While there have been plenty of low-level terror bombings in Baghdad in recent months, until Sept 18, the more complex, infantry-based combat had been limited to the north, mainly around Mosul Dam, Samarrah, Tikrit, and Kirkuk. But in the evening of the 18th, utilizing a combination of VBIEDs, suicide bombers, mortars, and, according to Shafaaq, RPGs, ISIS fighters struck in the Khadhmiya Neighborhood in northern Baghdad.
Khadimiyah is a majority-Shi’a neighborhood, actually a Shi’a holy city subsumed by Baghdad. It is the site of a major Shi’a shrine, the Al Khadhimiya Mosque, which is was built over the tombs of two major Shi’a imams. It is also the site of Camp Justice, a US-run base during the occupation, and also where Iraqi authorities hanged Saddam Hussein.
Camp Justice is now under Iraqi control, and was one of the major targets on Thursday. Fourteen mortar rounds were fired from the vicinity of Taji, in the “Baghdad Belt” at Camp Justice, and at least one suicide VBIED rammed the checkpoint leading into the prison, reportedly killing three people and wounding ten. Al Sumaria also reported mortars landing on the Aaima floating bridge across the Tigris to the north of the prison, and more on the Sunni Endowment further north of that.
A VBIED detonated near a restaurant in Khadhmiya at about the same time, killing another four people. Iraqi Security Forces found and defused one more in the neighborhood. Two suicide bombers were arrested before they could attack the base at Camp Justice.
At the same time, a third VBIED detonated to the south, in the Iskan Neighborhood. This is believed to have targeted the headquarters of the Badr Organization, a Shi’a militia that has been a leading group in the Shi’a militia response to ISIS.
Iraqi Security Forces reacted by raising the alert levels and ordering the closing of commercial shops in the Adhamiyah Neighborhood, just across the river from Khadhmiya.
As the Institute for the Study of War points out, this is significant as the first such major attack on Baghdad that ISIS has executed. While the attempt to break into Camp Justice, where ISF says they are keeping some of the most dangerous prisoners, ultimately failed, this was definitely more than just another terror attack to kill a few Shi’a. It had to come from outside, as there are not likely to be any ISIS cells operating in the overwhelmingly Shi’a Khadhmiya. It does not appear, however, to be the beginning of a concerted effort to take Baghdad.
While there have been plenty of fears of ISIS storming Baghdad over the last few months, Baghdad is a much different problem than Mosul. Mosul is majority Sunni, and had little love for the Maliki government, making it appear less pressing to resist (especially when the IA leadership ran). Baghdad is much larger, and has a large Shi’a population that will fight back if ISIS attempts to storm the city. While numbers are always changing, it does not appear at the moment that ISIS has the concentrated military power to be able to storm Baghdad.