Suicide bombings in Baghdad show Islamic State’s intent to increase violence in run-up to elections
A twin suicide bombing killed 38 people in Baghdad on 15 January. The bombers targeted the al-Tayaran square, in the city centre. This followed a similar attack in northern Baghdad, where a suicide bomber detonated an explosive-laden motorcycle in Adan square adjacent to the mainly Shia neighbourhood of Kadhmiyah on 13 January, which killed at least two people. No claim of responsibility has been made for either attack.
Following the loss of all its significant territory in Iraq, Islamic State (IS) has carried out sporadic attacks, including suicide bombings, in major urban centres, as it seeks to transition to an insurgent-style strategy. IS was therefore likely responsible, and the Kadhmiyah attack was likely part of the group’s long-standing effort to worsen sectarian tensions. The lack of claim was potentially also an attempt to create intra-Shia divisions by prompting speculation that Shia militias may have carried out the bombing to justify their continued presence.
IS will also have specifically sought to strike now that electoral alliances have been announced, as the run-up to the polls will raise sectarian tensions, particularly as the PMUs will use the vote to secure their political position and entrench Iran’s influence (see above). As a result, IS will aim to carry out an increased number of similar attacks in coming months.
As elections will coincide with the beginning of Ramadan, IS will also seek to sustain a high tempo of attacks post-election, in an effort to exploit the period of political instability that will follow as efforts to form a new government proceed. By this time the group is likely to have recovered sufficiently from its territorial losses to allow it to conduct a sustained tempo of insurgent attacks, highlighting the risk for significant violence in the capital later in 2018.