Al Qaeda in Iraq executed its second major suicide attack against Iraqi security personnel in two days. Today, a suicide bomber attacked members of the Awakening in Taji, a city just north of Baghdad.
The suicide bomber detonated his vest in the midst of the anti-al Qaeda Awakening fighters as they were collecting their salaries. Nineteen Awakening members and three Iraqi soldiers were killed in the blast, and 44 more people were wounded, according to reports.
The Awakening, which gained critical momentum in the fall of 2006 in the western province of Anbar, was formed by Sunni tribes to fight al Qaeda in Iraq. The movement rapidly expanded to other areas of Iraq, and also included Shia and other ethnic groups. Awakening forces, which in the past were sometimes referred to as the Sons of Iraq and Concerned Local Citizens, were supported by the US and the Iraqi government and military, and were instrumental in helping to drive al Qaeda from cities and towns during the “surge” in 2007 and 2008.
Al Qaeda in Iraq has frequently targeted Awakening leaders and fighters for their opposition to the terror group. Most recently, on Jan. 15 a suicide bomber killed Sheikh Aifan Sadoun Aifan al-Issawi, who was a member of parliament and a prominent Awakening leader in Fallujah, along with five Awakening fighters in an attack near that city. Several years earlier, Sheikh Abdul Sattar Abu Risha, the founder of the Awakening in Ramadi who organized the first effective resistance to al Qaeda, was killed in a car bombing outside of his home in September 2007.
Today’s suicide attack is the second against Iraqi security personnel in Taji in the past two weeks. On Jan. 22, a suicide bomber killed seven people in an attack outside an Iraqi military base in the city.
The suicide attack in Taji is also the second in Iraq in the past two days. Yesterday, an al Qaeda in Iraq suicide assault team attacked a police headquarters in Kirkuk in an apparent attempt to free prisoners being held there. More than 16 people were killed in the deadly attack.
Security in Iraq has slowly deteriorated after the withdrawal of the US military at the end of 2011. While al Qaeda in Iraq does not openly control territory as it did in 2007, before US and Iraqi forces drove it from strongholds throughout the country, the terror group can still organize and execute large-scale attacks, such as a March 2012 raid in Haditha that killed 27 Iraqi policemen, including two commanders. The group has also launched a number of coordinated attacks, including large-scale bombings, in multiple cities throughout Iraq. Furthermore, al Qaeda has been empowered by recent unrest in Syria, regenerating under a new banner, that of the Al Nusrah Front for the People of the Levant, one of the most prominent rebel groups fighting the regime of Bashar al Assad.
The Al Nusrah Front is under the command Abu Du’a (a.k.a. Abu Bakr al Baghdadi al Husseini al Qurshi), the emir of al Qaeda in Iraq, according to the US State Department, which which designated Al Nusrah as a Foreign Terrorist Organization in December 2012. The group has claimed credit for 48 of the 58 suicide attacks that have taken place in Syria since December 2011. Several of those attacks were complex suicide assaults on heavily defended targets.