Iraqi security forces and citizens inspect the site after an explosion in the Al-Wahilat market in the Sadr district of Baghdad, Iraq on July 19, 2021 (Photo by Murtaza Al-Sudani/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
On Saturday, Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi announced the arrest of a “terrorist cell” behind the bombing of a market in Baghdad that killed dozens, and the Islamic State claimed responsibility for it.
The attack sparked alienation and renewed fears of the arrival of the Islamic State, which lost its last territory in Iraq after a hard campaign that ended in late 2017, but maintains sleeper cells in remote desert and mountainous areas.
The bombing took place, on Monday, in the Al-Wahilat market in Sadr City, a Shiite suburb of the capital, and officially resulted in the deaths of 30 people, with the exception of the direct perpetrator.
“We arrested all members of the cowardly terrorist cell that planned and carried out the attack, and they will appear before a judge today,” Al-Kadhimi said on Twitter.
The prime minister did not specify the number of detainees, but an Interior Ministry source said the suspects were expected to make televised “confessions,” which is common for major crimes in Iraq.
Read also | At least 21 were killed and 33 wounded in a market explosion in Iraq (medical source)
Deadly attacks were common in Baghdad during the sectarian bloodshed that followed the US-led invasion in 2003, and later when the Islamic State swept through most of Iraq in a misguided offensive in 2014.
Iraq declared the defeat of ISIS in late 2017 after a fierce three-year campaign and attacks became relatively rare in the capital – until January of this year when a double suicide bombing claimed by the Islamic State killed 32 people in another market.
The US-led coalition supporting Iraq’s campaign against ISIS has significantly reduced its troop levels over the past year, citing an increase in the capabilities of Iraqi forces.
But US forces have been targeted by powerful armed factions loyal to Iran, which want them to withdraw completely from the country.
The United States and Iran share an animosity toward ISIS, but Tehran also sees Washington as its archenemy.
– New drone attack –
Today, Saturday, the US-led coalition said that an armed drone targeted a military base in Iraqi Kurdistan hosting US soldiers, without causing any casualties.
This is the latest in a series of attacks on US military and diplomatic facilities in Iraq.
Iraqi Kurdish media said the attack targeted a base in Harir, 70 km northeast of Erbil, the capital of the autonomous Kurdistan region.
American interests in Iraq have been subjected to fifty missile and drone attacks so far this year — attacks that Washington has consistently blamed on Tehran-backed militias operating within the paramilitary Iraqi Popular Mobilization Alliance.
On Friday, the Iraqi Resistance Coordination Committee threatened to continue the attacks unless the United States withdraws all its forces and ends the “occupation.”
Most of the US forces deployed to the coalition, which helped defeat ISIS in Iraq in 2017, were withdrawn under former US President Donald Trump.
The remainder are officially classified as advisors and trainers for the Iraqi army and counter-terrorism units.
Al-Kadhimi is expected to meet with US President Joe Biden in Washington on Monday to discuss the possibility of a complete withdrawal of US forces from Iraq.
But analysts say events in the aftermath of the US withdrawal from Iraq in 2011 – in particular the rise of ISIS – may make Biden reluctant to allow a full withdrawal, fearing giving jihadists rooms to renew again.