BAGHDAD — On May 11, the Iraqi capital was the scene of three terror attacks, each bomb targeting different areas on both sides of the Tigris River that separates the city. The death toll has reached terrifying numbers with more than 100 people killed, including women and children, and around 170 injured. The Islamic State (IS) claimed responsibility for all three attacks.
The most deadly attack occurred in the Shiite-majority Sadr City east of Baghdad, where 64 people were killed and 87 injured, some of whom severely, security sources told Al-Monitor the day after the attack.
This bomb attack targeted the popular Arriba market, which is surrounded by a concrete barrier of 3 meters (roughly 10 feet) high that prevent cars from entering. However, witnesses told Al-Monitor that the explosion was caused by a car bomb close to the entrance gate where there is a lot of foot traffic.
Hakim al-Zamili, member of the Iraqi parliament’s Security and Defense Committee, said in a statement hours after the bombing, “The [series] of bombings that targeted the poor in Sadr City [came as a response] to their legitimate demands for removing the corrupt, the partisan and the incompetent persons in charge of security and [the politicians] clinging to their positions in power.”
Zamili hails from Sadr City and his family still lives there; he is one of the strongest supporters of the ongoing demonstrations against the government, which explains his angry statement against the government and security leaders.
In fact, the majority of the protesters in Baghdad — particularly those who stormed the Green Zone April 30 — are from Sadr City,which suffers from overpopulation, poverty and unemployment. Sadr City, which is the largest neighborhood in Baghdad, is also the area where Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has the most influence.
The anger toward the government and security leaders escalated in Sadr City following the attacks, with a demonstration held in the neighborhood only hours after the bombing. The protesters condemned the government, and some even blamed the Iraqi officials for the attacks.
Writer and journalist Zaher Moussa, who hails from Sadr City, pointed to two options explaining how the car carrying the bomb could have entered the neighborhood.
Moussa told Al-Monitor, “First, the road leading to the market in Sadr City is easy to navigate. However, the terrorist driving the car with the bomb would have had to go through the main security checkpoints in every corner of Sadr City.”
He said, “It is not hard for terrorists to cross a security checkpoint in Iraq.”
He then said that the car could have been also rigged inside Sadr City. “It is very possible that the bomb was placed in the car from the inside, as this has happened before. However, the assembly process [of placing a bomb in a car] is slow and is done at different intervals.”
Security experts in Baghdad told Al-Monitor that the bombings happened because IS is trying to influence the speed with which the military operations of the security forces and tribes are targeting IS in areas under its control, and because the political disputes have negatively affected the security situation.
In this context, Imad Alou, an expert on security affairs, told Al-Monitor, “Whenever a political crisis emerges, the security situation in the country is negatively affected.” He added, “IS has moved its sleeper cells as it has been facing major pressure on the battle fronts. The government ought to activate its intelligence efforts and find out where these sleeper cells are located in the provinces and cities. [The government] should spare no effort to put pressure on these cells and arrest them.”
For his part, Hisham al-Hashemi, a visiting professor at Al-Nahrain Center for Strategic Studies, told Al-Monitor, “Every time IS finds itself under pressure in cities under its control, it carries out cowardly acts of terrorism in other cities that are unstable on the security level — such as Baghdad.”
Hashemi, who published a book titled “IS’ world” about the hierarchical organization of IS, stressed “the need for the national security services to be in charge of the security dossier instead of Baghdad’s Operations Command.”
Security in the capital is managed by the Operations Command in Baghdad, which follows the orders of the Ministry of Defense that includes the intelligence services. However, many officials in Baghdad consider that the protection of the capital should fall under the Ministry of Interior’s responsibility.
Hashemi said the government should also “activate local security in the markets and places of worship by resorting to the local police. Local security cannot be established through the militarization of cities and by setting up checkpoints that obstruct roads. Rather it can be achieved by finding digital and technical solutions to the problem of detecting bombs.”
Most local or Arab statements condemning the bombings that rocked Baghdad urged Iraqi political parties to overcome their disputes and reach political and national reconciliation for the country’s political and security stability.
Secretary-General of the Arab League Nabil al-Araby stressed in a statement May 11, “The Arab League supports the efforts deployed by the Iraqi government to eliminate IS and fight terrorism and extremist groups.”
He called on “all Iraqi political leaders to unify their voices and end the political divide to prevent radical terrorist organizations and groups from sowing discord, sparking sectarian strife and undermining Iraq’s security and stability.”
The bombings that struck the Iraqi capital last week may have proven again that terrorism is quickly spreading and carefully timed. On the morning of May 11, Baghdad's Sadr City was attacked, on the eastern side of the Tigris River; at night, the Shiite area of al-Kadhimiya and Sunni area of Hayy al-Jami'a in Karkh, on the western side of the capital, were targeted by bomb attacks.
In light of this situation, the Iraqi political elites should come up with plans to fortify Iraqi cities and protect them from terror attacks. However, this can only be achieved once the internal political disputes are resolved and a solution that ensures political stability, and consequently security and stability, is reached.