A car bomb explosion went off in a busy commercial area in Baghdad late on Saturday evening, reports BBC News. The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attacks. As many as 125 people were killed by the explosion.
The explosion went off in a largely Shia area at a particularly busy time in the evening when people breaking their fast were gathered to shop, eat, and celebrate. The devastating Baghdad explosion comes a day after the final Friday of Ramadan, which is considered one of the most important days in the entire month of fasting.
Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi travelled to the scene of the explosion to survey the damage and was met by furious crowds upon arrival. A subsequent explosion went off north of Baghdad around midnight, killing an additional five people. The second bombing also went off in a largely Shia area.
The New York Times reports that the Islamic State was recently dealt a serious blow after pro-government forces recaptured the strategically important city of Fallujah. Their defeat came much more easily than anticipated, suggesting that the group suffers from a serious weakness when it comes to regrouping at their strongholds after being defeated on the battlefield. Fallujah is a particularly important city for the Islamic State because of its proximity to the capital, Baghdad.
Fallujah is located 40 miles west of Baghdad, and the tax base provided by the city’s population serves as a vital source of income for the militant group. The city is also a site for training recruits and making bombs. Iraqi officials discovered several car repair shops in Fallujah that were converted into bomb making facilities.
Although the group has been largely eliminated from the city, Iraqi forces did not declare Fallujah fully liberated from the Islamic State until a week ago, when they announced that the remaining fighters had been taken out of the city with the help of airstrikes from a U.S. led coalition. The last year has witnessed a number of territorial losses for the militant group, and these losses have contributed to the Islamic State’s vicious response in the form of catastrophic explosions like the one that took place in Baghdad on Saturday.
At one point, the Islamic State held control of roughly a third of the country that lay outside of Baghdad’s control. They also managed to capture Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq. At present, the group only controls approximately 14 percent of the country. The difficulty for Iraqi forces and the U.S. led coalition is the number of fighters who have managed to escape during the capture of each of these cities. These are all fighters who can rejoin the insurgency in other areas and lay low until they can attack again.
Large-scale attacks and retaliatory explosions typically follow severe losses to the Islamic State’s control. The explosion in Baghdad on Saturday is meant to demonstrate to the population, and more importantly to the government, that their defeats in key areas does not prevent them from causing violence in the heart of the capital. A number of protests have erupted in Baghdad in the aftermath of such violence in the past with the Iraqi people urging their government to take more serious action. The Washington Post reports that the Iraqi government in Baghdad led by the politically weak al-Abadi, is struggling to meet the people’s demands. The demonstrations in the political capital of Baghdad pose a further problem: a large congregation of people is ideal for the Islamic State to cause an explosion because of the potential for a higher death toll.
Security officials believe that there will be more attacks, like the explosion in Baghdad, to follow.