At approximately 10:30 on 21 January, a dual suicide vest bombing occurred at a used clothing marketplace near Tayaran Square, located in the Bab al-Sharqi area of central Baghdad city. The first operative reportedly feigned an illness in order to attract a crowd around him before detonating his device. The second bomber detonated his device moments later after he attracted a crowd of civilians attempting to assist the victims of the first detonation. Small arms fire reported shortly after the detonations was assessed to involve security personnel attempting to clear the area and to facilitate transit for responders.
Casualty counts steadily rose as individuals succumbed to their injuries. Minister of Health Hassan al-Tamimi reported that 32 civilians were killed, and 110 others were wounded. Of the wounded, only 36 remained hospitalized following initial treatment hours after the attacks.
Heightened security measures went into effect in central Baghdad in response to the attacks, with the International Zone temporarily closed as an initial security precaution. As usually seen following high-profile attacks, a slew of threat warnings of questionable veracity cited the suspected presence of additional suicide bombers in Baghdad, with citizens urged to exercise caution. Based on historic attacks patterns, high-profile attacks along these lines tend to be relatively isolated. That said, additional suicide attacks in Baghdad cannot be outright discounted over the near-term. Precautionary increases in security measures were also reported in diverse environments of Iraq, extending as far south as Basra, as provincial governments reacted with alarm to these highly lethal attacks. Heightened security postures at checkpoints commonly lead to transit delays and other route disruptions.
An IS claim of responsibility was not initially released, but will be added when available. Based on historic patterns, the claim will likely identify the targets as Shia individuals. Efforts to save face from this lethal attack were noted almost immediately. The Commander-in-Chief’s Spokesperson, Maj. Gen. Yahia Rasul, as well as the Joint Operations Command Spokesperson, Maj. Gen. Tahsin al-Khafaji, questionably claimed that ISF were actively pursuing one or both suicide bombers when the detonations occurred. Rasul later claimed that that those responsible for plotting and supporting the attacks were identified, predictably offering few further details.
Various national and international actors immediately condemned the attack and offered their condolences. Iraqi President Barham Salih condemned the attacks as “rogue attempts to destabilize our country.” Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi toured the attack site that afternoon. During a meeting at the Baghdad Operations Command headquarters, al-Kadhimi ordered an immediate investigation to determine the cause of the security breach and identify any corrective actions needed. “We have put all the capabilities of the state and the efforts of our security and intelligence services in a state of maximum alert, to punish those who planned this cowardly attack and all who supported them”, al-Kadhimi vowed.
Deadliest attacks in Iraq since virtually identical attacks in same area in 2018:
Suicide vest attacks became exceedingly rare following the conclusion of major counter-IS operations in late 2017, reflecting shortfalls in the availability of the most willing foreign fighters. The only clear example of a deliberate suicide vest attack in 2020 involved an attack against an ISF office in Kirkuk city on 28 April. Insurgents commonly possess smaller explosive belts for use as a weapon of last resort to avoid capture, with such conditions comprising the bulk of reporting concerning purported suicide bombers in recent years. However, ISF have been justifiably concerned that IS could attempt to revitalize this form of attack. In a recent example on 29 December, ISF claimed to have thwarted plans to conduct a suicide attack in Baqubah city on New Year’s Eve.
For further discussion and analysis, please see the full report.