The July 2016 Baghdad Bombings

Hadi Center after the attack.
Hadi Center after the attack.

On 3 July 2016, coordinated bomb attacks were carried out in Baghdad, resulting in mass civilian casualties. A few minutes after midnight local time (2 July, 21:00 UTC), a suicide truck bombing in the district of Karrada killed more than 300 people and injured hundreds more. The mainly Shia area was busy with late night shoppers because it was Ramadan. A second roadside bomb was detonated in the suburb of Sha’ab, killing at least five.

The Islamic State issued a statement claiming responsibility for the attack, naming the Karrada bomber as Abu Maha al-Iraqi. There were reports that the source of the blast was a refrigerator van packed with explosives. The explosion caused a huge fire on the main street. Several buildings, including the popular Hadi Center, were badly damaged. The bombing is the second worst suicide attack in Iraq by death toll after the 2007 Yazidi communities bombings.

Background

The 17 May 2016 Baghdad bombings were perpetrated by ISIS, killing over 101 people. Some security analysts saw the bombings in Iraq’s capital as an effort to distract the attention of the Iraqi security forces from the battle of Fallujah. The 2016 battle of Fallujah came to a close in June 2016 with the Iraqi government regaining control of the city of Fallujah from ISIS.

The Baghdad bombings were the third mass killing of civilians by ISIS-affiliated militants in recent days, following the 28 June attack in Istanbul, Turkey, and the 1 July attack in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

ISIS has recently sent out calls for increased attacks during the month long celebration of Ramadan.

Attack and response

The suicide truck bomb hit a shopping area in Karrada, where many people were on the street during the evening in order to shop and to break their Ramadan fast with iftar at local cafes. A suicide bombing, the bomb was concealed within a refrigerator truck. It was the first major assault in Baghdad since the Iraqi government’s recapture of Fallujah from the Islamic State in June 2016. The initial death toll directly due to the bombing had been “limited”, but the fire caused by the bombing trapped people in shopping centres, which lacked any emergency exits. The bombing killed at least 292 people and injured at least 223. Unconfirmed reports state that the car bombs may have passed checkpoints where Iraqi security forces still use fake bomb detectors such as the ADE 651.

Hadi Center before the attack.
Hadi Center before the attack.

A second roadside explosion occurred in the largely Shia suburb of Sha’ab in northern Baghdad around midnight, killing at least five people and injuring 16.

A third bombing that targeted members of al-Hashd al-Shaabi killed one person and injured five. The bomb was an IED and took place in Abu Gharib district in Baghdad. A vehicle was also damaged.

A fourth bombing in al-Latifiya in southern Baghdad was a car bombing that killed one person and injured an unknown number of people. The bomb was placed under a civilian vehicle, and went off when the vehicle was being driven.

So far, the casualties from the four bombings during the day in Baghdad include over 300 people killed and over 246 people injured.

On the aftermath of the attack, Baghdad Operations Command claimed that it had arrested members of a militant cell who were connected to the bombing.

Casualties

The Iraqi Ministry of Defence revealed that at least 167 had been killed and over 180 injured, with those numbers expected to rise. Reports from the scene indicated that many of those killed were children. After initial reports, the death toll continued to rise as further corpses were recovered from the rubble and injured victims died of their injuries. It is the deadliest attack in Iraq thus far in 2016.

Abdel Ghani Saadon, the general manager of Rusafa Health Directorate, issued a statement noting that the “hospitals of al-Kandi, al-Sadr and Sheikh Zayed received 138 wounded and 70 dead bodies of al-Karrada bombing”. He noted that fifty bodies were burned beyond recognition, and that samples from them had been sent for DNA testing to determine their identities.

Responsibility

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant issued a statement claiming that it was responsible for the attack and that it had deliberately targeted Shia Muslims,[19] further identifying the suicide bomber as Abu Maha al-Iraqi. Their involvement in the attack has yet to be independently verified.

Jasim al-Bahadli, a former army officer and security analyst in Baghdad, stated that the attack was ISIS’ attempt to “compensate for their humiliating defeat in Falluja”.

Reactions

– Domestic

– – Political

The Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi visited the scene of the attack on the following day, and was met by angry crowds shouting “thief” and “dog”. They were angry about what they perceived as the government’s false promises regarding tightened security. One local shop owner was quoted as stating “Thank God I managed to hit Abadi with stones to take revenge for the kids”. Abadi stated that he will punish the perpetrators of the bombings. He also announced a public mourning that will last three days.

After reporting in their most recent death toll, the Iraqi Ministry of Defence issues a statement that admitted that they were overwhelmed, with not enough resources, military checkpoints, and intelligence services to properly manage the security of Baghdad.

On 5 July, Interior Minister Mohammed Al-Ghabban resigned, which was accepted. The Interior ministry is responsible for police but not other forces providing security in Baghdad. In his resignation, al-Ghabban said that the security system was “fundamentally flawed” and called for changes to increase the ministry’s power. Lieutenant General Abdulamir al-Shimmari, head of the Baghdad Operations Command of the Iraqi Army, along with the head of the division responsible for intelligence on Baghdad at the Ministry of the Interior and the official responsible for Baghdad in the national security adviser’s office were removed from their posts by al-Abadi. Five convicts were executed and 40 suspected jihadists were arrested following the attack.

According to the Rudaw Media Network, the bombing was “politically disastrous” for the Iraqi government, which had presented the recapture of Fallujah as a step that would make Baghdad less vulnerable to such attacks, as Abadi said that the attacks originated in Fallujah. Seeing that Baghdad was still vulnerable to such attacks, the population of the city could, according to Rudaw, be less supportive of diverting manpower to liberating Mosul.

– – Religious

Iraq’s leading Sunni religious organisation, the Association of Muslim Scholars, called the bombing a “bloody crime, regardless of who carried it out or what their motivations were”. A representative of Iraq’s top Shia cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Ahmed al-Safi, paid a visit to the site of the bombings. Christians also held commemorations.

– – Other

On social media, some Iraqis expressed anger at the ADE 651 fake bomb detector, which Abadi announced would be withdrawn from checkpoints. Users also question the silence of Saudis in light of the role of volunteer forces fighting Daesh and others in Iraq. Reuters has also reported that Iraqis are calling for increased crackdowns on so-called sleeper cells. Thousand of Iraqis gathered at the site of the bombing on 6 July to mourn the victims and express solidarity with their families.

– International

Abdul Kareem Khalaf, an advisor to the European Centre for Counter-terrorism and Intelligence Studies think tank, recommended that Abadi “have a meeting with the heads of national security, intelligence, the interior ministry and all sides responsible for security and ask them just one question: How can we infiltrate these groups?”

On 6 July, New Zealand’s Sky Tower in Auckland was lit up in the red, white, and black colors of the Iraqi flag to honour the victims of the attack. This initiative came at the urging of an Iraqi-New Zealander named Rania Alani who had called on the Sky Tower management to honour the victims of all attacks equally. Alani pointed out that Sky Tower had lit up in the colours of the French and American flags to honour the victims of attacks like the November 2015 Paris attacks and the 2016 Orlando nightclub shooting. In addition, the Auckland Iraqi community held a candlelit vigil at the Mission Bay fountain in a show of solidarity with the Baghdad bombing victims. In Iran’s Tehran, similar lights were draped on the Milad Tower in solidarity with Iraqis, and a candlelit vigil was also held outside the Iraqi embassy. The British flag at the U.K. Embassy in Baghdad was lowered to half mast. Further, an unnamed Spanish and Netherlands monument was also list in the colours of the flag. In an unknown place in Sweden, commemorations were also held with at least one police car having been dressed in the colours of the Iraqi flag. In Kuwait, an unnamed tower was lit in the colours of the Iraqi flag.

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