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Coordinated vehicle borne IED attacks near Kirkuk city and in Ramadi city following Ashura

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On the morning of 1 September, a suicide vehicle borne IED detonated at Maryam Beg Bridge Checkpoint on the Kirkuk-Tikrit road (Highway 24), located approximately 10km south of the entrance of Kirkuk city. The operative was assessed to have detonated the vehicle under duress as vehicles were being searched in the inspection bay. As a result, one woman was killed, another civilian was wounded, and four policemen from 1st Battalion, 19th Brigade, 5th Federal Police Division, were wounded. The inspection bay sustained significant damage, but the barricades largely contained the blast, preventing further casualties.

The 5th Federal Police Division issued a statement claiming the stolen vehicle was travelling from the Rashad sub-district, southern Kirkuk province, and intended to infiltrate Kirkuk city. They added that division intelligence had prior knowledge of the attack. Security sources identified the driver as a 57-year-old individual from the Rashad sub-district named Shatla Jihad Nazal. It is plausible that ISF were alerted to elevated IS intent to conduct vehicle borne IED attacks surrounding Ashura, with general heightened security measures likely contributing to the interdiction as opposed to more specific circumstances.

IS belatedly issued a claim of responsibility for the vehicle borne IED detonation. Consistent with historic norms for statements following detonations under duress at checkpoints, the organization questionably asserted that a suicide bomber identified as Akrama al-Iraqi specifically targeted the Federal Police checkpoint. IS did not embellish the moderate casualties, subtly stating that the detonation killed or wounded a number of personnel, and damaged the checkpoint.

Aftermath of vehicle borne IED detonation near Kirkuk, 1 September 2020 (NRT Digital Media)

At approximately 17:20 on 1 September, a vehicle borne IED based on a Chevrolet Aveo detonated near a shop and a checkpoint at the entrance of the Industrial neighborhood of Ramadi city. As a result, two ISF members and three civilians were wounded. Several vehicles and structures sustained damage including the checkpoint. Anbar security officials refrained from addressing the attack in a glaring example of their unwillingness to discuss security setbacks.

 

IS-affiliated Amaq News Agency claimed that IS fighters detonated a parked vehicle borne IED against an Iraqi Army checkpoint in Ramadi city. The checkpoint was destroyed, and three members were killed, and five others were wounded. Two vehicles were destroyed. On a historic basis, IS has attempted to justify vehicle borne IED attacks in predominately Sunni population centers by targeting ISF.

Vehicle borne IED detonation in Ramadi city, 1 September 2020

First confirmed vehicle borne IED detonations in Iraq since early 2020:
The frequency of vehicle borne IED attacks in Iraq dropped substantially from historic heights following the conclusion of major counter-IS operations in late 2017. IS was highly dependent upon support zones along the Syrian border in order to produce capable vehicle borne IEDs. Upticks in vehicle borne IED activity in 2019 were largely dependent upon smaller devices that were generally little more effective than common roadside IEDs.

The 1 September detonations in Kirkuk and Anbar provinces stand out as the first confirmed vehicle borne IED detonations in Iraq since a detonation against ISF in southern Anbar province on 16 January. Additional incidents reported as recently as 30 April involved security forces effectively interdicting vehicle borne IEDs travelling along infiltration routes in western Anbar province. It is possible that the 1 September detonations were preceded by more recent vehicle borne IED activity in Iraq. However, many incidents described as involving vehicle borne IEDs more accurately involve vehicles transporting explosive materials, abandoned legacy devices, or other less significant conditions.

A vehicle borne IED detonation has not been reported within a major city in Anbar province since an attack in Hit city on 2 October 2019. The 1 September attack formed the first detonation in Ramadi since an ineffective detonation on 16 November 2018. The detonation in Kirkuk province formed the first detonation at or near a major population center in the Northern Region since a detonation near Tal Afar on 26 May 2019. The incident also forms the first vehicle borne IED detonation in Kirkuk province since a similar detonation under duress at a checkpoint near Hawija on 23 January 2019. A detonation has not been reported within Kirkuk city since a series of attacks in September and October 2018.

To mitigate persistent shortfalls in vehicle borne IED capabilities, IS has used other approaches to promote activity in urban centers, particularly in Kirkuk and Baghdad cities. Examples include less sophisticated motorcycle-borne IEDscoordinated IED attacks, and attacks involving IEDs placed on passenger buses. A rare suicide vest attack was conducted against a Counter-Terrorism Directorate office in Kirkuk city on 28 April, wounding five ISF and one civilian. Although the impact was limited in terms of casualties, the incident registered as one of the most significant attacks of Ramadan due to its unique nature in terms of current standards.

For further discussion and analysis please see the full report.

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