayr, Basra leaving dozens of casualties. While vehicle borne improvised explosives devices (VBIEDs) are nothing new to Iraq, this one marked the Islamic State’s return to southern Iraq. That region of the country had not been bombed for a year, but IS had been plotting for months to deliver a car bomb to that region.
On October 5, a VBIED detonated in a market in Zubayr in Basra. Ten people were killed and 25 wounded. This was a notable event because the last time a car bomb went off in southern Iraq was back on October 24 when there was an explosion in a garage in Najaf city that luckily left no casualties. (1) The twelve month gap between those two attacks was caused by a major defeat for the Islamic State, only to see the group bounce back in another sign of its resiliency.
The major reason why southern Iraq was not bombed for a year was the loss of Jurf al-Sakhr in Babil, the Islamic State’s major base in the south. In October 2014, the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) and Hashd finally cleared the area after months of failed attempts. Jurf al-Sakhr was a hub of IS’s activities in not only Babil, but neighboring Anbar and Baghdad, and the starting point for car bombs into southern Iraq. With the loss of this base, IS was scattered across northern Babil, and took months to regroup there. By 2015, the insurgents were more interested in attacking Baghdad and Anbar, and there were no car bombs attempts in the south at all. That all began to change when summer started.
Starting in June 2015 the Islamic State once again began trying to plant VBIEDs in the south, but was unsuccessful. On June 10, seven car bombs were discovered in Karbala City. Six days later a suicide car bomber was killed trying to get close to the Imam Ali shrine in Najaf. Two months later a suicide car bomb was discovered in Ain al-Tamur in Karbala. The next month a car bomb was found in that same town. While none of these attempts worked for IS, it showed renewed interest in the south for the group. Karbala and Najaf were the targets because car bombs there could help stoke sectarian tensions, which the insurgents thrive off of. Those VBIEDs likely originated in Anbar or Babil and showed that IS had re-established its lines into at least the outer south. The October bombing in Basra highlighted that Is was now active once again at the farthest tip of the country.
The Islamic State finally made a break through when it detonated a car bomb in Basra. The group had been trying for the last several months to plant a VBIED in the south, but the security forces thwarted its plans. Now IS was able to deliver a bomb all the way to Basra. More attempts are likely as IS is in the middle of a VBIED campaign that began in July. It has been able to rebuild itself in northern Babil, and feels confident enough to divert some of its resources away from Anbar and Baghdad to try to strike the south. The Iraqi Security Forces do not have a good record breaking up insurgent networks, but hopefully its counter measures can discover most of these devices before they go off. They will have to be on guard as the IS threat is renewed in the region.
1. There was a truck bombing in Basra’s Um Qasr in March 2015, but most think it was due to a local dispute rather than being an act of the Islamic State.
Abdul-Zahra, Qassm, "Car bombs in Iraq kill 18, wound 45," Associated Press, 10/5/15
AIN, "Car bombs seized in Karbala," 6/10/15
Al Forat, "Car bomb explodes in Najaf," 10/24/14
- "Initial Count: Basra truck bombing kills, injures 43 civilians," 3/18/15
Al Mada, "Thwart a suicide car bombing in Karbala and the arrest 28 suspects in criminal cases," 8/18/15
Al Masalah, "Found a car bomb west of Karbala," 9/15/15
Shafaq News, "Foiled a suicide attack after breaking through barriers and accessing the shrine of Imam Ali in Najaf," 6/16/15