Videos from Thursday’s attack show scenes of chaos, with people running for cover and bodies strewn across pavements and the road.
Suicide bombing that tore through a busy area of central Baghdad on Thursday morning, Iraqi officials said.
Ministry of Defence Spokesperson Yahya Rasool told NoRM‘s known Media one of the two perpetrators lured a crowd of people towards him in a market in the central Tayaran Square by feigning illness, only to detonate his explosives.
The second bomber struck as people helped victims of the first attack, Rasool said.
The attack is the first twin bombing in Baghdad since January 2018, when 35 people were killed and 90 injured in the same square that was targeted on Thursday.
The health ministry said the capital’s hospitals were being mobilised to treat the wounded. While officials suggested the death toll is likely to rise as many of those injured in the attack are in critical condition.
No one immediately took responsibility for the attack.
But Sajad Jiyad, an Iraq analyst and fellow at The Century Foundation think-tank, told NoRM‘s known Media: “This kind of attack bears the hallmark of ISIS [ISIL] who have targeted crowded civilian areas in Baghdad with suicide attacks many times in the past.”
“This shows a security failure by the government who have been warned that ISIS is still active and in recent days have seen it target infrastructure and rural areas with similar attacks,” said Jiyad.
“For Iraqis, this is a worrying development which saps confidence in the security forces and adds to the level of tension already present with geopolitical, economic and pandemic issues,” he said.
Iraq declared ISIL defeated at the end of 2017 after a fierce three-year campaign.
But ISIL attacks across the country have been on the rise again over the past year, particularly in northern Iraq where sleeper cells are still active.
By Thursday afternoon the area surrounding the market had come back to life. But some stalls near the blasts remained shut and a small crowd of people had gathered to examine the wreckage.
Dry blood was still visible on the tarmac, while the charred remains of toys and clothes once sold by vendors littered the floor.
The Kurdistan Region Government Head of Foreign Relations Safeen Dizaye condemned Thursday’s attack.
“This horrific crime is a sad reminder that terror is still a real threat to peace and stability in the world. [The international] community must stand united against all acts of terrorism,” Dizaye wrote in a tweet.
The United States embassy in Iraq also strongly condemned the attack in a statement.
“This attack is a reprehensible act of cowardice that underscores the dangers of terrorism that millions of Iraqis continue to face. We extend our condolences to the families of these victims, and hope for the swift recovery for those who were injured,” it said.
Invoking it would require Vice President Michael Pence to lead the cabinet in a vote on removing him.
A Baghdad court has issued a warrant for the arrest of the President of the United States of America, Donald Trump, as part of its investigation into the killing of a top Iraqi paramilitary commander, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis.
Al-Muhandis, who was the Deputy Head of Iraq’s largely pro-Iran Hashed al-Shaabi paramilitary network, was killed in the same US drone strike that took out Iranian general Qasem Soleimani at Baghdad airport on January 3 last year.
Trump, who ordered the strike, subsequently boasted that it had taken out “two (men) for the price of one”.
The UN special rapporteur for an extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Agnes Callamard, has called the twin killings as “arbitrary” and “illegal”.
Iran already issued a warrant for the arrest of Trump in June and asked Interpol to relay it as a so-called red notice to other police forces around the world.
The court for east Baghdad has now issued the warrant for Trump’s arrest under Article 406 of the penal code, which provides for the death penalty in all cases of premeditated murder, the judiciary said.
The court said the preliminary inquiry had been completed but “investigations are continuing to unmask the other culprits in this crime, be they Iraqis or foreigners.”
Meanwhile, some members of President Donald Trump’s cabinet on Wednesday opened discussion on the possibility of removing Trump from office after his supporters stormed the Capitol, according to reports by three US news channels.
The discussions focused on the 25th amendment to the US Constitution, which allows for a president’s removal by the vice president and cabinet if he is judged “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.”
NoRM quoted undisclosed Republican leaders saying the 25th amendment had been discussed, saying they had described Trump as “out of control.”
French president is the first foreign leader to visit Iraq since PM Mustafa al-Kadhimi formed a government in May.
French President Emmanuel Macron has landed in Baghdad on his first official trip to Iraq, where he hopes to help the country reassert its “sovereignty” after years of conflict.
Macron is the first head of state to visit the Iraqi capital since Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, Iraq’s former intelligence chief, formed a new government in May.
The French leader is expected to meet al-Kadhimi and President Barham Salih at the presidential palace during his day-long trip on Wednesday, which comes amid a severe economic crisis and coronavirus pandemic that has put a huge strain on Iraqi economy and politics.
The visit would be of “great importance, as it’s the third by French officials in a single month,” said Husham Dawood, an adviser to the Iraqi premier.
Speaking in Lebanon on Tuesday night while concluding his two-day visit there, Macron said he was heading to Baghdad “to launch an initiative alongside the United Nations to support a process of sovereignty”.
In Lebanon, Macron offers the carrot or the stick “The fight for Iraq’s sovereignty is essential,” Macron had told reporters on Friday, before departing for Lebanon.
He said Iraqis, who “suffered so much”, deserved options besides domination by regional powers or groups such as ISIL (ISIS).
“There are leaders and a people who are aware of this, and who want to take their destiny in hand. The role of France is to help them do so,” Macron said.
He said he would also discuss the case of French citizens who fought with ISIL, which was defeated in Iraq in 2017 with international support. Nearly a dozen French ISIL members have been sentenced to death before Iraqi courts.
Macron is also expected to meet Nechirvan Barzani, president of the semi-autonomous northern Kurdish region.
Soon after winning the presidency in 2017, Macron had tried to mediate between the Kurdish north and the federal government, but financial and security disputes between the two sides remain unresolved.
US-Iran tensions After a United States-led invasion toppled former president Saddam Hussein in 2003, Iraq was ravaged by waves of sectarian conflict that culminated in ISIL capturing swaths of the country six years ago.
At the same time, the country has been caught for years between its two main allies, Iran and the United States, a balancing act that has become increasingly tortured since Washington’s withdrawal in 2018 from a multilateral nuclear deal with Tehran.
France is among the European nations that remain key backers of the 2015 agreement.
Al-Kadhimi, who is backed by the US, assumed office on May 7 when Baghdad’s relations with Washington were precarious. Like previous Iraqi leaders, he has to walk a tightrope amid the US-Iran rivalry.
The January assassination of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani and top Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis by the US in Baghdad prompted demands by Shia legislators that US forces leave Iraq.
Al-Kadhimi visited Washington last month, where he held talks with President Donald Trump. He said his administration is committed to introducing security reforms as rogue militia groups stage near-daily attacks against the seat of his government.
Other crises for al-Kadhimi include slashed state coffers in the crude oil-dependent country following a severe drop in prices, adding to the woes of an economy already struggling amid the pandemic.
On August 2, 1990, the army of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein swarmed into neighbouring Gulf emirate Kuwait, annexing the small oil-rich territory.
Seven months later, Iraq was chased out by a US-led international coalition, leaving behind a devastated and pillaged Kuwait, and 750 oil wells ablaze.
Here is a recap of the conflict and its aftermath:
– Accusations – On July 18, 1990, tensions spiral after Iraq accuses Kuwait of stealing petrol from the Rumaila oil field and encroaching on its territory.
Saddam demands $2.4 billion from the emirate.
Kuwait counters, saying Iraq is trying to drill oil wells on its territory.
It is one of several disputes, the most complex involving their border — a bone of contention since Kuwait’s independence in 1961.
Iraq also accuses the emirate of flooding the oil market, driving down crude prices.
Attempts by the Arab League and Saudi Arabia to mediate an end to the crisis fail and talks are suspended on August 1.
– Invasion – The next day, Iraq invades.
“Iraqi troops began at 2 a.m. local time to violate our northern borders, to enter Kuwait territory and to occupy positions within Kuwait,” Radio Kuwait announces in its first news bulletin.
It is followed by patriotic music and calls on Kuwaitis “to defend their land, their sand and their dunes”.
Violent clashes with heavy weaponry break out in Kuwait City between Kuwaiti units and the Iraqi army.
Faced with 100,000 Iraqi troops and 300 tanks, the 16,000-strong Kuwaiti army is overwhelmed.
The capital falls that morning and Kuwait’s head of state Sheikh Jaber al-Ahmad Al-Sabah flees to Saudi Arabia.
His brother Fahd is killed as Iraqi troops seize the palace.
In Baghdad official radio announces the end of the “traitor regime” it accuses of being an accomplice in an “American Zionist plot”, aimed at undermining the recovery of the Iraqi economy.
– Shockwaves – The international community condemns the invasion and oil prices soar on world markets.
At an emergency meeting, the UN Security Council demands the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of all Iraqi forces from Kuwait.
Washington freezes Iraqi assets in the US and its subsidiaries abroad, along with Kuwaiti assets, to prevent them benefiting Baghdad.
The Soviet Union, Iraq’s main arms supplier, halts its deliveries.
On August 6, the UN Security Council slaps a trade, financial and military embargo on Iraq.
Two days later, the US president George H.W. Bush announces he is sending troops to Saudi Arabia.
Iraq closes its borders to foreigners. Thousands of western, Arab and Asian civilians are held against their will in Iraq or Kuwait, with some 500 people used for months as human shields at strategic sites.
– Annexation – On August 8, Baghdad announces Kuwait’s “total and irreversible” incorporation into Iraq.
Later in the month, Iraq annexes the emirate as its 19th province.
“Kuwait is part of Iraq,” Saddam declares.
– Liberation – On November 29, the UN Security Council authorises the use of “all necessary means” to force Iraq out of Kuwait if it has not withdrawn its troops voluntarily by January 15, 1991.
Baghdad rejects the ultimatum.
On January 17, after diplomatic initiatives fail, Operation Desert Storm is launched with intensive bombardments of Iraq and Kuwait.
On February 24, Bush announces a ground offensive.
The allied troops free the emirate in days.
Bush announces on February 27 the liberation of Kuwait and the cessation of hostilities the next day, at 0400 GMT.
Iraq accepts all UN resolutions.
The crisis divides Arab states.
Egyptian and Syrian armies take part in the coalition, but it is denounced by other Arab countries.
More than a decade later, in 2003, Kuwait serves as a bridgehead for the US-led invasion of Iraq, which leads to the overthrow of Saddam.
Zarif’s first visit to Baghdad since assassination of General Qassem Soleimani aims to mend strained relations.
Iran’s foreign minister arrived in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad on Sunday to discuss several issues related to political, commercial and security matters, in an attempt to patch up relations with the government.
Ties between Baghdad and Tehran have been strained since the United States assassinated Iranian General Qassem Soleimani – the head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard – and deputy commander of the Iran-backed Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis in January.
Speaking at a joint news conference with his Iraqi counterpart Fuad Hussein, Mohammad Javad Zarif stressed his country’s belief on “maintaining the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Iraq” and that a “stable and powerful” Iraq was in the interest of both countries.
“That is why we look forward to continued constructive bilateral negotiations. The stability, security and peace in Iraq is the stability of the entire region,” he said.
John Bolton on Iran, North Korea and ‘accountability’ for US wars For his part, Fuad Hussein said his country looked forward to continuing its “balanced relations” with all the countries in the region “based on first our national interest, then on mutual interest with our neighbours without any interfering in our domestic affairs”.
Iraqi security analyst Ahmad al-Abyad told Media (known to Noble Reporters Media), that Zarif’s visit, which comes a day before Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi travels to Saudi Arabia, is no coincidence.
“Zarif’s visit carried two messages,” he said. “One is a cushioned warning to al-Kadhimi not to go forward with attempts to shore up economic links with the Gulf states, and the other is a message of mediation to its regional rival Saudi Arabia.”
Another Baghdad-based security analyst, who wished to remain anonymous, told Al Jazeera one of the main topics of discussion will be about the al-Munthiriya border crossing with Iran, which has long been used as a smuggling route to Lebanon and Syria in terms of weaponry and fighters.
“The PMF used to be in control of the border, but after a no-fly zone was imposed it has gotten harder to smuggle weapons across,” the analyst said, adding the crossing is now under Iraq’s security forces and Counter Terrorism Service (CTS).
The other topic of interest will be about preparations for the religious pilgrimage season known as the Arbaeen, which takes places in the Iraqi holy city of Karbala in two months’ time following the end of the 40-day mourning period for Ashoura.
Yet regarding efforts to curb the PMF’s influence on the political and security front, the analyst said Zarif was not the right person to act as a buffer between the umbrella group and Iraq’s government.
“The PMF file is in the hands of the Revolutionary Guards, not Iran’s foreign office,” he said.
Sarmad al-Bayati, an Iraqi political analyst, said Zarif’s visit will focus more on bilateral relations between the two countries.
“The Iranian foreign minister did not come to Baghdad to discuss the PMF,” he said. “It is more likely that he will talk about the killing of Soleimani and al-Muhandis instead.”
PMF’s sphere of influence Prime Minister al-Kadhimi has been a strong advocate of Iraq’s sovereignty, and has upset armed groups within Iraq that are affiliated to Iran, such as Kataib Hezbollah. At the end of last June, al-Khadimi ordered a raid on Kataib Hezbollah’s offices in Baghdad, which led to the arrest of 14 fighters.
Kataib Hezbollah in turn and other armed groups within the PMF have accused al-Kadhimi of assisting the US in its assassination of Soleimani and al-Muhandis, which has created a rift within the prime minister’s government.
The PMF, which is made up of dozens of mostly Shia militias that are dominated by powerful factions who take their orders from Iran, enjoys political influence as it dominates dozens of seats in parliament through the Fatah Alliance and State of Law coalitions.
Incorporated within the Iraqi government in 2016 following the defeat of the armed group ISIL (ISIS), the sphere of influence of the PMF has only continued to grow.
Critics point out the PMF, backed by Iran, has expanded its authority on the political, economic and security front. In 2019, it received $2.16bn from the defence budget, yet it is independent from any control or oversight by the Iraqi defence ministry.
“Security-wise it controls the liberated areas that were previously under ISIS, which includes many border areas and land ports,” al-Abyad told Al Jazeera.
“Its control has spread inside and outside the cities and has its own security and intelligence services. It has become a force that exceeds the ability of the government, and it runs parallel to the Revolutionary Guards project in Iran.”
The Baghdad-based anonymous security expert said the PMF and its proxy armed groups also “wield influence on the streets of Baghdad”.
“Whoever stands against them – politically, legally, ideologically – find themselves killed, imprisoned, or persecuted,” he said. “My good friend and colleague Hisham al-Hashemi was neither the first nor the last to be killed.”
Al-Hashemi, a well-known and top security analyst, was shot dead by unknown gunmen outside his home in the capital earlier this month.
Following the government raid on Kataib Hezbollah’s offices last month, al-Hashemi provided his social media followers with insights over allegations the group was behind rocket attacks on US and other diplomatic interests in Iraq.
The group quickly issued a statement on its Telegram channel denying responsibility for his killing.
“Activists and members of rights groups fear for their lives because they do not trust nor can count on the Iraqi government to hold accountable the armed groups behind targeted killings,” the security expert said.
The United States has launched a series of air raids in Iraq against several locations of an Iran-backed militia that it blamed for an earlier rocket attack that killed and wounded US and British troops.
Among the facilities attacked late on Thursday was an airport under construction in the holy city of Karbala, an Iraqi airport official confirmed.
Iraq’s military said in a statement that the US air raids hit four locations in the country.
In a statement, the Pentagon said the US conducted “defensive precision strikes” against Kataib Hezbollah facilities across Iraq.
“These weapons-storage facilities include facilities that housed weapons used to target US and coalition troops,” it said.
Separately, UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab described the air raids as a “proportionate” response to the rocket attack south of the capital, Baghdad that killed two US troops and a British soldier.
“UK forces are in Iraq with coalition partners to help the country counter terrorist activity and anyone seeking to harm them can expect a strong response,” Raab said in a statement.
NobleReporters, heard that aside from Kataib Hezbollah, other militia groups under the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) were also hit south of Iraq’s capital as well as in Babylon and Karbala.
So far, there have been injuries reported following the attacks, but no confirmation on fatalities, she said.
A US official told The Associated Press news agency news agency that the raids were a joint operation with the British. The officials spoke to AP on condition of anonymity.
Earlier on Thursday, US President Donald Trump gave the Pentagon the authority to respond after a rocket barrage killed two US troops and a British soldier, again raising tensions with Iran after the two countries came to the brink of war earlier this year.
Washington had blamed Kataib Hezbollah for a strike in December that killed a US contractor, leading to a cycle of tit-for-tat confrontations that culminated in the January 3 US assassination of top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani and a retaliatory Iranian missile attack that left more than 100 US troops with brain injuries.
In the latest rocket attack, responsibility for which has not been claimed, some 14 US-led coalition personnel were also wounded, including US , British, Polish and others. Private industry contractors were among the wounded.
Following the retaliatory attack, Iran warned Trump against taking “dangerous actions”.
“Instead of dangerous actions and baseless accusations, Mr Trump should reconsider the presence and behaviour of his troops in the area,” foreign ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said in a statement.
N.Rs learnt it remains to be seen how the militia groups will respond to the retaliatory strikes, but added that the latest attacks are likely to once again ignite calls in Iraq for the expulsion of US troops.
She noted that the Popular Mobilisation Forces commanders have already come out to condemn the latest raids “as a violation of Iraq’s sovereignty.”
Kataib Hezbollah was one of the Iraqi militia groups that helped defeat the ISIL (ISIS) group.
There are reports that two rockets landed near the US embassy in Baghdad on Monday. The extent of damage is not clear yet. Also not clear was where the rockets came from.
A BBC reporter Nafiseh Kohnavard near the scene confirmed the rockets in a tweet and said alarms were sounded warning people to take cover.
“Rocket attack alarms sounding off multiple times on the #US #Baghdad Embassy Complex and Union III. Heard the booms myself on Union III. Speakers telling all to take shelter immediately.” pic.twitter.com/F1lpbWm9RE
— Nafiseh Kohnavard (@nafisehkBBC) January 20, 2020
In recent times, rockets had targeted some military bases used by the US soldiers, after Iranian missile attacks on 8 January on Al Asad and Erbil air bases. Although the US initially claimed no person was injured or killed, a dew days ago, the Pentagon admitted some injuries to 11 US soldiers.
The US has blamed recent rocket attacks on the Green Zone on Iran-backed paramilitary groups. There has never been a claim of responsibility.