On 15 July 2019, at approximately 19:53 AST, there were reports of two explosions in the vicinity of the Shiite Abul Fadhel al-Abbas Mosque; bordering the Turath and Malef Districts, southwest Baghdad. An official statement has yet to be released from the Iraqi interior ministry, although it is reported that the explosions were a result of a joint suicide bomb attack carried out by two individuals.

The attackers targeted the mosque’s husseiniya (congregation hall) during a funeral service. Doctors at the capital’s al-Yarmuk hospital gave a casualty toll of five dead and 14 wounded, although the real figures are believed to be higher. Islamic State (IS) claimed responsibility for the attack via established propaganda outlets, claiming that 70 people had been killed or injured.

Analyst Comment

On 21 June 2019, a suicide bomb attack targeted the Imamam Mahdi al-Muntadhr shiite mosque, located in Baladiya; in the vicinity of the Sadr City district, eastern Baghdad. Two people were killed and nine wounded as a result. On 9 May, a suicide bomber targeted the Jamila market-place in Sadr City at 21.00hrs, when crowds of Iraqi Muslims had gathered to break their Ramadan fast. Although no group initially declared responsibility, both attacks were later claimed by the Islamic State (IS).

Despite an improvement in the security situation in the country following the declared defeat of IS forces in 2017, remnants of the insurgency have remained. As exemplified here, IS have been responsible for a sustained pattern of attacks, targeting crowded places such as markets, cafes and mosques across Iraq and coordinated to impact on established patterns of life. Guerrilla attacks have been carried out against civilians and security operations in recent months, despite military attempts to prevent such strikes.

On 7 July, Iraqi Security Forces allied with the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) to carry out Operation Will of Victory, a military offensive intended to eradicate remnants of IS that continue to operate following their ostensible defeat in 2017. Conducted in the provinces of Anbar (western Iraq), Nineveh (northern Iraq), and Saladin (north of Baghdad), these operations have been assisted by Iraqi and US-led coalition air assets. Whilst the majority of attacks conducted by IS and other insurgent groups have occurred in these provinces, Baghdad has been subjected to persistent but relatively low-level attacks since 2017, and was an area that the group had previously failed to establish a foothold in. These attacks are likely to continue and may even increase in intensity as insurgent freedom of movement is restricted by the actions of security forces in surrounding provinces.

Seeking to reassert their capability in the face of wide ranging territorial losses, IS may see Baghdad as an increasingly attractive target following the dismantling of security apparatus associated with the city’s recently reopened ‘Green Zone’; a four square mile section of the city that had been subjected to increased security since the US-led coalition invasion of Iraq in 2003. Further, increasing regional tensions are likely to be seen as diverting the attentions of international coalition forces, whose support the Iraqi security forces continue to depend on in order to prevent an IS resurgence. These factors combined are likely to translate to an increased tempo of attacks as IS seek to exploit the opportunity they provide.

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