Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi announced Saturday the arrest of a “terror cell” behind a Baghdad market bombing that killed dozens and was claimed by the ISIS group.
The attack sparked revulsion and renewed fears about the reach of ISIS, which lost its last territory in Iraq after a grueling campaign that ended in late 2017, but retains sleeper cells in remote desert and mountain areas.
The bombing took place on Monday at Al-Woheilat market in Sadr City, a suburb in the capital, and officially killed 30 people, excluding the direct perpetrator.
“We have arrested all the members of the cowardly terrorist cell that planned and perpetrated the attack,” Kadhimi said on Twitter, “and they will be put before a judge today.”
The prime minister did not specify the number of people arrested, but a source at the interior ministry said the suspects were anticipated to make televised “confessions”, a common occurrence for major crimes in Iraq.
Deadly attacks were common in Baghdad during the sectarian bloodletting that followed the US-led invasion of 2003, and later on as ISIS swept across much of Iraq in a lightning 2014 offensive.
Iraq declared ISIS defeated in late 2017 after a fierce three-year campaign and attacks became relatively rare in the capital -- until January this year when a twin ISIS-claimed suicide bombing killed 32 people in another market.
The US-led coalition that supported Iraq’s campaign against ISIS has significantly drawn down its troop levels over the past year, citing increased capabilities of Iraqi forces.
But US troops have been targeted by Iraqi pro-Iran armed factions, which want them to withdraw from the country entirely.
The US and Iran share enmity toward IS, but Tehran also sees Washington as its arch-nemesis.
New drone attack
An armed drone targeted a military base in Iraqi Kurdistan that hosts American troops, without causing casualties, the US-led coalition said Saturday.
It was the latest in a spate of attacks on US military and diplomatic facilities in Iraq.
Iraqi Kurdish media outlets said the attack targeted a base at Al-Harir, 70 kilometers (45 miles) northeast of Erbil, the capital of the autonomous Kurdistan region.
US interests in Iraq have been hit by 50 rocket and drone attacks so far this year -- assaults Washington consistently blames on Tehran-backed factions operating within Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF).
The Iraqi Resistance Coordination Committee on Friday threatened to continue the attacks unless the US withdraws all its forces and ends the “occupation”.
Most of the American troops deployed in the coalition, which helped defeat ISIS in Iraq in 2017, were withdrawn under former US president Donald Trump.
Those that remain are officially classed as advisers and trainers for Iraq’s army and counter-terrorism units.
Kadhimi is expected to meet US President Joe Biden in Washington on Monday to discuss a possible full US troop withdrawal from Iraq.
But analysts say events in the wake of the 2011 US withdrawal from Iraq -- notably the rise of ISIS -- may make Biden reluctant to authorize a full pullout, for fear of giving the extremists rooms to regenerate once more.