Tens of thousands of Iraqi military personnel, Shiite militiamen, police, and allied Sunni Arab tribesmen remain deployed in Baghdad and the Baghdad Belt to defend the city against Islamic State (IS) advances. These static deployments, however, are failing to prevent daily attacks in Baghdad. The said attacks, which have persisted for years, come in various types, including assassinations, roadside bombings, mortar fire, suicide bombings, and car bombs. In September, the UN said 352 civilians were killed in Baghdad and similar numbers will likely be reported over the coming months.
The most devastating attacks are car bombs, including those driven by suicide attackers. Most of these bombings, which often occur several times a week, target the city’s Shiite population. Targets are often chosen to maximize casualties, and thus areas with high concentrations of people, like a market, are often targeted. For instance, on October 11, three car bombs exploded in the neighborhoods of Kadimiyah and Shuala, killing 41 people.
These bombings underscore several important points about the state of IS units responsible for Baghdad operations, along with the city’s defenses. For instance, IS has the ability to carry out sophisticated and coordinated attacks in Baghdad at a heightened pace, despite its strategic commitments further afield in Iraq and Syria. Bolstered security measures in and around the capital are failing to prevent car bombs from entering, often from IS bastions dotted around the city. The ability to successfully deploy these car bombs, through preplanned routes, showcases a high degree of intelligence gathering and possible use of corruption within the security apparatus. Moreover, the militant group also has significant manpower and supplies to build car bombs and secure their production locations. Lastly, the use of suicide attackers points to a continued influx of foreign volunteers, as IS has traditionally used foreigners for such operations.
The Sunni jihadist group will continue to allocate resources for attacks in Baghdad, as they serve several strategic purposes. IS seeks to weaken the public’s confidence in the government’s ability to maintain security. They also aim to exacerbate instability and compel the government to reserve large deployments in the capital as opposed to deploying to other fronts. The jihadists additionally aspire to heighten sectarian tensions to a point of catalyzing more Shiite reprisals. Simply, IS wants to force Iraq’s Sunnis to rely on it for protection against Shiite attacks. Those attacks, meanwhile, are already reportedly on the rise.
Baghdad’s defenses have been successful in preventing IS to take territory in the capital. On the other hand, the points made above foreshadow high casualty figures in Baghdad over the coming months. Furthering this assessment is the likely intention to see attacks escalate to undermine Iraq’s new government. In this context, IS will continue to attack when and where it chooses.