Daesh at­tacks kill 74 in south­ern Iraq

The Daily Star (Lebanon) - - FRONT PAGE -

BAGH­DAD / NASIRIYAH, Iraq: Gun­men and sui­cide car bombers killed at least 74 peo­ple Thurs­day, in­clud­ing Ira­ni­ans, near the south­ern Iraqi city of Nasiriyah, in an at­tack claimed by Daesh (ISIS).

The at­tack­ers struck at mid­day, open­ing fire on a restau­rant be­fore get­ting into a car and blow­ing them­selves up at a nearby se­cu­rity check­point, of­fi­cials said.

Ab­del Hus­sein al-Jabri, deputy health chief for the mainly Shi­ite prov­ince of Dhiqar, said at least 74 peo­ple had died, in­clud­ing seven Ira­ni­ans, and an­other 93 peo­ple were wounded. That was up from the pre­vi­ous toll of 52 dead and 91 wounded in what was al­ready the dead­li­est Daesh at­tack in Iraq since pro-gov­ern­ment forces drove the mil­i­tants out of sec­ond city Mo­sul in July.

Se­cu­rity sources said the at­tack­ers were dis­guised as mem­bers of the AlHashd al-Shaabi, a mainly Shi­ite para­mil­i­tary al­liance which has fought along­side the army and po­lice against Daesh in north­ern Iraq.

Res­cue work­ers and mem­bers of the se­cu­rity forces placed bod­ies in am­bu­lances and cleared away rub­ble and the car­casses of burnt-out cars from the site.

Burned bod­ies and ve­hi­cles in­clud­ing buses and trucks tes­ti­fied to the vi­o­lence of the at­tack. Shel­ters built of cor­ru­gated metal were re­duced to scraps of metal, twisted by heat.

The area tar­geted is on a high­way used by Shi­ite pil­grims and vis­i­tors from neigh­bor­ing Iran to travel to the holy cities of Na­jaf and Kar­bala fur­ther north, although Dhiqar has pre­vi­ously been spared the worst of Iraq’s vi­o­lence.

Daesh claimed re­spon­si­bil­ity for the at­tacks in a state­ment car­ried by its Amaq pro­pa­ganda arm.

It said sev­eral sui­cide bombers had staged the as­sault on a restau­rant and a se­cu­rity check­point, killing “dozens of Shi­ites.”

Se­cu­rity of­fi­cials de­scribed Thurs­day’s at­tacks as an at­tempt to send a mes­sage to Daesh fol­low­ers that the group is still strong and can op­er­ate in other parts of Iraq fol­low­ing its ter­ri­to­rial losses.

“Af­ter los­ing the war in Iraq and the shrink­ing of its power, Daesh re­turned back to its old style of an in­sur­gency, by car­ry­ing out sui­cide at­tacks, which is a clear sign that the ter­ror­ist group is re­treat­ing,” said po­lice in­tel­li­gence colonel Mur­tatha al-Yas­siri.

Daesh ac­tiv­ity is usu­ally con­cen­trated in western and north­ern Iraq. Bomb at­tacks in the mostly Shi’ite south, where the bulk of the coun­try’s oil is pro­duced and se­cu­rity forces hold a tighter grip, have so far been rel­a­tively rare.

Like its pre­de­ces­sor in Iraq, AlQaeda, Daesh seeks to cre­ate

sec­tar­ian ten­sions as a way to desta­bi­lize the OPEC oil pro­ducer. “We ex­pect more alike ter­ror­ist op­er­a­tions in fu­ture. Daesh is try­ing to des­per­ately pre­tend among fol­low­ers that it’s still strong,” Yas­siri said.

Adding to the pres­sure on the mil­i­tants, Iraqi forces re­cap­tured the city of Tal Afar and the sur­round­ing re­gion from Daesh on Aug. 31.

Thurs­day’s at­tacks come as Iraqi forces backed by tribal fighters closed in one of the last Daesh bas­tions in the coun­try: the Al-Qaim area on the bor­der with war-rav­aged Syria. Wed­nes­day, an AFP cor­re­spon­dent in that area saw sev­eral ar­tillery units po­si­tion­ing them­selves around the towns of Rawa and Anna, 100 kilo­me­ters from the bor­der with Syria.

The group’s only other strong­hold is Haw­ija, in Kirkuk prov­ince some 300 kilo­me­ters north of Bagh­dad. Daesh has suf­fered a string of de­feats on the bat­tle­fields of both Iraq and Syria, leav­ing in tat­ters the cross-bor­der “caliphate” it de­clared in 2014.

But de­spite th­ese set­backs, the ex­trem­ist group still has hun­dreds of fighters ready to carry out sui­cide at­tacks

In ad­di­tion, any mil­i­tary of­fen­sive in Haw­ija is ex­pected to be post­poned due to a planned ref­er­en­dum on Kur­dish in­de­pen­dence on Sept. 25.

Act­ing at the re­quest of Prime Min­is­ter Haider al-Abadi, the Iraqi Par­lia­ment Thurs­day sacked the gover­nor of Kirkuk over his de­ci­sion for the north­ern prov­ince to also take part in the Kur­dish ref­er­en­dum. –

An Iraqi man in­spects dam­age af­ter gun­men and sui­cide car bombers killed dozens of peo­ple in two as­saults claimed by Daesh near Nasiriyah.

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