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Iraq Is Not Iran’s Puppet

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President Hassan Rouhani of Iran, right, meeting with Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi of Iraq, far left, in Tehran last month. Credit Reuters

BEIRUT, Lebanon — Iraq is, once again, deeply embroiled in crisis. For three years, the central government in Baghdad and the Kurdish region fought together to oust the Islamic State. Now, following the Sept. 25 referendum on independence for the region, they are pointing their guns at each other.

The dynamics in Iraq are far from simple, with intra-Kurdish rivalries; ethnic, sectarian and political divisions in Baghdad; and a war against the Islamic State barely in the rearview mirror. And yet too many people in Washington and elsewhere seem myopically focused on just one factor: Iran, which they view as controlling and dominating the situation in Iraq in pursuit of an ambitious, expansionist foreign policy. That’s far from the full story.

Since coming to power in 2014, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi of Iraq has worked to push back against Iranian hegemony. Although he is (like the Iranian government) Shiite, he professes to be first and foremost an Iraqi nationalist. And he is certainly not an adherent of the Iranian government’s revolutionary ideology.

This doesn’t make Mr. Abadi unique. Most Iraqi Shiites likewise don’t want to see their country become Tehran’s puppet. The populist Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr now openly opposes Iranian dominance. Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the Iraqi who is the global spiritual leader of all Shiites, has criticized Tehran’s interference, and in September, he refused to meet with a top Iranian cleric who had been dispatched by Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Even the Popular Mobilization Forces, a constellation of some 60 Shiite-dominated paramilitary groups in Iraq, are divided: Some are aligned with Iran, others oppose it.

To balance Iranian influence, Mr. Abadi has sought to build alliances with other local, regional and international players. He has visited Saudi Arabia, Iran’s regional nemesis, twice in recent months and has established strong ties with Washington.

Continue reading the main story

The prime minister has also become increasingly popular with Iraq’s Sunnis, who are wary of Iran’s deep penetration into the Iraqi state since 2003 and now see Mr. Abadi as a conciliatory figure and a safeguard against too much Iranian influence.

The evolution of the fight against the Islamic State has revealed this balancing act. When the Islamic State swept across Iraq in the summer of 2014, Iran came to the rescue, quickly providing material and tactical support. Later, when Iraqi forces were advancing against the Islamic State, Mr. Abadi invited a United States-led coalition to join the fight — despite strong Iranian objections. And in more recent battles, Mr. Abadi has kept Iranian proxies back from the front lines.

This is some of the context that too many in Washington are ignoring right now as they view the tension between Baghdad and the Kurds as one piece in an Iranian gambit for control.

Iran is, of course, involved in its neighbor’s politics and battles. In fact, Iran is the strongest foreign actor in Iraq. And when it comes to Iraq, Tehran is always one step ahead of Washington and its allies because its relationships with groups from different sects and ethnicities give it a better understanding of the political terrain.

For instance, while American officials were left scrambling after the Kurdish Regional Government declined to postpone the referendum, Iran knew better — and was better prepared for the immediate aftermath of the vote. Iran is successful because it relies on powerful local allies, including friendly Shiite paramilitaries within the Popular Mobilization Forces. It also has a long-running relationship with the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, one of the leading Kurdish parties.

This doesn’t translate to a desire to destroy Iraq. Iran, remembering the deadly war of the 1980s, wants to ensure that Iraq is not powerful. But its interests also include relative stability and a secure border. It can’t have the Islamic State too close; the Iraqi collapse in 2014 alarmed Tehran.

The fear in Washington has been the opposite: that Iran’s activities in Iraq are malign and destabilizing.

Since 2003, officials in Washington keep getting Iran wrong. Many are understandably still scarred by the 1979 hostage crisis or Iranian-supported Iraqi militias killing American soldiers in 2003. Or they are concerned about Iranian threats to Israel. When it comes to Iran in Iraq, emotion fogs reality, limiting understanding in Washington. Yet for Iran, when it comes to the United States in the Middle East, pragmatism guides policy, translating to more successes.

For the Iraqi government, Iran is a foreign actor just like the United States is. Iraqi leaders view Iranian officials in their country — including Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, the commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps’ elite Quds Force — as international military advises, just as they view American military advisers. Both are first looking out for their country’s national interests. The Iraqi government does not assign any ethical or moral superiority to one over the other, and it still needs both.

To finally get Iraq right, the United States must move past its obsessive denial based on a fear of Iranian influence, recognize that Tehran’s abilities are limited and appreciate the fine line that the government in Baghdad has to walk. Until then, the Iranophobes will be right about one thing: Iran is the smarter player in the region.

Continue reading the main story

BEIRUT, Lebanon — Iraq is, once again, deeply embroiled in crisis. For three years, the central government in Baghdad and the Kurdish region fought together to oust the Islamic State. Now, following the Sept. 25 referendum on independence for the region, they are pointing their guns at each other.

The dynamics in Iraq are far from simple, with intra-Kurdish rivalries; ethnic, sectarian and political divisions in Baghdad; and a war against the Islamic State barely in the rearview mirror. And yet too many people in Washington and elsewhere seem myopically focused on just one factor: Iran, which they view as controlling and dominating the situation in Iraq in pursuit of an ambitious, expansionist foreign policy. That’s far from the full story.

Since coming to power in 2014, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi of Iraq has worked to push back against Iranian hegemony. Although he is (like the Iranian government) Shiite, he professes to be first and foremost an Iraqi nationalist. And he is certainly not an adherent of the Iranian government’s revolutionary ideology.

This doesn’t make Mr. Abadi unique. Most Iraqi Shiites likewise don’t want to see their country become Tehran’s puppet. The populist Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr now openly opposes Iranian dominance. Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the Iraqi who is the global spiritual leader of all Shiites, has criticized Tehran’s interference, and in September, he refused to meet with a top Iranian cleric who had been dispatched by Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Even the Popular Mobilization Forces, a constellation of some 60 Shiite-dominated paramilitary groups in Iraq, are divided: Some are aligned with Iran, others oppose it.

To balance Iranian influence, Mr. Abadi has sought to build alliances with other local, regional and international players. He has visited Saudi Arabia, Iran’s regional nemesis, twice in recent months and has established strong ties with Washington.

The prime minister has also become increasingly popular with Iraq’s Sunnis, who are wary of Iran’s deep penetration into the Iraqi state since 2003 and now see Mr. Abadi as a conciliatory figure and a safeguard against too much Iranian influence.

The evolution of the fight against the Islamic State has revealed this balancing act. When the Islamic State swept across Iraq in the summer of 2014, Iran came to the rescue, quickly providing material and tactical support. Later, when Iraqi forces were advancing against the Islamic State, Mr. Abadi invited a United States-led coalition to join the fight — despite strong Iranian objections. And in more recent battles, Mr. Abadi has kept Iranian proxies back from the front lines.

This is some of the context that too many in Washington are ignoring right now as they view the tension between Baghdad and the Kurds as one piece in an Iranian gambit for control.

Iran is, of course, involved in its neighbor’s politics and battles. In fact, Iran is the strongest foreign actor in Iraq. And when it comes to Iraq, Tehran is always one step ahead of Washington and its allies because its relationships with groups from different sects and ethnicities give it a better understanding of the political terrain.

For instance, while American officials were left scrambling after the Kurdish Regional Government declined to postpone the referendum, Iran knew better — and was better prepared for the immediate aftermath of the vote. Iran is successful because it relies on powerful local allies, including friendly Shiite paramilitaries within the Popular Mobilization Forces. It also has a long-running relationship with the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, one of the leading Kurdish parties.

This doesn’t translate to a desire to destroy Iraq. Iran, remembering the deadly war of the 1980s, wants to ensure that Iraq is not powerful. But its interests also include relative stability and a secure border. It can’t have the Islamic State too close; the Iraqi collapse in 2014 alarmed Tehran.

The fear in Washington has been the opposite: that Iran’s activities in Iraq are malign and destabilizing.

Since 2003, officials in Washington keep getting Iran wrong. Many are understandably still scarred by the 1979 hostage crisis or Iranian-supported Iraqi militias killing American soldiers in 2003. Or they are concerned about Iranian threats to Israel. When it comes to Iran in Iraq, emotion fogs reality, limiting understanding in Washington. Yet for Iran, when it comes to the United States in the Middle East, pragmatism guides policy, translating to more successes.

For the Iraqi government, Iran is a foreign actor just like the United States is. Iraqi leaders view Iranian officials in their country — including Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, the commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps’ elite Quds Force — as international military advises, just as they view American military advisers. Both are first looking out for their country’s national interests. The Iraqi government does not assign any ethical or moral superiority to one over the other, and it still needs both.

To finally get Iraq right, the United States must move past its obsessive denial based on a fear of Iranian influence, recognize that Tehran’s abilities are limited and appreciate the fine line that the government in Baghdad has to walk. Until then, the Iranophobes will be right about one thing: Iran is the smarter player in the region.

Nytimes

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Iraq

Philippines Arrests Explosives Expert Tied to Mideast Militants

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Director General Ronald dela Rosa of the Philippine National Police. He said Monday that an Iraqi chemist had been arrested after being seen acting “suspiciously” in the northern city of Angeles. Credit Noel Celis/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

MANILA — Philippine intelligence operatives have arrested an Iraqi explosives expert who has eluded the local authorities since last year and were checking whether he had been in contact with Filipino militant groups, the police said Monday.

The man, Taha Mohamed al-Jabouri, 64, arrived in the Philippines in August as the country was getting ready to host a gathering of Southeast Asian foreign ministers in preparation for a November summit meeting that included President Trump.

Mr. Jabouri was a “chemist with knowledge of explosives” and is known to have ties to militant extremist movements in the Middle East, said Ronald dela Rosa, director general of the Philippine National Police, citing Iraqi intelligence information.

“The Iraqi Embassy in Manila alerted the Philippine intelligence community of his presence,” he said.

Mr. Jabouri was arrested Saturday after the authorities in the northern city of Angeles advised the police that he was there, the director general said, adding that Mr. Jabouri had been observed acting “suspiciously.”

Continue reading the main story

Police intelligence operatives were then dispatched to Angeles and found Mr. Jabouri, who gave up peacefully. He was carrying luggage that contained personal items and different denominations of foreign currency, the police said.

Mr. Jabouri admitted while being interrogated that he had served as a consultant for Hamas in Syria before moving to Turkey in 2012.

“He also said that he traveled to Manila to meet a Chinese business group that hired him as a consultant,” Director General dela Rosa said, without identifying the group.

A police intelligence official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said investigators were also checking whether Mr. Jabouri had made any connections to local militant groups, noting that his visit came as the country was fighting Islamic State-linked Filipino militants, backed by foreign fighters, who had taken over the southern city of Marawi.

The fighting, which left at least 1,200 people dead — most of them militants — was declared over in October, although security forces have said nearly 200 Filipino militants who took part in the siege escaped and remained at large.

The arrest came after a year in which the Philippines has grappled with deadly bombings.

In May 2017, the police in Manila placed the crowded Quiapo district under lockdown after two bombs exploded within hours of each other near a Muslim center. Two people were killed, and six others, including two police officers investigating the first blast, were hurt.

A month before those blasts, a pipe bomb also exploded in Quiapo, injuring a dozen people.

The Philippine police had sought to play down the attacks, saying they did not appear to be connected.

But six months earlier, in November 2016, the authorities prevented a bombing when they recovered a powerful explosive device near the American Embassy in Manila. Director General dela Rosa tied that bombing to a Muslim militant faction that would later help lead the Marawi insurgency.

Continue reading the main story

MANILA — Philippine intelligence operatives have arrested an Iraqi explosives expert who has eluded the local authorities since last year and were checking whether he had been in contact with Filipino militant groups, the police said Monday.

The man, Taha Mohamed al-Jabouri, 64, arrived in the Philippines in August as the country was getting ready to host a gathering of Southeast Asian foreign ministers in preparation for a November summit meeting that included President Trump.

Mr. Jabouri was a “chemist with knowledge of explosives” and is known to have ties to militant extremist movements in the Middle East, said Ronald dela Rosa, director general of the Philippine National Police, citing Iraqi intelligence information.

“The Iraqi Embassy in Manila alerted the Philippine intelligence community of his presence,” he said.

Mr. Jabouri was arrested Saturday after the authorities in the northern city of Angeles advised the police that he was there, the director general said, adding that Mr. Jabouri had been observed acting “suspiciously.”

Police intelligence operatives were then dispatched to Angeles and found Mr. Jabouri, who gave up peacefully. He was carrying luggage that contained personal items and different denominations of foreign currency, the police said.

Mr. Jabouri admitted while being interrogated that he had served as a consultant for Hamas in Syria before moving to Turkey in 2012.

“He also said that he traveled to Manila to meet a Chinese business group that hired him as a consultant,” Director General dela Rosa said, without identifying the group.

A police intelligence official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said investigators were also checking whether Mr. Jabouri had made any connections to local militant groups, noting that his visit came as the country was fighting Islamic State-linked Filipino militants, backed by foreign fighters, who had taken over the southern city of Marawi.

The fighting, which left at least 1,200 people dead — most of them militants — was declared over in October, although security forces have said nearly 200 Filipino militants who took part in the siege escaped and remained at large.

The arrest came after a year in which the Philippines has grappled with deadly bombings.

In May 2017, the police in Manila placed the crowded Quiapo district under lockdown after two bombs exploded within hours of each other near a Muslim center. Two people were killed, and six others, including two police officers investigating the first blast, were hurt.

A month before those blasts, a pipe bomb also exploded in Quiapo, injuring a dozen people.

The Philippine police had sought to play down the attacks, saying they did not appear to be connected.

But six months earlier, in November 2016, the authorities prevented a bombing when they recovered a powerful explosive device near the American Embassy in Manila. Director General dela Rosa tied that bombing to a Muslim militant faction that would later help lead the Marawi insurgency.

Nytimes

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Iraq

Military Shifts Focus to Threats by Russia and China, Not Terrorism

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Defense Secretary Jim Mattis spoke Friday at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington. Credit Jacquelyn Martin/Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The United States is switching its priority to countering Chinese and Russian military might after almost two decades of focusing on the fight against terrorism, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Friday, unveiling a national defense strategy that Pentagon officials say will provide a blueprint for years to come.

The new strategy echoes — on paper, if not in tone — a national security blueprint offered last month in which President Trump described rising threats to the United States from an emboldened Russia and China, as well as from what was described as rogue governments like North Korea and Iran.

But where Mr. Trump struck a campaign tone during the unveiling of his national security strategy, with references to building a wall along the southern border with Mexico, Mr. Mattis took a more sober route by sticking to the more traditional intellectual framework that has accompanied foreign policy doctrines of past administrations.

Drawing inspiration from Winston Churchill, who once said that the only thing harder than fighting with allies is fighting without them, Mr. Mattis said that the United States must strengthen its alliances with other powers.

“History proves that nations with allies thrive,” Mr. Mattis said in remarks at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. “Working by, with and through allies who carry their equitable share allows us to amass the greatest possible strength.” (One of those allies, Britain’s defense secretary, quickly released a statement welcoming Mr. Mattis’s words.)

Continue reading the main story

Unlike Mr. Trump, who said Russia and China “seek to challenge American influence, values and wealth” without mentioning Russian interference in the 2016 election, Mr. Mattis appeared to take direct aim at Russia. “To those who would threaten America’s experiment in democracy: If you challenge us, it will be your longest and worst day,” he said.

In seeking to shift the military emphasis to Russia and China after years fighting terrorism, the Trump administration is echoing many of the same pronouncements made by the Obama administration, which famously sought to pivot to Asia after years of fighting in Iraq. But the rise of the Islamic State, which declared a caliphate in Iraq and Syria, put a stop to the Asia pivot talk in Mr. Obama’s final years in office.

Now a new administration is again seeking to leave the terrorism fight behind. Mr. Mattis described increased “global volatility and uncertainty, with great power competition between nations a reality once again.” He declared the defeat of the Islamic State’s physical caliphate in Iraq and Syria.

“We will continue to prosecute the campaign against terrorists, but great power competition — not terrorism — is now the primary focus of U.S. national security,” Mr. Mattis said.

But the United States is still at war in Afghanistan, where Mr. Trump has promised to set no artificial deadlines for withdrawing troops against a resilient Taliban. And American pilots and Special Operations forces continue to go after militants fighting with the Islamic State, Al Qaeda and the Shabab from Syria to Yemen to Somalia.

But as tensions in the Korean Peninsula have continued to rise over the past year, American military commanders and senior defense officials have fretted over whether 16 years of counterinsurgency fighting has left the military unprepared for a great powers land war.

Pentagon officials say that the need to do both — fight insurgents and prepare for a potential war among great powers — is pushing a military that is already stretched. Added to that is the uncertainty that has plagued the Pentagon’s budget since 2011, when mandatory spending caps were put in place.

Congress has been unable to pass a spending bill, and on Friday the federal government was, once again, teetering on the edge of a shutdown. Mr. Mattis, during his speech on Friday, took aim at the budget shenanigans.

“As hard as the last 16 years of war have been, no enemy in the field has done more to harm the readiness of the U.S. military than the combined impact of the budget control act’s defense spending caps, and nine of the last 10 years operating under continuing resolutions, wasting copious amounts of precious taxpayer dollars,” he said.

Continue reading the main story

WASHINGTON — The United States is switching its priority to countering Chinese and Russian military might after almost two decades of focusing on the fight against terrorism, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Friday, unveiling a national defense strategy that Pentagon officials say will provide a blueprint for years to come.

The new strategy echoes — on paper, if not in tone — a national security blueprint offered last month in which President Trump described rising threats to the United States from an emboldened Russia and China, as well as from what was described as rogue governments like North Korea and Iran.

But where Mr. Trump struck a campaign tone during the unveiling of his national security strategy, with references to building a wall along the southern border with Mexico, Mr. Mattis took a more sober route by sticking to the more traditional intellectual framework that has accompanied foreign policy doctrines of past administrations.

Drawing inspiration from Winston Churchill, who once said that the only thing harder than fighting with allies is fighting without them, Mr. Mattis said that the United States must strengthen its alliances with other powers.

“History proves that nations with allies thrive,” Mr. Mattis said in remarks at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. “Working by, with and through allies who carry their equitable share allows us to amass the greatest possible strength.” (One of those allies, Britain’s defense secretary, quickly released a statement welcoming Mr. Mattis’s words.)

Unlike Mr. Trump, who said Russia and China “seek to challenge American influence, values and wealth” without mentioning Russian interference in the 2016 election, Mr. Mattis appeared to take direct aim at Russia. “To those who would threaten America’s experiment in democracy: If you challenge us, it will be your longest and worst day,” he said.

In seeking to shift the military emphasis to Russia and China after years fighting terrorism, the Trump administration is echoing many of the same pronouncements made by the Obama administration, which famously sought to pivot to Asia after years of fighting in Iraq. But the rise of the Islamic State, which declared a caliphate in Iraq and Syria, put a stop to the Asia pivot talk in Mr. Obama’s final years in office.

Now a new administration is again seeking to leave the terrorism fight behind. Mr. Mattis described increased “global volatility and uncertainty, with great power competition between nations a reality once again.” He declared the defeat of the Islamic State’s physical caliphate in Iraq and Syria.

“We will continue to prosecute the campaign against terrorists, but great power competition — not terrorism — is now the primary focus of U.S. national security,” Mr. Mattis said.

But the United States is still at war in Afghanistan, where Mr. Trump has promised to set no artificial deadlines for withdrawing troops against a resilient Taliban. And American pilots and Special Operations forces continue to go after militants fighting with the Islamic State, Al Qaeda and the Shabab from Syria to Yemen to Somalia.

But as tensions in the Korean Peninsula have continued to rise over the past year, American military commanders and senior defense officials have fretted over whether 16 years of counterinsurgency fighting has left the military unprepared for a great powers land war.

Pentagon officials say that the need to do both — fight insurgents and prepare for a potential war among great powers — is pushing a military that is already stretched. Added to that is the uncertainty that has plagued the Pentagon’s budget since 2011, when mandatory spending caps were put in place.

Congress has been unable to pass a spending bill, and on Friday the federal government was, once again, teetering on the edge of a shutdown. Mr. Mattis, during his speech on Friday, took aim at the budget shenanigans.

“As hard as the last 16 years of war have been, no enemy in the field has done more to harm the readiness of the U.S. military than the combined impact of the budget control act’s defense spending caps, and nine of the last 10 years operating under continuing resolutions, wasting copious amounts of precious taxpayer dollars,” he said.

Nytimes

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Iraq

Suicide Bombs in Baghdad Kill Dozens, Puncturing Newfound Sense of Hope

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The site of a bomb blast in Baghdad on Monday. The attackers struck during rush hour in the city’s Tayran Square, which is usually crowded with laborers seeking work. Credit Khalid Al-Mousily/Reuters

BAGHDAD — Two suicide bombers killed more than two dozen people in Baghdad on Monday, mostly street vendors and day laborers gathered at dawn in hopes of finding work at an open-air market, in the first major attack in the Iraqi capital since the government declared victory over the Islamic State.

The carnage in Tayaran Square punctured a growing sense of hope and pride that had permeated Baghdad after Iraq’s security forces, bolstered by large numbers of volunteers and fresh recruits, successfully fought grueling battles against the insurgent group that had held one-third of Iraqi territory and terrorized millions of citizens.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the bombings, but officials in charge of security in the capital immediately cast suspicion on Islamic State sleeper cells, the target of Iraq’s intelligence and counterterrorism forces since major military operations ended in the fall.

Even as battles against Islamic State militants raged in northern Iraq and in its second-largest city, Mosul, Baghdad had largely been free of violence. The suicide bombings Monday morning caught many residents of the capital off guard, as they had become used to living relatively free of fear, taking their families to parks and shopping malls.

The attacks came a day after Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and other politicians announced competing coalitions ahead of national elections scheduled for May. Since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003, campaign seasons in Iraq have been scarred by terrorist attacks and other violence.

Continue reading the main story

It is still unclear how the two assailants wearing suicide vests had entered Baghdad or why they had chosen to attack a market popular for cheap electronics and secondhand clothes.

The first assailant detonated his explosives around 6 a.m., as the sun was rising and as day laborers, shopkeepers and street vendors started gathering for work, according to Maj. Muhammad Mudhir, a traffic police officer who witnessed the attack. Minutes later, as people rushed to help the wounded, the second assailant detonated his explosives, said Kadhim Ali, a construction worker who was at the square.

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Dr. Abdul Ghani, the director of Al Rusafa hospital in Baghdad, said at least 27 people had been killed, and 60 others wounded, many of whom were in a serious condition.

Since counterterrorism operations were ramped up in 2015, Iraqi security forces have established a tight security cordon around Baghdad in an attempt to keep insurgents and violence from infiltrating the city.

The belt of suburbs and farms to the west of the capital have long been home to bomb factories for Al Qaeda offshoots that have plagued Iraq since the mid-2000s.

Muhammad al-Jiwebrawi, the head of the Baghdad Province’s security committee, said those areas around the capital remained insecure. He urged the government to increase intelligence operations around the city to flush out insurgents.

“Islamic State terrorists are still present,” Mr. Jiwebrawi said. “There are reasons for what they are doing.”

Although the areas around the capital have been relatively safe compared with previous years, violence has not disappeared.

On Jan. 13, an insurgent detonated an explosive vest near a convoy carrying the head of Baghdad’s provincial government, wounding four Iraqi security forces.

A suicide bombing on a checkpoint in the north of the city on Saturday killed at least five people, according to the Iraqi police.

Continue reading the main story

BAGHDAD — Two suicide bombers killed more than two dozen people in Baghdad on Monday, mostly street vendors and day laborers gathered at dawn in hopes of finding work at an open-air market, in the first major attack in the Iraqi capital since the government declared victory over the Islamic State.

The carnage in Tayaran Square punctured a growing sense of hope and pride that had permeated Baghdad after Iraq’s security forces, bolstered by large numbers of volunteers and fresh recruits, successfully fought grueling battles against the insurgent group that had held one-third of Iraqi territory and terrorized millions of citizens.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the bombings, but officials in charge of security in the capital immediately cast suspicion on Islamic State sleeper cells, the target of Iraq’s intelligence and counterterrorism forces since major military operations ended in the fall.

Even as battles against Islamic State militants raged in northern Iraq and in its second-largest city, Mosul, Baghdad had largely been free of violence. The suicide bombings Monday morning caught many residents of the capital off guard, as they had become used to living relatively free of fear, taking their families to parks and shopping malls.

The attacks came a day after Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and other politicians announced competing coalitions ahead of national elections scheduled for May. Since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003, campaign seasons in Iraq have been scarred by terrorist attacks and other violence.

It is still unclear how the two assailants wearing suicide vests had entered Baghdad or why they had chosen to attack a market popular for cheap electronics and secondhand clothes.

The first assailant detonated his explosives around 6 a.m., as the sun was rising and as day laborers, shopkeepers and street vendors started gathering for work, according to Maj. Muhammad Mudhir, a traffic police officer who witnessed the attack. Minutes later, as people rushed to help the wounded, the second assailant detonated his explosives, said Kadhim Ali, a construction worker who was at the square.

Dr. Abdul Ghani, the director of Al Rusafa hospital in Baghdad, said at least 27 people had been killed, and 60 others wounded, many of whom were in a serious condition.

Since counterterrorism operations were ramped up in 2015, Iraqi security forces have established a tight security cordon around Baghdad in an attempt to keep insurgents and violence from infiltrating the city.

The belt of suburbs and farms to the west of the capital have long been home to bomb factories for Al Qaeda offshoots that have plagued Iraq since the mid-2000s.

Muhammad al-Jiwebrawi, the head of the Baghdad Province’s security committee, said those areas around the capital remained insecure. He urged the government to increase intelligence operations around the city to flush out insurgents.

“Islamic State terrorists are still present,” Mr. Jiwebrawi said. “There are reasons for what they are doing.”

Although the areas around the capital have been relatively safe compared with previous years, violence has not disappeared.

On Jan. 13, an insurgent detonated an explosive vest near a convoy carrying the head of Baghdad’s provincial government, wounding four Iraqi security forces.

A suicide bombing on a checkpoint in the north of the city on Saturday killed at least five people, according to the Iraqi police.

Nytimes

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ERBIL, Kurdistan Region (Kurdistan 24) – Members of the European Parliament on Monday condemned Turkey’s ongoing military operation against Kurds...

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kurdistan4 hours ago

KRG PM to meet Abadi for second time this week

ERBIL, Kurdistan Region (Kurdistan 24) – The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Prime Minister announced he would be meeting with his...

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Rojava5 hours ago

First footage from the Afrin resistance 

The invading Turkish army, which alleges to have controlled large areas of Afrin is seen patrolling behind the wall it...

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