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Suicide Bombing in Iraq Kills 28: Is Diyala the New Anbar?

How does an Iraqi province renowned for its orange and date groves devolve into a hotbed of suicide bombings and civil unrest?  Diyala, an agricultural region of almost 7,000 square miles directly northeast of Baghdad, has become one of the most dangerous places in Iraq.   The escalating trend of violence continued on Tuesday, as a lone bomber detonated an explosives vest at an Iraqi security checkpoint, killing at least 28 people and wounding an addition 42.   The attack highlights the volatility of the province amidst decreasing violence throughout the rest of the country.  Why and how is this devolution occurring?  Unfortunately for those in the region, Diyala provides the "perfect storm' of necessary ingredients for a well-fed insurgency: ethnic diversity and an ideal location for stirring up trouble.

 

The population of Diyala is overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim, yet contains a strong minority population of Shi'ah and Kurds.  This ethnic tension has resulted in diverging loyalties and associations within the province.  Sunnis and former Ba'athists are somewhat sympathetic to al-Qaeda in Iraq, and have allowed the group to use the province as a staging ground, even offering terrorist leader al-Zarqawi refuge prior to his death.  The Shi'ah minority, meanwhile, have turned to militias to confront the Sunni-inspired violence.  The Kurds, hoping to escape the civil unrest wish to retreat to the Kurdish Autonomous region in the north. 

 

This diversity is a direct result of Diyala's unique proximity to all the differing parties in Iraqi society.  To the south is Baghdad, making it an attractive base of operations for those seeking to attack the Iraqi capital.  The province shares an eastern border with Iran, providing an ideal location for the spreading of Iranian influence including: financial support, weapons smuggling, and militia training.  The proximity to the Kurdish autonomous region in the north not only promotes the Kurdish minority, but also makes Diyala a prime spot for launching attacks against Kirkuk.  To the West is Anbar province, the former site of intense fighting between foreign fighters, Iraqis, and the US military.  Tremendous progress in Anbar has resulted in a 90% decrease in overall violence.  As of today, Coalition forces have begun transferring sovereignty to the Iraqi military.  This progress, however, has forced those sympathetic to al-Qaeda and other insurgency organizations to take up refuge in Diyala province.

 

The results are staggering, and are far more complex than the Sunni vs. Shi'ah divide.  Sunni fundamentalists are battling Sunni nationalists.  Shi'ah militias are fighting both.  The Kurdish groups are taking different sides and are attempting to retreat to the north.  Iranian influence is spreading from the east, Syrian influence from the West.  The Iraqi and US militaries are caught in the middle. 

 

In the overall narrative of the "War in Iraq', these developments offer reasons to be both hopeful and pessimistic.  Joint US and Iraqi military operations in Anbar have resulted in tremendous success and show that insurgent elements can be pacified with proper planning and logistics.  These insurgents, however, have shown their resilience and ability to relocate, possibly avoiding the increased troop presence following "the surge'.  Diyala has become a microcosm of Iraq at large, and further highlights the difficulties in achieving long-term success.  To succeed in Diyala, all interested parties must be represented and heard: Iran, Sunni Muslims, Shi'ah Muslims, Syria, the Kurds, and the United States.  If all parties can come together to provide a peace in Diyala, then peace in Iraq is soon to follow. 

 

Author

Josh Hammer

Josh Hammer is an International Relations theorist, with expertise in terrorist ideology, American foreign policy, and war / conflict resolution. He currently holds a Master's of Science degree in International Politics from the University of Edinburgh, and a Bachelor of Arts degree in International Relations from the George Washington University. Josh's most recent work, his M.Sc. thesis, is a comparative analysis between Marxist / Leninist ideology and Osama bin Laden's global jihadi movement. He currently resides in New York.

Areas of Focus:
Terrorist Idealogy; American Foreign Policy; Conflict Resolution;

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