North Africa, West Asia

The Erbil explosions – designed to change the strategic climate of the KRG

When is a terrorist attack a terrorist attack?

Frzand Abdullah
30 November 2013

On September 29, 2013, a well-planned suicide attack targeted Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) security in the capital of the Kurdistan Regional Government in Erbil. It is worth mentioning that 42 years ago on the same date, the Iraqi intelligence Service attempted to assassinate KDP leader Mullah Mustafa Barzani in the Haji-Omaran area through a suicide attack during ongoing peace negotiations between both parties. Al-Qaeda may be aware of the significance of that historic coincidence. But it is unlikely. But a regional player - assisted by internal elements – may be using that strategic calendar for sending its political message to the KDP and KRG. Similarly to what was the case in the 1971 incident, this case portraits KDP as a victim of terrorism and will result in KRG’s advantage.

Established only 10 days before the incident, a 1500-fan Facebook page named (Al-Dawla al-Islamiyah Fi Iraq wa al-Sham) was the only source invoked by KRG media for attributing this terrorist attack to the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL). Yet, the page is not an official outlet of al-Qaeda and had never previously published any formal statement of the ISIL. Interestingly enough, the page was deactivated from Facebook on September 30, very soon after being referred to by KRG media channels.

Methodologically, the pattern used in the attack on Erbil’s Asayish (internal security) headquarter is similar to ISIL’s modus operandi and akin to the attack in Haditha killing 27 policemen on March 3, 2012, and the car bomb attack on the General Directorate of Police in Kirkuk. In both cases, al-Qaeda suicide fighters disguised themselves in military uniforms and tried to conquer the security and police headquarters. Attacking Asayish and counterterrorism inside the capital city of KRG cannot be handled only by a group of six suicide operatives, without the assistance of a specialized support group that is familiar with these kinds of covert operations.

On September 30, the Rudaw weekly newspaper published photos and details of two individuals named (Khubabib Muhammed Babkir Ako) the alleged ISIL Wali of Northern Iraq and (Fathi Jasim Salman) who is allegedly in charge of ISIL explosions, claiming that both were involved in the attack of September 29. But on the same day, the deputy of the general directorate of Asayish, E‘ismat Aargushi made a statement that the two abovementioned individuals did not have any connection with the attack, and immediately Rudaw removed the news from its website. On the same day again, lvinpress website interviewed a sister of Khubabib who stated that he could not be connected with that incident as he was at the time serving a custodial sentence in Erbil Asayish. According to a report from Firatnews dated back to January 31, 2012, Fathi Jasim Salman had also been arrested, this time by the second division of the Iraqi infantry forces in Iraq’s city of Mosul.

It seems more likely that the attack of September 29 was carried out by an intelligence service aimed at delivering a political message but using a terrorist sub-organization as the messenger. The attack is a symbolic security operation against the KRG security services and its aim is a political one. This is not the type of explicit terrorism conducted, say, by the Tsarnaev brothers in Boston. The attack targeted neither KDP nor PUK (Patriotic Union of Kurdistan) political party bases, nor a mall or a shopping centre as in the September 21 attack in Nairobi. But the aim seems to be to target the symbolic value of the security balance in the Kurdistan region.

Another message behind the attack is possibly aimed at persuading  foreign diplomats and oil companies to leave the “stable” safe haven of KRG, as well as to force Kurdistan intelligence and security services to merge with the Iraqi security community, sharing secret intelligence with central government, thereby rewriting the national security goals of the KRG, in addition to forcing a change in Erbil’s foreign policy to something closer to the perceived interests of the player behind the attack and one that protects its interests in the new Middle East.   

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