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ISIS Claims Responsibility for Baghdad Suicide Bombings

The so-called Islamic State (ISIS) may have lost its territory, but it has not been totally eliminated. ISIS claimed responsibility for two suicide bombings targeting the Shia community in Baghdad, Iraq, on 21 January, in what national security experts are calling a stark reminder that the terrorist group is still active.

According to the BBC, the market square that was attacked was a target of convenience, and the first bomber took advantage of Iraqis’ goodwill by pretending to be unwell until enough people had gathered around to help him before triggering a bomb. A secondary explosion then killed other people on the scene during the aftermath. Information from Iraq’s health minister said at least 32 people were killed and 110 wounded in the deadliest suicide bombing in Baghdad in three years.

“The United States strongly condemns the suicide attack at the Aviation Square in Baghdad today that killed and injured dozens of innocent Iraqi civilians,” the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad said in a statement last week. “This attack is a reprehensible act of cowardice that underscores the dangers of terrorism that millions of Iraqis continue to face.”

Although the self-declared ISIS (or ISIL) caliphate—once a territory the size of Belgium—has been dismantled, an estimated 10,000 ISIS members remain at large in Syria and Iraq, mostly hiding within the population, with easy access to weapons, according to a United Nations Security Council brief from August 2020.

The report found that the COVID-19 pandemic has complicated Islamic State efforts to renew its influence, especially as travel restrictions and curfews make it harder to plan operations and recruit new members, while public health measures minimized crowded areas that are frequent targets of attack.

“ISIL has not been able to reconstitute its external operations capability, and the measures of Member States aimed at reducing the spread of the virus appear to have temporarily reduced the risk of terrorist attacks in many States outside conflict zones,” the report said. “However, the pandemic’s impact on ISIL propaganda, recruitment, and fundraising activities remains unclear. Socioeconomic fallout from the crisis could exacerbate conditions conducive to terrorism and increase the medium- to long-term threat, within and outside conflict zones.”

In addition, the report found, “ISIL has benefited from a largely captive audience of people confined at home owing to COVID-19. If the group’s propaganda efforts are successful, it is possible that a spate of inspired attacks could occur as public mobility and assembly resume and targets once again present themselves.”

According to U.S. military officials, speaking to Agence France-Presse, decreased multi-coalition training efforts amid COVID-19 infections and restrictions resulted in gaps in counterterrorism and intelligence functions. The improved security situation led U.S. forces to withdraw from eight bases across Iraq in 2020, and Baghdad security authorities lifted concrete blast walls and checkpoints from within the city, citing improved security situations and the need to reduce traffic congestion, according to Simultaneously, battle-hardened forces were moved out of cities to chase down ISIS sleeper cells in rural areas, so less experienced units took over urban security. All of these factors combined, analysis said, to create multiple gaps that small ISIS cells could utilize to launch attacks.