At least 32 people have been killed and a hundred injured on Thursday in a double suicide attack on a market in central Baghdad, according to the latest official count.
The attack, the first of its kind in several years, is a serious blow to the Iraqi capital, which, despite political upheavals, had managed to regain a certain normality since the defeat of the Islamic State (ISIS) in 2017 . No group has claimed responsibility for the massacre in which some analysts see the traces of that one.
The attack took place in the open-air market in Al Tayarán square, very close to the well-known Tahrir square in the capital, right in the same place where the Islamic State carried out a similar attack three years ago . The area, very popular for the sale of second-hand clothes, was especially busy after months of closure due to the pandemic.
According to military spokesman Yehia Rasool, two suicide bombers have exploded themselves while being pursued by security forces. However, several witnesses interviewed by local television networks have said that the first suicide bomber pretended to be ill to attract attention before detonating his explosives and the second acted when people came to help the victims. This is a tactic widely used by the so-called Islamic State to maximize damage.
“Daesh terrorists may be behind the attack,” admitted General Kadhim Salman, head of the Civil Defense, using the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State. Salmán gave the figure of 28 dead and 73 injured, but a couple of hours later, a statement from the Ministry of Health raised the count to 32 dead and 110 wounded.
In the absence of clarification of the responsibility for the attack, some Iraqi analysts speculate that it is the result of the power struggle unleashed by the delay in the next elections.
The prime minister, Mustafa al Kadhimi , who came to power promising to move the elections forward, had to comply last week with the recommendation of the Electoral Commission to postpone its celebration from June to October.
Al Kadhimi, who before coming to the government was head of the secret services, has also made the banner of reinforcing security and bringing the militias under control.
“It adds another problem for the Government, in addition to the health and financial crisis we are facing. If it was ISIS, we have a problem, but if it is proven not, the problem is even greater ”, Aziz Shwan Ahmed, member of the Iraqi Consultative Council, a non-profit organization that advises the rulers, tells EL PAÍS Iraqis.
Other observers have looked at the weakness of security institutions. Former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, questioned on Twitter “the effectiveness of plans to discover sleeper terrorist cells.”
However, Mike Knights, a security analyst with long experience in Iraq, stressed that “what used to be routine is now exceptional” and noted that the use of explosive vests by terrorists “is an indication that car bombing, or to manufacture them, in Baghdad, it is quite difficult these days ”.
“Today’s attack is an aberration,” General Kevin Copsey, deputy commander of the coalition forces against ISIS in Iraq, said during a webinar. “We all hope that it is not the beginning of a bloody strategy. I have full confidence in the ability of the Iraqi security forces to manage the challenge, ”he assured EL PAÍS.
In any case, the attack, which coincides with Joe Biden’s first day as president of the United States , underscores Iraq’s vulnerability to terrorism just as Washington is reducing the presence of its troops in this country. In line with his desire to end military deployments abroad, before leaving the White House, former President Donald Trump reduced the number of soldiers in Iraq to 2,500 compared to the 5,200 there were half a year ago.
Suicide bombings became common during the sectarian violence that rocked the country after the 2003 US invasion. They later became the weapon of choice for the Islamic State, which in the summer of 2014 took control of a third of Iraq .
However, since its territorial defeat in 2017, Baghdad, a macro-city of 10 million people, had almost managed to forget about them. The last one, in June 2019, caused ten deaths among the faithful of a mosque in the east of the capital.
Despite its rout, the Islamic State has continued to attack both civilians and members of the security forces and the international coalition that support them, especially in the north of the country and areas disputed by the federal and autonomous governments. from Kurdistan. According to its propaganda organ, the Amaq news agency, the group carried out 1,422 operations in Iraq during the past year that caused 2,748 deaths.