- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The spate of suicide attacks by the Islamic State in Baghdad, leaving over 130 dead and scores wounded over the last several days, marks a distinct and worrying shift in tactics to further destabilize Iraq’s fractious government, U.S. military officials say.

Three blasts rocked Bagdad on Tuesday, again focusing on Shiite neighborhoods in the al-Shaab district in the city’s north and in al-Rasheed in Baghdad’s southern sector, according, to recent reports. A third bomb cut through Sadr City as well, leaving 30 dead and nearly twice as many wounded.

The Islamic State have claimed responsibility for the bombing campaign that has torn the Iraqi capital apart for weeks.

Defense Department officials had initially characterized the wave of attacks as the terror group lashing out at civilian targets, due to the group’s massive loss of territory in the north and in western parts of the country to U.S.-backed Iraqi and Kurdish forces.

But Col. Steve Warren, the top U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad, said Wednesday the string of deadly Islamic State attacks in Baghdad was part of a distinct shift in tactics by the terror group.

“This an enemy who has not found success in some time, so what they are trying to do is find a way to throw a punch that actually can land,” Col. Warren said. “And what they’ve resorted to are these kind of old … terrorist tactics” that harken back to the days when the group was still part of al Qaeda’s Iraqi cell.

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Army Gen. Joseph Votel, commander of U.S. Central Command, told reporters flying with him on a trip to Kuwait Wednesday that Islamic State leaders “are looking for ways to start to regain their momentum or regain the initiative,” while not giving up on their dream of establishing a permanent “caliphate” based in Syria.

“We are seeing [the Islamic State] see opportunities and take advantage of those opportunities,” Gen. Votel said, according to The Associated Press. “I think they believe it will cause the Iraqi government to divert forces, divert effort, divert intellectual horsepower to solving those problems.”

The spectacularly bloody display put on by the Islamic State on the streets of Baghdad over the last several days seems clearly intended to rekindle the devastating Sunni-vs.-Shia sectarian violence that plagued the country during the worst days of the American occupation in Iraq.

Repeated attacks by al Qaeda in Iraq on Shiite targets in the early 2000s, culminating in the 2006 bombing of the al-Askari Mosque in Samarra, ignited months vicious sectarian fighting throughout Iraq.

Nearly 10 years later, Islamic State’s attacks on the capital are threatening to reopen those old wounds and throw the country back into chaos, possibly giving the militants some breathing room in the face of the U.S.-backed offensive to drive the group from the country.

The loss of Ramadi and Hit, coupled with the ongoing campaign to retake Mosul from Islamic State control has taken its toll on the group’s holdings in Iraq and Syria.

U.S. estimates claim Islamic State fighters have lost roughly 45 percent — or 9,600 square miles — of the territory inside Iraq as the group’s fighters steamrolled their way through Syria and northwest part of the country in 2014, Col. Warren said.

In Syria, the group has lost 20 percent of the territory it once held, he added.

“ISIL wants to throw punches that land,” Col. Warren told reporters during a briefing from Baghdad, using and acronym for the Islamic State. “To do this, they appear to have chosen to revert to some of their terrorist roots.”

Concerned over the possible return of rampant sectarian violence in Baghdad, officials within Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s government pressed the country’s military leaders to pull Iraqi troops off the front lines in Mosul and elsewhere and bring them back to secure Baghdad.

“There was some discussion of it, but they changed their mind. So, as of now, none of the field forces have returned to Baghdad,” Col. Warren said.

Roughly half of the Iraqi Security Forces are based in Baghdad to provide security for the city, while the remainder have largely been deployed to front lines near Mosul, Fallujah and elsewhere in Anbar Province.

U.S. and Iraqi battle plan to retake Mosul from Islamic State control depends on that troop ratio staying the same.

But public outcry over the recent Islamic State attacks in Baghdad has placed tremendous pressure on the al-Abadi government, which already faces sharp opposition in parliament over the failure to pass key reform legislation.

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