The deathtoll from a massive truck bomb detonated in a Baghdad shopping district over the weekend has climbed to over 200 people, with hundreds more injured and scores still missing, making it one of the deadliest such attacks in the recent history of war-torn Iraq.
According to Reuters:
Numbers rose as bodies were recovered from the rubble in the Karrada area of Baghdad, where a refrigerator truck packed with explosives blew up on Saturday night when people were out celebrating the holy month of Ramadan.
The toll in Karrada stood at 151 killed and 200 wounded by midday on Monday, according to police and medical sources. Rescuers and families were still looking for 35 missing people.
Subsequently other outlets, including CNN, raised the number of people killed to 200.
Many of the victims, reports Al-Jazeera, were women and children. Dozens burned to death or suffocated, the news outlet reported, citing a police source.
In a statement, the self-identified Islamic State (ISIS) claimed responsibility for the attack and said it specifically targeted the Shia Muslim community. In addition to the larger truck bomb in the area, a separate bombing claimed the lives of at least two people in a northern Shi'ite section of Baghdad.
As Martin Churlov reports for the Guardian, the group's statement on the bombings implied it "drew no distinction between civilians and security forces with whom it is battling to retain control of more than a third of the country that it overran in mid-2014, in a rampage that threatened Iraq’s ongoing viability."
The large-scale attack occurs in the wake of ISIS's forced retreat from the western city of Fallujah last month, the result of a massive offensive carried out mostly by Shia militias backed by Iraqi Army forces and U.S. coalition air support.
In New York Times reporting on Monday, intelligence and law enforcement officials warned that the weekend bombings, coupled with recent overseas attacks and increased threats, can be seen "as proof that the Islamic State, the only terrorist group to create a state with borders, is becoming a larger, more sophisticated version of its stateless chief rival, Al Qaeda, as it loses territory under traditional military attack in Iraq and Syria."
Despite indications the fierce military campaign against ISIS in both Syria and Iraq is eroding the overall territory the group controls, those losses have corresponded with mass-casualty attacks by the group (or affiliates claiming allegiance to it) against civilian targets beyond the battlefield.
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As Phyllis Bennis, director of the New Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies, wrote last week, "The correlation between ISIS losing territory in its so-called 'caliphate' in Syria and Iraq and the rise of terror attacks often much farther afield is one more indication of the failure of the U.S. 'war on terror.'"
The reason for that, she explained, is because,
U.S.-led military campaigns “against terror” continue to set the stage for more terror attacks, and to create more terrorists, as anger turns to rage — and rage, for some, turns brutally violent. The military-first U.S. strategy is exacting a huge price — especially for the people in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Afghanistan, and beyond — but also on us here at home, and on civilians throughout the world.
If we're serious about ending terror attacks, there are a host of non-military approaches that hold far more promise than bomb-drone-kill. Diplomacy, humanitarian support, arms embargos, economic assistance, more diplomacy — we need to use them all instead of military action, not alongside it.
Meanwhile, even as Iraqis mourned those killed over the weekend, the promises from Iraq's Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi that he would improve the security situation in the country have done seemingly little to inspire the confidence of the people.
"In a sign of public outrage at the failure of the security services," reports Reuters, "Abadi was given an angry reception on Sunday when he toured Karrada, the district where he grew up, with residents throwing stones, empty buckets and even slippers at his convoy in gestures of contempt."
And, as Bennis urged, in order to fully realize a peaceful future, the current leadership committed to combatting ISIS must acknowledge that "the current strategy is failing."
So far, no such acknowledgement has been forthcoming.