As the Wars End

Patrick Cockburn on Iraq and beyond

Iraq has just had one of its least violent periods since the US invasion in 2003. Islamic State has been defeated: it lost its last town, Rawa, close to the Syrian border, on 17 November, and surviving IS fighters have retreated to hideouts in the western desert. In the past, IS would respond to military setbacks by putting on a show of strength and stepping up its bombing of easy-to-attack civilian targets. This time, that hasn’t really happened. The great Shia pilgrimage of Arbaeen – when six or seven million people from all over Iraq walk to the holy city of Kerbala over a twenty-day period – has just ended: it usually provides an opportunity for suicide bombers to mingle with the crowds and kill large numbers. But this year there were only two such attacks, and in both cases the bombers were shot dead, with no pilgrims killed. People in Baghdad worry that IS may be preparing some spectacular atrocity, like the bomb in a refrigerator truck that blew up in the Karada district of the capital on 3 July 2016, killing 324 people. But the IS-held towns and villages around Baghdad, where suicide bombers used to be trained and where vehicles were packed with explosives, have now all been captured by government forces. IS probably no longer has the capacity to launch multiple attacks in markets, mosques or crowded streets.

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