Islamic State suicide bombers attack Baghdad during Ramadan

Shortly after midnight, a car bomb was detonated near a popular ice cream shop in the Karrada district of Baghdad. Not long after, closed-circuit television (CCTV) footage of the explosion was widely shared online. The video, which was recorded by a security camera, shows a bustling intersection hours after the sun set during the holy month of Ramadan, and then a massive explosion. (A screen shot can be seen above.)

Hours later, a second bomb rocked the Shawaka area of Baghdad. According to Associated Press, early casualty reports say that more than 30 people were killed and dozens more injured in the two blasts.

Both attacks were quickly claimed by the Islamic State, which identified the supposed “martyrs” as native Iraqis. The first bomber was known as Iyad al-Iraqi and the second as Abu Hussain al-Iraqi. Their vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (VBIEDs) targeted “Rafidi mushrikin,” meaning Shiite polytheists, according to the so-called caliphate.

The Islamic State and its predecessors in Iraq have long fetishized the killing of Shiite civilians. Karrada, a predominately Shiite neighborhood, has been targeted on multiple occasions in the past.

On July 3, 2016, for instance, another suicide bomber drove his VBIED into a crowded shopping area in Karrada. That bombing, one of the most devastating in Iraq’s post-2003 history, also came during the month of Ramadan. Approximately 292 civilians were killed and hundreds more wounded, according to the State Department’s Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2016. Other accounts indicate that the death toll was even higher.

Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s organization has been losing ground in both Iraq and Syria. However, US officials have warned that group is hardly down for the count.

Earlier this month, the new Director of National Intelligence, Daniel R. Coats, presented the US Intelligence Community’s (IC) written “Worldwide Threat Assessment” to the Senate. The IC warned that Baghdadi’s men “will likely have enough resources and fighters to sustain insurgency operations and plan terrorists [sic] attacks in the region and internationally” going forward. [See FDD’s Long War Journal report, The US Intelligence Community’s newest assessment of the jihadist threat.]

The United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) issued a similar warning in January, saying that the Islamic State has continued “to conduct asymmetric terrorist attacks against government facilities and
security forces positions” in Iraq.

And while high-profile bombings such as those in Karrada and Shawaka understandably garner the most attention, the Iraqi capital is attacked often. The jihadists have “increasingly targeted civilians, especially in Baghdad, where by the end of the year attacks had become an almost daily occurrence,” UNAMI reported.

Most of the jihadists’ operations in Baghdad are smaller in scale, using improvised explosive devices or other tactics. But the Islamic State regularly deploys its suicide bombers as well.

Amaq News Agency, one of the group’s chief propaganda outlets, has claimed that 69 “martyrdom operations” were carried out in Baghdad during 2016. The figure cannot be independently confirmed, and most of the 1,112 claimed “martyrs” were dispatched elsewhere in Iraq and Syria throughout the year. Baghdadi’s terrorists also use children in such attacks, meaning they aren’t truly “martyrs.”

Still, there is little doubt that the Islamic State maintains a bench of suicide bombers who will continue to cause great damage in Baghdad and elsewhere.

Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor for FDD's Long War Journal.

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