On the afternoon of 23 May, a parked vehicle borne IED based on a Kia truck detonated at a car wash in the Karabla area of Al Qaim City, western Anbar Province. According to most sources, the target was a Kata’ib Hezbollah PMF vehicle and associated members. According to a local security source, one PMF member and the car wash owner were killed, and one other PMF member was wounded. IS claimed responsibility for the attack, citing that a parked vehicle borne IED detonated against a gathering of PMF members in the Karabla area of Al Qaim City. In an embellished account, eight PMF members were killed or wounded, and two vehicles were destroyed.
The 23 May attack concludes a significant lull in vehicle borne IED activity in Anbar Province. The next most recent incident was reported in Al Qaim in early 2019. On 11 January, a vehicle borne IED detonation was reported near the Husaybah Market in Al Qaim City. As many as three civilians were killed and between 15-16 were wounded. It must be noted that a likely legacy vehicle borne IED detonation was reported in western Rutbah District on 4 April amongst limited reporting from unnamed sources, though named military officials were unable to verify this account.
Notably, the targeting of a PMF vehicle was the focus of the next most recent vehicle borne IED incident reported in Iraq. On 10 April, what was described as a suicide vehicle borne IED targeted a Badr Organization PMF vehicle travelling on Highway 1 in Salah ad Din Province. The armored PMF vehicle sustained minor damage, but no PMF casualties were reported. Three civilian bystanders were reportedly wounded. The destruction of the target vehicle and the associated fatalities in this instance reinforces the vulnerabilities of soft-skin vehicles during explosive related attacks.
It is assessed that the target location was identified as an area where PMF routinely frequent, reinforcing IS’s proficient intelligence capability and highlighting the likelihood of IS sympathizers and associates active in Al Qaim. The likely remote detonation in this instance, as opposed to suicide initiation, reinforces these established capabilities. The ability of IS to conduct an attack in a vibrant commercial area of Al Qaim City, while also avoiding increased security measures imposed during the Ramadan period, highlights existing security gaps and undermines the effectiveness of the Al Qaim security apparatus.
Reinforcing these vulnerabilities, on 14 September 2018, a motorcycle-borne IED detonated outside a café and barbershop in the Karabla area of Al Qaim. Three individuals were wounded, two of whom sustained only minor wounds. More recently, IS conducted a series of low-level attacks in Al Qaim on 9 April. This included an under vehicle IED detonation against a vehicle which wounded one ISF member and two low-yield IED detonations at a marketplace in Al Qaim City. In addition, this attack notably follows an extensive clearance operation in the adjacent Jazeera Desert and coincided with a series of effective clearance operations in Rutbah District between 15 and 20 May, highlighting the resiliency of IS cells in western Anbar Province.