by ISW Iraq Team
In the run-up to the elections, ISW has been monitoring for potentially inflammatory events that could further deteriorate the security situation or disrupt the upcoming elections scheduled for April 30, 2014. This includes major attacks that have the potential to inflame sectarian tensions and lead to reprisal attacks.
Today, on April 25, 2014, a rally of the Sadiqun bloc was targetedby multipleexplosions. The attacks took place at the Sanaa Sports Club on Canal Street in east Baghdad. The three explosions occurred in succession outside the stadium as supporters left the rally. The attacks resulted in the death of at least 30 individuals and the injury of at least 55 others. Early reports are still inconclusive, but the attack appears to have included an IED, a suicide attacker (carried out by either a vehicle or an explosive vest), and a VBIED. The Sadiqun bloc is the political entity affiliated with the Iraqi Shi’a militia group Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq (AAH), a group that ISW has assessed to be active in Diyala and other mixed-sectarian areas in addition to their open participation in combat in Syria.
ISW assesses that this attack was most likely carried out by the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). The attack fits known patterns of operation for this group, seeking spectacular, high-casualty attacks. ISW has previously writtenon the phenomenon of overt Iraqi Shi’a militia mobilization in mixed areas as a response to attacks by ISIS, specifically stating that “It will also be important to observe if ISIS will attempt to instigate mobilizations of the militias by attacking a major shrine of significance for Shi’a in Baghdad or elsewhere.” In this case, although the target was not a shrine, a high-casualty attack against a gathering of a political group closely affiliated with an active Iraqi Shi’a militia is likely to produce similar effects.
Indeed, ISIS-affiliated and sympathetic social media accounts have already begun alleging that AAH has launched a retaliatory attack against Iraqi Sunni prisoners at al-Khalis prison. These reports are unconfirmed, and if true would represent a very dangerous escalation. However, even if false, the spread of these allegations by themselves represent an attempt by ISIS to inflame the situation with the likely goal of disrupting the elections.
ISW will continue to closely monitor the situation as it is developing rapidly. We will be looking in particular for indications of increased activities by AAH in Baghdad and Diyala, the random targeting of neighborhoods in Baghdad, and the possible targeting of Iraqi Sunni political gatherings. For continuing updates, please follow this blog as well as ISW’s Twitter account @TheStudyofWar