Last week’s twin suicide bombing in Baghdad, which killed at least 32 people, and an attack two days later on a popular militia force, have raised serious concerns about the fragile state of security in light of the US forces draw down, the continuing political tussle, widespread corruption and Iran’s daunting influence.
The timing of Thursday’s suicide attacks, the deadliest in Iraq in more than three years, and claimed by Daesh, was conspicuous as it took place hours after US President Joe Biden was sworn into office. Daesh was declared defeated by Iraq in 2017 but its sleeper cells are known to be scattered in the country, mostly in the mountainous and desert areas in the east and north east.
The terror group may have wanted to test the resolve of the new US administration, especially following the decision of the previous administration to draw down significantly its force in Iraq from 5,200 to 2,500. The Trump administration played a leading role in the defeat of Daesh and managed to eliminate its leader Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi in October 2019.
Nevertheless, the attacks clearly underscore the inability of the Iraqi forces to finish off the group’s network of active and sleeper cells without the assistance of the US- led coalition forces as Iraq’s government of Mustafa Al Kadhimi struggles to balance its regional relations and combat the surging threat of the coronavirus, which has so far killed 13,000 people and infected more than 600,000.
The Iran factor remains one of the main obstacles to streamline the security situation despite the repeated attempts of Al Kadhimi to bring them under the control of the national army. Iran’s typical policy of using armed militias, like it is doing in Lebanon and Yemen, in its proxy wars against the US and regional foes, has made it almost impossible for the Prime Minster to streamline the armed and security forces to enable them to fight terror groups and restore security.
Moreover, prevailing corruption and political infighting, between nationalists and pro- Iran parties, represent another, albeit major, stumbling block to the Prime Minister’s attempt to reform the economy, which contracted more than 5 per cent in 2020 due to falling oil prices and the pandemic.
In the 10 months before the next general elections, to be held in October this year, Al Kadhimi needs all the help he can get. But as Iran continues its political and sectarian hegemony in the Arab country, Baghdad must get all the help it needs to ward off Iran’s interference and fight off the resurgence of Daesh.