Thursday, February 16, 2017

Iraq Situation Report: February 11-16, 2017

By the ISW Iraq Team

Baghdad witnessed serious breaches of security from February 11 to 16 due to both escalating protest movements and ISIS attacks. A large Sadrist-led protest, demanding electoral reforms, tried to move from Tahrir Square into the Green Zone on February 11, but security forces repelled the protesters with force, resulting in casualties. Soon after the protesters withdrew, unidentified attackers launched three rockets at the Green Zone from eastern Baghdad, resulting in no casualties. The Sadrist-affiliated militia denied responsibility for the rockets, however the attack may have been the act of Iranian proxy militias which have carried out rocket attacks against U.S. infrastructure before. ISIS, meanwhile, continued carrying out spectacular attacks in the capital, including a bombing on February 16 that killed upwards of fifty people, the deadliest of 2017 so far. Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi called an emergency meeting on February 16 in order to issue procedures to ensure security.

The increased intensity of the Sadrist demonstrations could escalate ongoing intra-Shi’a competition in Baghdad and southern Iraq. Sadrist Trend leader Muqtada al-Sadr retains the momentum to continue mass protests, busing in and mobilizing thousands on February 11, then again on February 14, and calling for another protest on February 17. Sadr had similar momentum in early 2016, when protests spread from Baghdad to the southern provinces. Sadrist protesters are historically undisciplined, however, and in 2016 they attacked political offices in southern Iraq, including Dawa Party and other pro-Iran party headquarters. Similar attacks now as political parties gear up for both provincial and national elections could inflame a greater intra-Shi’a conflict in the southern provinces. Basra will likely be a significant flash point as there have already been attacks related to election violence in the past month. Baghdad will need to move quickly to quell Sadr’s protests before they instigate a greater conflict between armed political groups in the capital and southern provinces.