The rash of brutal suicide attacks by Islamic State targeting neighborhoods in Baghdad could force Iraqi military leaders to shift their forces into the capital and away from the terror group’s stronghold of Mosul, according to U.S. military officials.
Roughly 50 percent of the Iraqi military have been tasked with defending the capital from attack by the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, Col. Steve Warren, the top U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad, said Friday.
In addition to those Iraqi forces, American military advisers are also stationed at the Iraqi military’s Baghdad Operations Center, the main coordination hub for operations in and around the capital city.
Iraqi commanders “do have a plan to continue the security of Baghdad. And we’ll continue to work with them and provide them whatever assistance that we can provide,” Col. Warren told reporters during a teleconference from Baghdad.
But the slew of deadly car bombings targeting predominantly Shi’ite neighborhoods, such as Sadr City and others in Baghdad have exposed the vulnerability of the capital and the failure of Iraq’s police, military and security forces to coordinate their efforts.
“There is a multitude of security forces and no higher authority coordinating them,” an unnamed senior Iraqi intelligence official told The Associated Press.
That vulnerability has caused caused among U.S. military officials that Iraqi commanders will pull troops from Mosul and elsewhere to reinforce the city’s defenses.
“Certainly, it’s something we’ve got to watch out for,” Col. Warren said.
The battle plan for Mosul is dependent on the number of Iraqi forces defending Baghdad not to increase, according to Col. Warren. If those troop numbers remain static, “there will be no impact” to the strategy, he said.
“The Iraqi government, of course, can move units and forces around the battlefield as it sees fit,” Col. Warren said. “Should [Iraqi commanders] decide to re-position forces into Baghdad, then … that would cause a change. But as of now, the plan accounts for the Baghdad security effort.”
For their part, American commanders have emphasized the need to remain on track in Mosul, noting that retaking control of the country’s second-largest city from the Islamic State is critical to “defeating this enemy once and for all,” he added.
But public outcry over the recent Islamic State attacks in Baghdad have placed tremendous pressure on the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, whose hold on power in the country grows more tenuous with each Islamic State attack.
On Thursday, hundreds of followers of influential Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al-Ṣadr flooded the streets of Baghdad demanding the Abadi regime take action to secure the capital against the Islamic State, after a series of suicide attacks left at least 80 dead and over 100 wounded.
A massive car bomb ripped through a crowded market in Sadr City in eastern Baghdad on Wednesday while a pair of suicide attacks in western Baghdad targeting Iraqi police stations claimed the lives of two policemen and injuring dozens others.
The Islamic State quickly claimed credit for the police station bombings and the Sadr City attack, which took place less than a week after followers of influential Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al-Ṣadr, after whom Sadr City is named, breached the highly-fortified “Green Zone” in a show of defiance against al-Abadi’s government.
Some of the protesters on Thursday suggested that local, sectarian militias such as Sadr’s Mahdi Army, should secure Baghdad’s neighborhoods if the police and military cannot.
“Areas must be protected by local groups and not just here [in Sadr City]. It should be in all of Baghdad and other provinces where the security situation is bad,” Hatem Albu Ghunaima, a Mahdi Army leader, told Reuters on Thursday.