News / Middle East

Iraqi Attacks Reveal Clues About Perpetrators, Motives

People gather at the scene of a bomb attack in Baghdad's Shiite enclave of Sadr City, Iraq, Monday, July 23, 2012.People gather at the scene of a bomb attack in Baghdad's Shiite enclave of Sadr City, Iraq, Monday, July 23, 2012.
x
People gather at the scene of a bomb attack in Baghdad's Shiite enclave of Sadr City, Iraq, Monday, July 23, 2012.
People gather at the scene of a bomb attack in Baghdad's Shiite enclave of Sadr City, Iraq, Monday, July 23, 2012.
An examination of Iraq’s deadliest single day of attacks in more than two years has revealed a series of clues about the identity of the perpetrators and their motives. Analysts say the wave of bombings and shootings is the latest in a series of mass casualty incidents that illustrate the strengths and weaknesses of al-Qaida-linked militants and Iraqi security forces.
 
Monday’s attacks happened during a period of several hours in more than 15 towns and cities across the country, killing at least 110 people.
 
Toby Iles, a Middle East editor at the Economist Intelligence Unit in London, said the casualties included a relatively large proportion of Iraqi security personnel, and many of the attacks targeted predominantly Shi’ite areas, such as the Sadr City and Hussainiya districts of Baghdad. “Hitting both of those targets would fit with [the perpetrators] being al-Qaida in Iraq,” Iles said. 
 
Al-Qaida is a Sunni extremist militant group that has repeatedly tried to provoke majority Shi’ites who lead the Iraqi government into a sectarian war with minority Sunnis. 
 
Ranj Alaaldin, a senior analyst at the London-based Next Century Foundation, said attacks such as those of July 23 require planning, resources and experience. 
 
“Al-Qaeda in Iraq would therefore be the obvious and primary suspect, given the organization’s unparalleled record in Iraq,” he said. “But given the loosely organized structure of AQI, it could very well be some elusive offshoot group.”
 
Anthony Cordesman, an Iraq expert at Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies, said Sunni jihadist groups tied to al-Qaida have a variety of motives for carrying out large-scale operations. 
 
“Part of these (goals) are to attack and kill Iraqi officials, part of them are to create high visibility attacks which get a lot of coverage and convince people that the government cannot provide security, and [another objective is to] bring back the kind of ethnic and sectarian fighting that took place earlier in the mid-2000s and was essentially a civil war,” he said.
 
An Iraqi Kurdish newspaper editor in the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk said it is notable that the attacks coincided with talks by major Iraqi government factions aiming to resolve long-running disputes.  
 
Haji Kirkuki said the militants behind the violence were trying to disrupt the negotiations involving the Sunni-backed Iraqiya Alliance of Ayad Allawi and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's Shi'ite National Alliance.
 
Al-Qaida’s Iraqi wing, which calls itself the Islamic State of Iraq, has claimed responsibility for a series of high-profile attacks in recent years. In a statement posted on a militant website Saturday, the group warned of a new offensive to return to strongholds from which it was ousted by U.S. and Iraqi forces.
 
Cordesman, a former U.S. Defense and State Department official, said attacks by Sunni jihadists in Iraq have improved steadily in sophistication and coordination.
 
“Insurgents, we have to remember, now have something on the order of eight years of experience in finding the areas where the security forces are weak and in finding the areas which produce the biggest political and media impact when they do organize attacks,” he said.
 
But Cordesman identified several weaknesses in militant capabilities, saying attacks happen only at intervals, take time to organize and rarely hit a critical target. “Very often, they don't produce significant tactical effects.”
 
Iraq’s average monthly civilian death toll was just above 300 in the first half of this year, a slight decrease from 2011 and 2010. The casualty rate also is significantly lower than at the height of Iraq’s sectarian violence in 2006 and 2007, which saw monthly death tolls exceeding 2,000.
 
Alaaldin, also an Iraq specialist at the London School of Economics, said al-Qaida in Iraq has “some way to go” before it can repeat the atrocities of 2006 to 2007. 
 
“Back then, al-Qaida had the benefit of a security vacuum and a sectarian war, which provided it with ample room to flourish, which does not exist at the moment,” he said. “Now it lacks the ability to take on a very organized and effective Iraqi army.”
 
The ISI statement also claimed that most Iraqi Sunnis are waiting for al-Qaida’s return. But EIU expert Iles said the reality is different.
 
“There's an element of wanting more stability in Iraq among the citizens. And that's one of the key determinants for why the government manages to stick together even despite all its disagreements.”
 
Cordesman said Iraqi government forces have earned the support of many Shi’ites who no longer see the need for militias as an alternative to a Shi’ite-dominated military.  
 
Alaaldin said the Iraqi government also has won the cooperation of Sunni tribes who prefer to work with the state rather than al-Qaida. “In the past, their affiliation with AQI cost them dearly,” he said.
 
But Cordesman said Iraqi security forces lack the capability to gather intelligence on impending attacks and suffer from poor coordination between police and counter-terrorism personnel. 
 
Iraq also lacks the unmanned combat aircraft, helicopters and sophisticated intelligence systems for tracking communications that existed before U.S. forces left the country last year.
 
Cordesman said the Iraqi government’s ongoing political crisis also is a cause for concern. 
 
“Given that efforts to create a national unity government have not only so far failed, but led to more and more power struggles between Prime Minister Maliki and the Sunni factions as well as the Sadrists, it is not clear that insurgents are unable to eventually divide Iraq along sectarian lines,” he said. “But that certainly is not something that has happened yet.”

Michael Lipin

Michael covers international news for VOA on the web, radio and TV, specializing in the Middle East and East Asia Pacific. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_Lipin

You May Like

Islamic State Survivor: A Yazidi Girl's Tale

Sarah Said Haydar, captured a year ago while fleeing Islamic State onslaught in northern Iraq, was so traumatized by militants, she sought to end her own life More

EU, US Applaud Kosovo Law on Special Court

Joint statement says lawmakers' decision to address allegations of war crimes 'demonstrated their commitment to the rule of law and to honor international agreements' More

ASEAN Ministers to Push for S. China Sea Agreements

According to documents obtained by VOA Khmer, ministers will stand up for 'freedom of navigation, unimpeded lawful maritime commerce, trade and over flight' More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Sunita from: India
July 24, 2012 1:35 PM
really... you need "motives" in Islam to kill others...???

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Cambodia Makes Progress Curbing Bear Tradei
X
Robert Carmichael
August 04, 2015 3:07 PM
Cambodia’s wild bears are under unprecedented pressure. Their native forests are being cut down at record rates, and China's huge demand for traditional medicine has made them targets. But experts say Cambodia's conservation efforts are setting an example that has put it well ahead of its neighbors in protecting bears. Robert Carmichael reports for VOA from Phnom Penh.
Video

Video Cambodia Makes Progress Curbing Bear Trade

Cambodia’s wild bears are under unprecedented pressure. Their native forests are being cut down at record rates, and China's huge demand for traditional medicine has made them targets. But experts say Cambodia's conservation efforts are setting an example that has put it well ahead of its neighbors in protecting bears. Robert Carmichael reports for VOA from Phnom Penh.
Video

Video Growing Number of E. Jerusalem Palestinians Seek Israeli Citizenship

Most Palestinians living in East Jerusalem have long rejected the option of full Israeli citizenship, seeing it as a betrayal to their political cause - the formation of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital. But as that dream remains elusive, more and more Palestinians are applying for Israeli citizenship. Zlatica Hoke reports the decision is hard for many Palestinians who say they have to be pragmatic about it.
Video

Video With No Money, More Students, African Universities Struggle

Academics from around the African continent converged in Johannesburg last week for the African Universities Summit, a chance to tackle some of the major issues facing higher education in Africa today. VOA's Anita Powell reports from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Community

A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Bangkok Warned It Soon Could Be Submerged

Italy's Venice and America's New Orleans are not the only cities gradually submerging. The nearly ten million residents of the Bangkok urban area now must confront warnings the city could become uninhabitable in a few decades. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from the Thai capital.
Video

Video Inclusive Gym Gets People With Disabilities in Fitness Spirit

Individuals with special needs are 58 percent more likely to be obese than the general population. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, they also have an increased likelihood of anxiety, depression and social isolation. But a sports club outside Washington wants to make a difference in these people's lives. With Carol Pearson narrating, VOA's June Soh reports.
Video

Video Wisconsin's Voter ID Law Still Mired In Controversy

Voter ID laws have sparked controversy across the US. More than 30 states enacted laws requiring citizens to show identification before they vote. Against fierce opposition, the state of Wisconsin recently enacted one the most restrictive voter ID laws in country. As Jeff Swicord reports, no one can predict its impact as the 2016 election nears.
Video

Video Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missions

Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Hailed as Highly Effective

At last, there's a way to end the suffering from the Ebola epidemic that has ravaged West Africa for more than a year. Researchers say the vaccine is so effective, there may never be a major outbreak of Ebola again. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video Special Olympics Show Competitors' Skill, Determination

Special Olympics competitions will wrap up Saturday in Los Angeles, and the closing ceremony for athletes with intellectual disabilities will be held Sunday night. In a week of competition, athletes have shown what they can do through skill and determination. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Civil Rights Leaders Struggled to Achieve Voting Rights Act

Fifty years ago, lawmakers approved, and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signed, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The measure outlawed racial discrimination in voting, giving millions of blacks in many parts of the southern United States federal enforcement of the right to vote. Correspondent Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights leaders who were on the front lines in the struggle for voting rights.
Video

Video Shooter’s Grill: Serving Food with a Touch of the Second Amendment

Shooter's Grill, a restaurant in Rifle, Colorado, attracts visitors from all over the world as well as local patrons. The reason? Waitresses openly carry loaded firearms as they serve food, and customers are welcome to carry them, too. VOA's Enming Liu and Lin Yang paid a visit to Shooter's Grill, and heard different opinions about this unique establishment.
Video

Video Despite Controversy, Business Owner Continues Sale of Confederate Flags

At Cooter’s, a store in rural Sperryville, Virginia, about 120 kilometers west of Washington, D.C., Confederate flags are flying off the shelves. The red, white and blue battle flag, with 13 white stars representing the Confederate states, was carried by southern forces during the U.S. Civil War in the 1860s. The South had seceded from the Union over several key issues of disagreement, including slavery. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

VOA Blogs