Al Qaeda in Iraq launched a complex attack against the Iraqi government in Baghdad today, killing at least 22 people while targeting the Justice and Interior Ministries. At least three attackers were able to enter the Justice Ministry and fight police before being killed. A suicide bomber detonated outside the Interior Ministry while at least two more car bombs were detonated nearby. Reuters provides some of the details of the attack:
Police said two car bombs exploded in the Alawi district, one of them near the Justice Ministry building, before a suicide car bomber blew himself up near an Interior Ministry office.
A suicide bomber then walked into the Justice Ministry and militants attacked the building, clashing with Iraqi security forces, who eventually regained control.
“I went to the second floor to do something when I heard a big explosion, then a second one,” said Ammar Ghanim, a policeman who was inside the ministry at the time of the attack.
“We heard shooting and a few minutes later three attackers wearing military uniform came up to the second floor and randomly started shooting,” he said. “I got shot in the leg and I am very proud to have killed one of them (the attackers).”
Among the dead were at least 7 policemen and 15 civilians, police and medics said. Three militants were also killed. At least 50 people were wounded.
As we’ve noted for quite some time here at The Long War Journal and Threat Matrix, a once-weakened al Qaeda in Iraq has resurged in Iraq and has extended its reach into neighboring Syria, where the terror group is wielding an effective fighting force (Al Nusrah Front) that has taken control of significant areas in that country.
Although the Obama administration has touted the American withdrawal from Iraq as signifying the end of the conflict, the withdrawal merely indicated an end to overt US involvement. The war in Iraq smolders on, and AQI has spread to neighboring countries, while the organization’s rising influence in the region has in turn helped reseed the terror group in Iraq. The administration’s failure to negotiate a 2011 deal with the Iraqi government that would have allowed the US to maintain a small counterterrorism force in the country has given AQI the time and space to regenerate capacity that was decimated during the ‘surge’ in 2007.
While recent reports indicate that the CIA has been ramping up assistance to Iraqi government counterterrorism forces, the failure of basic US diplomatic engagement with former tribal allies, as well as tepid diplomacy with the Iraqi government (which might otherwise enable both counterterrorism efforts and the sort of brokerage that could help stabilize Iraq’s shaky political structure), cast doubt on the effectiveness of a renewed US push.
Without military forces in Iraq, the US has failed to adequately maintain its vital connection with the Iraqis who dealt a crucial blow to al Qaeda back in 2007: the Sunni (and some Shia) tribes who made up the “Awakening.” Not only could Awakening groups have used American assistance as they continued to press their campaign against al Qaeda after 2011, but they also possess invaluable understanding of the conflict in Syria, as tribes in Anbar and Ninewa provinces stretch across the border through regional confederations.
Finally, Iraq’s current sectarian political crisis has caused Sunni political and clerical leaders to turn much of their attention to a burgeoning conflict with Prime Minister Maliki’s Shia-led government instead of snuffing out the remnants of the al Qaeda organization, which continues to attack both parties. As the war in Syria continues to rage, and al Qaeda wages its successful campaign there under the banner of the Al Nusrah Front, the chances that the terror group could be able to capitalize on Iraq’s political instability grow ominous. Although AQI is still widely disliked in Iraq’s Sunni provinces, its unpopularity there could diminish if the Sunni political struggle with the Maliki government disintegrates into existential, armed conflict.
Bill Ardolino’s forthcoming book Fallujah Awakens: Marines, Sheikhs, and the Battle Against Al Qaeda, which tells the story of the tribal Awakening in 2006-2007 that changed the course of the Iraq War, will be published by Naval Institute Press on May 15. All of the author’s proceeds from the first edition will go to the Semper Fi Fund for injured service members.
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