The Daily Iraq: 30 July 2013

Iraq Body Count figures for July 29: 60 killed

IBC total to-date for July, 2013: 891 civilians killed

22 more reported killed today:

On Tuesday, gunmen killed three police and wounded two in an attack on a checkpoint south of Baghdad, while bombings in Kirkuk province, north of the capital, killed a policeman and a civilian, and wounded four people.

And gunmen killed three more policemen in the northern city of Mosul.

Security forces are frequently targeted by militants opposed to the government.

A bomb also exploded at a Sunni mosque in Tuz Khurmatu, north of Baghdad, killing three people and wounding 15.

Both Sunni and Shiite places of worship have been attacked in recent months, raising fears of renewed sectarian conflict.

And bombings in Baghdad province killed seven people and wounded 19, while a bomb in a cafe in Baquba, north of the capital, killed four people and wounded 16.

More news about Monday’s series of bombings, and the state of things in general, below.

Also today, to the surprise of exactly nobody, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS, formerly Al-Qaeda in Iraq) claimed responsibility for Monday’s series of bombings, most of them in Shi’i neighborhoods in Baghdad, that killed 60. Reuters reports:

An al Qaeda-affiliated group said it orchestrated a wave of car bombings across Iraq that killed at least 60 people on Monday in revenge for the mistreatment of the country’s Sunni community.

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, which was formed earlier this year through a merger between al Qaeda’s affiliates in Iraq and Syria, said in a statement posted online it had carefully selected its targets, which were mainly Shi’ites.

The 17 blasts were the latest in a relentless campaign of bombings and shootings that have killed more than 4,000 people since the start of the year. Nearly 900 people have lost their lives in militant attacks in July alone.

It should be noted that “The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant” (or Syria, however you prefer to translate the Arabic al-sham) was not “formed earlier this year through a merger between al Qaeda’s affiliates in Iraq and Syria,” because no such merger ever took place. The only person who believes it did is the head of ISIS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. As far as everybody else (central al-Qaeda, its Syrian affiliate Jabhat al Nusrah) is concerned, there never was any merger.

Reuters also took a look at the performance of the Iraqi security forces in the midst of this heightened violence, particularly in light of last week’s infamous prison break, and came away unimpressed:

In a statement this week, the Interior Ministry at last acknowledged what most Iraqis have long since understood: “The country is currently facing an open war launched by bloodthirsty sectarian forces that aims to plunge the country into chaos.”

The jailbreak has revealed that Iraq’s own security forces – trained and equipped by Washington with nearly $25 billion and numbering more than a million strong – are outmatched against foes who once took on the full might of the United States.

“Although you’ve got the numbers, the kit and the capacity in place, the Iraqi military is still not a coherent force that can coordinate its intelligence collection with action,” said Toby Dodge at the London School of Economics, who has written several books on Iraq.

This strikes me as an unfair criticism. The prison break operation displayed a level of organizational sophistication that I don’t think anybody knew ISIS possessed, because operations like that are incredibly challenging to pull off. As the War Nerd notes:

What you have to understand is how incredibly difficult urban guerrilla warfare really is. Nobody in the first world really appreciates this, because it’s so long since we ever had to do it ourselves. We’re used to thinking of the way a conventional army works. An army like that can do its logistics in daylight. Its warehouses have official insignia, its vehicles have army stencils on them, there’s no need to sneak around. That makes it all very easy. Now imagine putting together a big military operation—and this breakout was a big one by any standards—without being able to do any of that logistical work openly. Every round of ammunition has to be smuggled in somehow. So do all the men required for the operation—and this one probably took at least a hundred men, all of them strangers to the neighborhood, easily noticed, very hard to hide. Above all, imagine the terror you’d feel every minute, because if a cop or snitch notices what you’re doing, you and your whole family won’t just die, but suffer the kind of torture that makes you beg to die. Comparing logistics for a conventional army and an urban guerrilla force is like the old comparison between walking across a board on bricks, a few inches off the floor, and walking the same board over the Grand Canyon.

When these deeply committed paramilitary organizations operate at peak efficiency, even well-trained western security forces, which are certainly coherent although they are still subject to intelligence failures, can have a hard time stopping them. What was 9/11, after all, if not a coordinated bombing campaign like Monday’s attacks, using planes instead of cars? The Iraqi military drove Al-Qaeda in Iraq, or the Islamic State of Wherever, or whatever they were calling themselves five years ago, underground in 2008 not by managing to counter their asymmetric warfare, but by squeezing their support in Iraq’s Sunni community, offering carrots to Arab Sunni tribes (stacks of American cash, for example) in exchange for their cooperation in rooting out the extremists in their own midst. To be fair, most Iraqi Sunni Arabs probably hate ISIS: its fighters are mostly foreigners, they target non-militant Sunni Arabs just as often as they target Kurds and Shi’a Arabs, and they practice a kind of Islam that was already archaic five centuries ago. But I have to believe, despite the arguments that have been made to the contrary, that the general unrest among Iraq’s Arab Sunnis has played some role, even a small one, in ISIS’ resurgence, by giving them some room to operate again. The coincidence of the increased violence starting just as the Sunni community really started airing its grievances just seems too great to have happened by chance.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.