ISIS attacks could reignite sectarian strife in Iraq

Sunday 17/07/2016
ISIS would like to revive sectarian war

BAGHDAD - Suffering recent defeats at the hands of Iraqi security forces and Shia militias, the Islamic State (ISIS) un­leashed bloody attacks on Shia targets in and around Baghdad in a possible attempt to reignite sec­tarian strife that could ultimately divide Iraq.
Shia militias, some affiliated with powerful clergy allied with non- Arab Iran, are likely ready for vio­lent retaliation against the Sunnis, who ruled Iraq for a long time and had oppressed the Shia majority. Militias, especially those affiliated with Iraq’s Interior Ministry, have been vying to control security in the capital city of 7 million people, a role that has been traditionally limited to the army.
The attacks in and around Bagh­dad raised speculation that ISIS is reverting from armed confronta­tions in battlefronts to specific at­tacks involving massive explosions inflicting considerable harm on the population and terrorising civilians.
“So far, they seem to be revenge attacks to show the government that ISIS is still strong and capable of inflicting harm in Iraq,” said retired army colonel Abbas al-Taif.
Taif pointed out that ISIS’s pre­decessor, al-Qaeda in Iraq, had fa­voured suicide attacks to maxim­ise its gains. “Al-Qaeda used to hit where it hurt most, like in populat­ed marketplaces, residential neigh­bourhoods and mosques — all with predominantly Shia populations,” he said. “ISIS seems to be moving in the same direction.”
ISIS used the tactics in a strike on Karrada, a commercial centre on the Tigris river. It is an affluent Bagh­dad district that is predominantly Shia but is also home to Sunnis and Christians.
Home to many Iraqi Jews in the 1950s, the area was spared the sectarian violence that ripped through Iraq in 2005-06.
A car bombing in the busy shop­ping district on July 3rd was the deadliest in Iraq’s war-weary capital since the start of the 2003 US-led war that toppled Saddam Hussein. The attack killed more than 290 peo­ple and wounded 200 others.
It sent shockwaves among Iraqis, who barely had enough time to re­joice over the victory of the security forces against ISIS in northern and western Iraq.
A few days later, ISIS militants, us­ing mortar shells and suicide bomb­ers, attacked a revered Shia shrine in Balad north of Baghdad, killing at least 36 people.
The two assaults took place days after Iraqi authorities announced the recapture of the militant bastion of Falluja, about 60km west of Bagh­dad, following a month of fighting.
Iraqi soldiers also achieved a sig­nificant victory in driving militants out of an airbase near the northern ISIS-held city of Mosul. Iraqi officials boasted that Falluja’s seizure would end the explosions in the capital and that the days of ISIS jihadists were numbered.
Baghdad resident Hilal Ahmed said the Karrada and Balad attacks show that the insurgents are, how­ever, active and resilient.
“The recent victories (over ISIS) have little significance as long as the terrorists are still capable of pene­trating the security measures in and near the capital and killing a lot of people,” Ahmed said.
Mourners at the Karrada blast site expressed anger over the situation when Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi arrived to inspect the dam­age. People threw shoes and bricks at Abadi’s convoy.
ISIS claimed responsibility for both attacks, which analysts said serves two purposes. The first was to ease military pressure on ISIS fight­ers by forcing a lull in the govern­ment response as it calls for backup to prevent future attacks.
The second is to revive the sec­tarian war by luring Shia militias to retaliate against Sunni civilians and repeat the scenario of 2005-06 civil war.
One day after the Karrada attack, Shia militiamen fired mortar shells on a Baghdad camp for Sunni refu­gees from Anbar, killing three peo­ple and wounding several others. Police reported they found several bullet-riddled bodies — presumably Sunnis — in different locations in Baghdad.
Abadi warned that ISIS’s attacks on Karrada and Balad were aimed at “sowing sectarian strife among the people of Iraq”.
“Our terrorist enemy, Daesh, is trying to make up for its bitter de­feat in Falluja,” Abadi said in a state­ment, referring to ISIS by its Arab acronym.
“By attacking a sacred shrine and innocent people, Daesh wants to create a state of destabilisation and security chaos in the country,” he warned.
He accused ISIS of resorting to “cowardly bombings” against civil­ians to try to show it is still power­ful.
The chances of a renewed sectar­ian strife are likely increasing after Karrada and Balad attacks.
“People are losing faith in the state, which is failing to protect them,” said Baghdad resident Qais Mustafa. “This only serves the goals of Shia militiamen and Sunni mili­tants, who both believe that coexist­ence is not possible and that justice should be served their way.”