In the many months since the U.S. military left Iraq, and despite Iraqi security forces’ best efforts, deadly bombings have wracked Baghdad and Iraq’s other major cities. Most recently, as reported by FirstPost.com “A car bomb exploded near a market in the Shiite neighborhood of Sadr City in Baghdad on Tuesday, killing at least 14 people."
In some months, the bombings have claimed more than 1,000 lives, and in all cases the bombings have pitted Shiites against Sunnis and vice-versa.
Most of the targets have been civilian in nature, taking place on busy streets, in market places, mosques, and the like.
ISIS, the Sunni-centric force violently opposed to all infidels, including Shiites, has never claimed credit for any of the attacks. Until now.
With coalition strikes underway into Syria and the very heart of the ISIS leadership, ISIS needs to respond. It needs to demonstrate to the world that the strikes haven’t hampered its ability to govern the land it now controls or, more importantly, to carry out attacks against those it is fighting. What better place than Baghdad? What better target than the Green Zone itself -- the centerpiece symbol of America’s presence in Iraq.
Last week’s ISIS attack on an Iraqi Army base barely an hour from Baghdad could well be the harbinger of things to come. After a siege lasting nearly a week, the camp, which reportedly had as many as 1,000 Iraqi soldiers, was overrun by an ISIS force.
The results were devastating, with the latest reports indicating as many as 700 Iraqi soldiers dead, missing, or believed captured. One need not wonder what the fate of the captured might be.
The mere taking of the camp itself was newsworthy, but not so much as the means ISIS employed in doing it.
Disguised as a relief convoy, dressed in Iraqi army uniforms and riding in Humvees, and communicating by radio with the camp as they approached, the ISIS forces were well inside the camp before they detonated suicide bombs and opened fire. The Iraqi soldiers, totally taken by surprise and nearly out of ammunition after a week of fighting without resupply, fled in disarray.
This creative use of deception as a means to achieve a victory is a clear demonstration that ISIS is blessed with capable, imaginative leadership. Much of that comes from experience gained fighting Americans during the war and it comes also from former Saddam Hussein officers who sat out the war but had attended schools in the Soviet era. No one could dispute the Soviet’s superb abilities at deception and the tactics employed against the Iraqi base may well have been a product of such training.
While this kind of attack can’t, in all probability, be duplicated against the Green Zone itself, what it does show is the ability of ISIS to “get inside the perimeter” -- to penetrate Baghdad’s defenses at some weak spot and then carry out an attack, more likely a series of attacks, which will be attention and headline grabbers! Nothing could be more striking than seeing an ISIS flag flying in downtown Baghdad at the scene of some attack.
ISIS knows this well. While America or Europe might be a preferred target, Baghdad is an easier one. They are on the doorstep. Now all they need to do is step in. Big or small, any attack directly attributable to them will demonstrate to the world that they are ‘alive and well’ despite the coalition’s efforts against them. It will also create another surge of recruits to the cause.
As we see from today’s news about ongoing air strikes against ISIS positions, it’s important to also remember that they continue to make headway on the ground in small towns and villages whose names mean nothing to us but whose value is immense to them.
The Caliphate continues to grow despite our best efforts and every inch of land taken by ISIS is an inch of land that must be taken back if they are to be defeated. It’s a long, costly proposition. Are we, and the coalition, ready?
Bill Cowan is a retired Marine, Fox News military analyst, and founding member of the Intelligence Support Activity. He has been to Iraq 13 times since U.S. forces withdrew in 2012.