A Wave of Suicide Attacks in Iraq: Are Insurgent Groups Making a Comeback?

A recent spike in suicide bombings has some concerned that al-Qaeda and other insurgent groups are trying to stage a comeback, threatening the country’s fragile security gains.

March was the deadliest month this year in Iraq, as suicide attacks across the country claimed the lives of at least 115 people. Such actions killed 51 people in February and 70 in January.

Suicide bombers struck in Hilla, Baghdad, Mosul and Diyala last month, targeting security forces, civilians and leaders. The deadliest attack, a suicide car bombing in Abu Ghraib in western Baghdad, killed 33 military officials and tribal leaders on March 10.

On March 26, a car bomb left 16 people dead in the capital, the second major attack here in a week.

Security officials and experts have said al-Qaeda and its affiliates carried out the bombings.

Retired police brigadier-general Raed Fadhil Jasim said the Islamic extremists were exploiting “security gaps”, which they “always on the look out for”.

Juma al-Hilfi, an Iraqi writer and journalist, said the government needs to step up security provision “as there are still many dormant al-Qaeda cells that are waiting for the right opportunity to re-emerge.

"As the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq draws closer, al-Qaeda and its affiliate groups are flexing their muscles. They’re doing this to embarrass the government and to shatter public confidence in [its] ability to take over security.”

The bombings have unnerved Iraqis in provinces such as Baghdad, where security has improved since 2007 but remained quite stretched.

Ahmad Munthir, a 34-year-old taxi driver, witnessed the immediate aftermath of a suicide attack while driving through the capital in early March.

"It was horrible,” said Munthir, who nearly lost control of his taxi during the massive explosion. “I stopped the car and saw mutilated bodies lying everywhere. The scene brought bitter memories from several years ago, when violence was really high.”

Muhsin al-Sadun, a member of parliament with the Kurdistan Alliance in Baghdad, said the recent rise in suicide bombings should prompt the government to “thoroughly review the intelligence service and its capability to anticipate terrorist activities".

Interior ministry spokesman Lieutenant Abdulkarim Khalaf said Iraqi intelligence services have discovered 16 armed groups in the past three months and that “most of the active operatives in these groups have been arrested". He also said security forces had made arrests in connection with some of the recent outrages.

Khalaf called the recent suicide attacks an attempt by al-Qaeda to “prove that they are still active in Iraq".

He said the authorities will reassess the security situation in Abu Ghraib, a turbulent area west of Baghdad, “taking into consideration the possibility of an al-Qaeda comeback”.

A policeman, who spoke to IWPR on customary condition of anonymity, was near the Abu Ghraib blast that targeted tribal leaders who were walking in a market with security officials and journalists. He said the suicide bomber was able to move through the market without raising any suspicions.

Some Baghdad residents said that while they are concerned about the escalation in violence, they believe the country is generally becoming more stable. Many interviewed by IWPR expressed confidence in the government’s ability to prevent the extremists making a comeback.

Abbas Abdulkhaliq, 53, owns a market in the once-turbulent Baghdad neighbourhood of Al-Sayidiyah. He fled to Syria during the sectarian violence in 2006 and said while he was alarmed by the recent bombings, he has not considered uprooting his family again.

“The state will grow stronger and displacement and armed groups will never come back again,” he said, expressing a widespread view among ordinary people.

Hilfi said the spike in violence could affect commercial activity and may discourage displaced people from returning “but its impact certainly won’t be as negative as before. The signs in the country point to stability, not chaos”.

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