At 10:00 on 30 October, an IED detonated near Bawa Mahmud Shrine, located in Bawa Mahmud Village, northwest of Khanaqin. Available pictures were indicative of a detonation within the shrine or very proximate to the site. The event occurred as thousands of Shi’a Kurds arrived at the site that morning for Arba’een observances. At least two individuals were killed according to most sources, though limited reporting cited three fatalities. 13 others were wounded. The fatalities and most of the other casualties were women. Approximately one hour later, police EOD personnel found and cleared a second IED emplaced nearby.
An IS claim of responsibility was not initially seen, but will be discussed when available. On the sidelines of the above events, a Kurdish Diyala Provincial Council member, Hoshiyar Ismaiel, demanded the return of Peshmerga forces to Khanaqin. Similar political exploitation is regularly seen following attacks in northern Diyala and other predominately Kurdish areas seized during the events of October 2017.
Following a failed suicide attack outside Baghdad reported on 29 October, this incident stands out as the first significant attack effectively targeting Shi’a individuals during the mainstay of Arba’een observances. IS selected a vulnerable population center located distant from the higher profile Arba’een commemorations and associated security precautions closer to Baghdad.
Consistent with expectations during this period, IS promoted the use of commonly used explosive devices in an attempted complex attack. Although a number of casualties were inflicted, this attack could not be characterized as extremely effective with only 2-3 fatalities. That said, casualty figures understandably would have been much higher had the second device effectively detonated. Also, this attack still garnered international media attention in large part due to reporting focuses on Arba’een.
Khanaqin District is amongst one of the most active environments in Diyala despite successive sets of headlining operations intended to disrupt IS capabilities. This is largely due to resilient IS staging grounds along the Hamrin Mountain corridor, and the inherent vulnerability of areas along the seams between Kurdish and Iraqi control zones in northern Diyala. Commonly seen activity includes regular IED activity, occasional attacks conducted by gunmen, and occasional indirect fire attacks affecting rural population centers. Of 11 IED detonations reported in Diyala thus far in October, six were located in areas of Khanaqin District, with each of these noted on or after 15 October.
As regularly discussed, the period following the mainstay of Arba’een commemorations is expected to remain dangerous. IS intent to target returning pilgrims and other targets will form a strong consideration. Potential vulnerabilities will increase in coming weeks as security measures are reverted to routine operations.