Aftermath of Karada, Baghdad bombing. July 3, 2016. AP photo.
Last Sunday’s horrific bombing on the busy Karada shopping district in Baghdad was the most horrific terrorist bombing attack ever on the Iraqi capital to date, something which might affect the long-anticipated liberation of Mosul.
Two major bomb attacks rocked the Iraqi capital last May. They coincided with the political tumult stirred up by the Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who was fed-up with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s failure to implement his long promised governmental reforms. Islamic State (ISIS) claimed responsibility for the attacks – the two most deadly of which took place on May 11th and 17th respectively.
Faced with an impasse in parliament and mounting terrorist threats on the capital Abadi announced the beginning of a major military offensive against ISIS-occupied Fallujah. Located a mere 60 kilometers west of Baghdad Abadi said that was where ISIS was launching their deadly bomb attacks from, therefore uprooting them from that city once and for all would make Baghdad much less vulnerable.
Accordingly he told protesters to stay at home; pointing out that the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) had their hands full combating the ISIS threat in Fallujah and ensuring ISIS was denied that launchpad to kill more Iraqi civilians in Baghdad.
By the end of June ISIS was forced out of Fallujah by Iraqi forces, supported by US airstrikes and backed-up by the Shiite-majority Hashd al-Shaabi coalition of militias. Abadi, donning the black uniform of the Iraqi Army’s elite special forces division, was shown on Iraqi television in the city during the operation, conveying an image of strong leadership and resolve against the militants.
Last Sunday’s attack however has dashed all illusions that Baghdad is less vulnerable now that ISIS is out of Fallujah, the Karada bombing was worse than the May bombings and any bombing carried out since the start of the Iraq War all the way back in 2003, leaving a total of 292 dead.
Iraq’s interior minister, recognizing the implications of the failure of the security forces in the Iraqi capital, has accordingly offered to resign. The city’s ubiquitous security checkpoints completely failed to stop this atrocity.
Consequently this raises serious questions about Iraqi morale ahead of the liberation of Mosul. While the Iraqi Army recently made some headway against ISIS-held villages southeast of Mosul Iraqis in Baghdad have been shown they are still vulnerable to increasingly more lethal attacks.
This is politically disastrous for an Iraqi leadership which framed the Fallujah operation as a necessary step to stop more ISIS attacks in the capital.
Fallujah is a mere 60 kilometers from Baghdad; Mosul is about 400 kilometers north of the capital. While residents of the Iraqi capital doubtlessly want to see the group purged from that city as soon as possible they may be hesitant about diverting manpower to an operation that far north when the capital is still clearly vulnerable to attacks by these militants.
With the aforementioned failure of the labyrinth of checkpoints, necessitated by the violence of the Iraq War, to protect them an already disgruntled Iraqi populace sick of waiting for political reform may seek to prioritize the strengthening of their security apparatus to ensure that ISIS are unable to mount such massive atrocities ever again.
Or the heinous nature of last Sunday’s crime against humanity leveled against them may instead lead them to conclude that offense is the best form of defense and that such attacks can only be stopped when ISIS is completely routed from every inch of Iraqi territory where they have erected the black flag of their self-styled caliphate.
Paul Iddon is a Rudaw reporter based in Erbil, Kurdistan Region.