Mays Al-Juboori, Civilian Rights Officer at Minority Rights Group International
Yesterday, at least 32 people were killed, and more than 100 injured in twin suicide bombings in Iraq’s capital, Baghdad. The tragic incident took place at a second-hand clothing market near Tayaran Square in Baghdad’s commercial district, which was busier than usual following the easing of COVID-19 restrictions.
According to a statement by the Iraqi interior ministry, the first explosion was detonated as the bomber claimed to feel unwell and people gathered to help him. The second suicide bomber attacked as others rushed to help the wounded from the first explosion.
Many have pointed out that this is the first episode of deadly suicide bombings in the Iraqi capital since 2018, when at least 35 people were tragically killed in the same area, not long after then-prime minister Haidar al-Abadi declared victory over ISIS.
But this is not to say that in these past three years, Iraq has experienced relative peace.
Yesterday’s attacks, now claimed by ISIS, follow the group’s established pattern of targeting those most vulnerable populations of society, including poorer disenfranchised communities and religious and ethnic minorities. These incidents are not sporadic. They are indicative of an ongoing campaign to destabilise peaceful coexistence between Iraqi components and fuel civil society anger at the state. In 2020, local partners of Minority Rights Group, KirkukNow, documented at least six ISIS attacks against the Kaka’i religious minority in Kirkuk, Iraq, during a mere two month period.
ISIS fighters continue to wage attacks on civilians and state infrastructure, particularly in rural areas, contributing to the sense of disillusionment many Iraqis feel for their government.
With mounting frustrations of a failing economy, rampant corruption and a lack of services, tens of thousands of protestors filled the streets of Iraq in 2019 alone in demand for political change. Over 500 were killed by security forces using tear gas and live rounds. In response, Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhemi had scheduled an early general election for June 2021.
Yesterday’s deadly violence occurred as Iraq considers another rescheduling of the early elections to October 2021, triggering further political tensions.
In the battles for territorial and political power – fuelled by polarizing rhetoric that ordinarily precedes elections – it is vulnerable civilians who bear the consequences. As the 2018 attack also took place only a few months prior to parliamentary elections, it is worrying to think that history is repeating itself.
The Iraqi government has received yet another urgent wake-up call. A military defeat of ISIS is not enough to counter the ideological legacy it left behind. Efforts must be made to stamp out any lingering notions of extremism and intolerance propagated in religion, politics, media, education and law.
Without assertively challenging ISIS ideology, and other messages of division or sectarian social and political hierarchy, Iraq can never see lasting peace.
Photo: A candlelight vigil at the site of the terrorist attack in Baghdad, 21 January 2021. Credits: IraqiJedi on Twitter.