September 21, 2014

Warning Intelligence Update: ISIS Attacks Baghdad

by Ahmed Ali and the ISW Iraq Team

On September 18, the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) launched a complex attack likely targeting the Adala (Justice) Prison in Baghdad's Kadhmiyah neighborhood in northern Baghdad. According to the Baghdad Operations Command, the attack was intended to break into the prison but was foiled. ISIS also launched another attack in Baghdad's Iskan neighborhood that likely targeted the offices of the Iraqi Shi'a political group and militia, the Badr Organization.

The Attack

ISIS's attack included mortar rounds, Vehicle-Borne Improvised Explosive Devices (VBIEDs), and Suicide Borne Improvised Explosive Devices (SVBIEDs). The mortars were likely launched from the areas of the northern Baghdad belt including Taji. Fourteen mortar rounds reportedly targeted the Adala prison and in the vicinity of Kadhmiyah, and other mortar rounds fell in the Greaat area in northern Baghdad which is adjacent to Kadhmiyah. An SVBIED also targeted the prison, resulting in the death of three people and injury of 10. Two attackers who had intended to attack the prison while wearing an explosive vest (SVEST) were arrested. Another VBIED exploded in a restaurant area in Kadhmiyah that resulted in the death of four people and the injury of 11 people. Iraqi police also defused yet another VBIED that was also found in Kadhmiyah. As a result of these attacks, security forces raised alert levels in Kadhmiyah. Security Forces also ordered commercial shops to be closed in the predominantly Iraqi Sunni neighborhood of Adhamiyah. Adhamiyah lies just across the Aaima bridge from Kadhmiyah. Elsewhere in Baghdad, a VBIED detonated in the Iskan area in western Baghdad. The VBIED targeted the office of the Badr Organization, a Shi'a militia organization that has taken a leading role in directing Iraqi Shi'a militia operations to counter ISIS. 


This attack is very significant. It is the first infantry-like, complex, and penetrating attack in Baghdad city by ISIS since the fall of Mosul in June of this year. ISIS likely carried out the attack to release some of the pressure it is facing as a result of the recent U.S. air campaign targeting its positions. The attack also signifies that, despite the heightened defenses of Baghdad in the aftermath of the fall of Mosul, ISIS is still able to carry out attacks in an area where it is unlikely to have active sleeper cells given Kadhmiyah's predominantly Iraqi Shi'a demographic. The mortars were likely launched from Taji due to ISIS's historical presence in the area and its ongoing activities there.

The attacks will not likely divert great deal of resources of the ISF and Iraqi Shi'a militias into other areas. The government will want to maintain a strong defense of Baghdad by preserving the same posture. More likely, however, the attacks will trigger increased activities of Iraqi Shi'a militia in Baghdad in order to target ISIS sleeper cells and predominantly Iraqi Sunni areas including Adhamiyah.       

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