Beginning in August 2009 Al Qaeda in Iraq began attacking government institutions. On August 18 they bombed the Foreign Affairs and Finance ministries, killing 101 and wounding 1,023. On October 25 they attacked the Ministry of Justice and the Baghdad provincial council building resulting in 135 casualties. Finally, on December 8 the federal appeals court, a technical college, the headquarters of the state-run Raifdain Bank, and the new offices of the Finance Ministry were all targeted, leading to 127 dead, and around 500 wounded. These spectacular operations grabbed the world’s headlines, as they were the deadliest since the sectarian war of 2006-2007. It also led to reports that the Islamists were changing their tactics from attacking Shiites to trying to undermine the government, and specifically Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki who has been running on improved security for the upcoming March 2010 parliamentary elections. At the end of December 2009 however, Al Qaeda returned to their old ways attacking both Shiites and Christians during the Ashura ceremony and Christmas holiday.
Baghdad, Karbala, and Mosul have seen over a dozen sectarian attacks in recent days. On December 26, three separate bombings in Baghdad left four Shiite pilgrims heading to Karbala for the religious festival dead, and nineteen wounded. The previous day a bomb went off in the capital killing three more pilgrims and wounding seven. December 24 saw over 31 casualties in Karbala. Nine other bombs were discovered north of the city and defused, while a Christian man was gunned down in the northern city of Mosul. Finally, on December 23, four bombs went off in Baghdad targeting pilgrims leaving 6 dead, and 44 wounded, while two Christian churches in Mosul were attacked resulting in two dead and five wounded. Iraqi nationalist insurgent groups have tried to minimize civilian casualties in recent years, having been turned off by Al Qaeda’s indiscriminate killing of Iraqis. They also do not stress sectarian attacks, which means the Islamists are the main culprits for these terrorist incidents.
Despite the turn towards targeting public institutions in recent months, it seems that the Islamists still hate Shiites and Christians who they see as apostates and symbols of the West. In fact, Al Qaeda tried to legitimize the bombings of government buildings by saying that they were run by Shiites. While the attacks have weakened the standing of Maliki, they remind the public of the extremism of the Islamists. It is exactly these types of sectarian attacks on civilians that led to the majority of the insurgency and the Sunni population to turn on Al Qaeda in Iraq, reducing them from being in the vanguard of the fight against the U.S. and Baghdad to a terrorist organization. Unfortunately, they still get some domestic and foreign support, which will mean these attacks will continue into the foreseeable future.
Aswat al-Iraq, “2 pilgrims killed, 11 wounded in Baghdad blasts,” 12/26/09
- “2nd attack on Shiite mourners leaves 2 dead, 7 wounded,” 12/23/09
- “9 bombs defused in north of Karbala,” 12/24/09
- “22 pilgrims killed or wounded in Karabala,” 12/24/09
- “31 pilgrims killed, wounded in Baghdad blast,” 12/23/09
- “Attack on Shiite procession leaves 3 killed, 7 wounded in Baghdad,” 12/25/09
- “Bomb targets group reviving Shiite rituals in Baghdad,” 12/23/09
- “Christian killed in eastern Mosul,” 12/24/09
- “ED explodes inside restaurant in Karbala,” 12/24/09
- “IED targeting Shiite procession leaves 10 casualties,” 12/26/09
- “Karbala blast wounds 9 people,” 12/24/09
- “Mosul attack’s casualties up to 7,” 12/23/09
Londono, Ernesto, “Al-Qaeda in Iraq regaining strength,” Washington Post, 11/22/09
Siegel, Pascale Combelles, “Militant Iraqi Nationalists Struggle with Approach to al-Qaeda’s Islamist State of Iraq,” Terrorism Monitor, Jamestown Foundation, 12/23/09