In an unprecedented event, a terrorist explosion caused by a motorcycle hit the southern city of Basra on Dec. 7. At least four were killed and four others were wounded.
Basra has not been targeted by such attacks for years. Therefore, the attack was read as a significant breach to Iraqi security, especially in this area far from the access of the Islamic State.
A day after the explosion, Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi travelled to Basra, straight from his trip to Makhmour in northern Iraq that was targeted by IS several times in the past two weeks.
Kadhimi has pointed to the militias in Basra for the responsibility of the attack, while he was accusing IS for the attack in Makhmour.
He said in Makhmour: “Iraq is great with its people and institutions, and its heroes from the various types of security forces, and there is no room for IS to return.”
In Basra, however, he said, “Just as we arrested the killers of Hisham, Ahmed and Safaa, we will bring the criminals one by one, they will stand before the just judiciary and before the people to expose their crimes.”
Hisham al-Hashimi was a prominent Iraqi researcher and analyst who was assassinated in front of his house in July 2020. The shooter was arrested and he confessed that he was affiliated with the Shiite militias, Kata’ib Hezbollah, in particular.
Ahmed Abdessamad, a news correspondent and his cameraman, Safaa Ghali, were vocal opposers of Iranian-backed militias and covered the 2019 protests. They were killed while driving home in Basra last year.
Several members of the group known as Death Squad responsible for the assassinations were arrested early this year.
Last month, two of the squad’s members were sentenced to death, while four others remain under investigation.
The death squad consists of 16 members who are mostly affiliated with Kata’ib Hezbolla and intensified their terrorist activities during the 2019 popular protests.
One of the arrested members admitted to killing a 14-year-old protester, Mujtaba Ahmad, as well.
A security official who spoke on the condition of anonymity confirmed to Al-Monitor that yesterday's attack was to target investigative officer who handle the case of the death squads. The officer survived, while four civilians were burned to death when the motorcycle exploded and set their car on fire.
The officer was investigating the death squad that was responsible for killing many Iraqi journalists such as Abdessamad and Ghali.
Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr also attributed Basra’s explosion to the “uncontrolled militias who misuse weapons under pretext of resistance.”
Kadhimi also linked the people responsible for yesterday's attack to a series of assassinations of Iraqi security officials. “The murder of our officers in the security services was treacherous and treasonous, and the cold-blooded murder of our best youth is one series of crimes known to all,” said Kadhimi in Basra today.
Last March, a senior intelligence officer, Lt. Col. Mahmoud Hussein, was assassinated outside his brother-in-law's house in Western Baghdad by an unidentified gunman. He was killed after the head of Asai’b Ahl al-Haq, Qais al-Khazali falsely claimed in a tweet that an Emirati security team manages the Iraqi National Intelligence Service.
In June, another intelligence officer, Col. Nibras al-Fayli was killed in front of his house in Eastern Baghdad. Prior to his assassination, a commander of Popular Mobilization Units, Qassim Musleh was arrested on the charges of killing activists, only to be released after PMU militia members surrounded government headquarters in Baghdad.
Recently on Dec. 4, two unidentified gunmen riding a motorcycle in Karbala killed an intelligence director, Abbas Kadhim Abdul Wahed, who was involved in investigating Qassim Musleh, suspected of killing prominent Iraqi activist Ihab al-Wazni. Ihab had strongly criticized militias outside of state’s control.
Following the violent protests against the elections last month, the well-known militia's channel in Telegram, Sabereen News, posted a threat to Kadhimi and his team: “We will make you pay the price. We will revenge, one after the other one .. remember Al-Za'franiya, remember Adl suburb, remember Al-Baladiyat.”
The three incidents mentioned in the post refer to the three successful attacks against Iraqi intelligence officers, which led to the killing of them.
A day later, the drone attack occurred on the Prime Minister's house. Kadhimi, who is also the acting director of Iraq’s intelligence apparatus, survived the assassination attempt.