Center for Strategic Communication

A suicide assault team likely from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham, al Qaeda’s branch inside Iraq, killed at least 18 people after attempting to storm the Transportation Ministry today.

A heavily armed team of six suicide bombers “took a number of hostages .. and killed nine of them inside the building, which was used to receive visiting delegations,” Reuters reported. “It was not immediately known where the other eight victims died.”

Iraqi security forces responded and killed the suicide assault team in a firefight. At least one policeman was killed while battling the insurgents, the National Iraqi News Agency reported, and 50 people are said to have been wounded during the assault.

While no group has claimed credit for today’s attack, the ISIS is currently the only group in Iraq staging suicide assaults of this magnitude in the Iraqi capital. Ansar al Islam (or Ansar al Sunnah), another al Qaeda linked group that operates in Iraq, occasionally deploys suicide bombers against Iraqi security forces and civilian targets, but has yet to claim what the ISIS calls a “storming operation.”

The suicide assault, or coordinated attack using multiple suicide bombers and an assault team, is a tactic that is frequently used in Iraq by the ISIS. Suicide assaults are also commonly executed by al Qaeda and its branches and allied jihadist groups in Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia, Egypt, and Nigeria.

Today’s suicide assault in Baghdad is the latest in a series of brazen attacks by the ISIS that has enabled the group to overtly seize control of areas of Anbar province in western Iraq. The situation in Anbar began to spiral out of the Iraqi government’s control after the ISIS executed a complex suicide operation that decapitated the leadership of the 7th Iraqi Army Division in the town of Rutbah in December 2013. The ISIS laid a trap that killed the commanding general and 17 members of his staff and security detail. The 7th Iraqi Army Division is primarily responsible for security in Anbar.

After the attack, the ISIS took advantage of the political dispute between Sunnis and the Shia-dominated government of Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki. As soon as Maliki ordered the Army to withdraw from cities in Anbar, the ISIS moved forces into the cities. The ISIS remains in control of the city of Fallujah and parts of Ramadi, the provincial capital of Anbar, after storming the cities at the beginning of January. The ISIS controls Fallujah in conjunction with sympathetic Sunni tribes as well as tribes that oppose Maliki. Several towns in Anbar, including Karmah, Saqlawiyah, and Khaladiyah are also controlled by the ISIS. The Iraqi government is hesitant to launch a military operation against the ISIS and is instead encouraging the Sunni tribes to battle the al Qaeda group.

Across the border, in Syria, the ISIS controls territory along the Euphrates River Valley all the way to the provincial capital of Raqqah. Despite an ongoing dispute which has often broken out into open warfare with the Al Nusrah Front and allied Islamists groups such as the Islamic Front, the ISIS remains a formidable forces on both sides of the border.