How will Iraq respond to recent IS attacks?
Iraq’s prime minister said his government will maintain its fight against the Islamic State after recent attacks left scores dead in the nation's capital and inflamed religious conflict in the surrounding areas.
In the wake of recent Islamic State (IS) strikes, Iraq’s prime minister Haider al-Abadi pledged Tuesday that his government would continue its fight against the militant group.
His announcement comes after gunmen set off a car bomb near the entrance of the Jawhara Mall in Baghdad on Monday and stormed the building. Eighteen people were killed, and it was estimated that 50 were wounded before Iraqi forces contained the assault. The Islamic State later claimed responsibility.
In addition to Monday's Jawhara attack, a car bomb killed five and wounded 12 in Baghdad, and a suicide bombing in the city of Miqdadiyah killed 24 and wounded more than 50 people, many of whom were fighters with the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces militia.
Gangs also attacked Sunni mosques, damaging or destroying several buildings and leaving an imam dead in an apparent reprisal for the violence in Miqdadiyah and Baghdad, both predominantly Shia areas. The violence spilled over into Tuesday, when shops and at least seven Sunni mosques were firebombed and ten people were shot in Miqdadiyah.
These attacks come less than a month after Iraqi forces pushed IS forces out of the contested city of Ramadi, although the militants still control much of the surrounding territory. Actions against Shia targets by IS, which practices a form of fundamentalist Wahhabi Sunni Islam, have provoked ongoing tensions between the two sects.
In response to the violence, al-Abadi said his administration would "spare no efforts" to rid Iraq of IS forces. The coalition fighting against IS forces, led by the United States, estimated last week that the militant force lost 40 percent of the territory it once controlled in Iraq and has not taken new land since May.
In the wake of Ramadi’s capture, attention has turned to the city of Mosul, which has remained under IS control since its occupation in 2014. Home to more than one million, it is the largest IS stronghold left in Iraq, and its capture by government forces would signal a major shift in the fight against the force in northern Iraq. But while strategies used to retake Ramadi were considered relatively successful, getting into Mosul could warrant a different plan.
"This approach has a very high cost in material damage and human casualties," said Lina Khatib, a senior research associate at the Arab Reform Initiative in Paris, to the Associated Press.
"To use the same approach everywhere in the region ... the scale of damage would be immense," she said.
While neither Iraqi nor outside coalition forces have announced operations to retake Mosul, doing so could impact IS control of northern Iraq, where many of their territorial claims lie. After losing Ramadi, IS is mainly confined to the northwestern portion of the country, spreading outward from Syria, where the situation is more complex. But in Iraq, there is confidence that recent attacks do not reflect a growing IS power in the region.
"I expect that IS will continue to be weakened in Iraq," Khatib said. "But this does not mean IS is weakened in general because it can still have a significant presence in Syria."
Coalition spokesman Col. Steve Warren agreed.
"All of these things add up and we believe this enemy is weaker," he said. "Militarily they are struggling.”