A car bomb, placed outside a popular ice-cream shop in downtown Baghdad, has killed at least 17 and wounded 32 people. The initial blast was followed by another attack which took place outside of an office where people come to collect their government pensions, killing 14 and wounding 37, according to officials.
The Islamic State (ISIS) quickly claimed responsibility for the first attack on early Tuesday morning, which Iraqi officials said appeared to involve remotely detonated explosives inside a parked car. The extremist group later also claimed responsibility for the second attack, saying its suicide bombers had targeted gatherings of Shia Muslims.
The attacks will exacerbate fears that ISIS will use Ramadan to intensify its campaign against civilians as it continues to lose ground in Mosul and surrounding areas.
The courtyard outside the ice-cream shop was a scene of devastation. Footage apparently shot on a phone minutes after the blast showed a dazed young girl stepping past the body of a woman, and what appeared to be body parts strewn across tiles covered with blood and grease. As pockets of flames burned across the scene, some victims called for help while others cursed the attackers.
Brett McGurk, the US diplomat coordinating the international coalition fighting against Isis, condemned the attack and expressed solidarity with Iraq. “Isis terrorists tonight in Baghdad target children & families enjoying time together at an ice cream shop. We stand with Iraq against this evil,” he said on Twitter.
Isis members believe blessings for “good deeds” are amplified during the holy month. Over the past 13 years, Isis and its earlier incarnations have regularly targeted civilians, Shia shrines and Christian churches. While the group’s reach inside Baghdad has been weakened by a decade-long counter-terrorism campaign, it retains the ability to slip explosives past a dragnet of checkpoints and cause devastation to civilian populations.
The ice-cream shop that was targeted just after midnight on Tuesday has been hit at least twice in recent years, and Karrada, a sprawling shopping and residential district south of the Tigris river with a largely Shia population, has been struck dozens of times.
ISIS has lost almost all of the territory it seized from Iraqi forces in mid-2014 and is now facing a losing battle to hang on to the Old City of Mosul, and villages between the city limits and the Syrian border.
The Iraqi push into the terrorist organization’s last redoubt in Mosul has met fierce resistance and led to high numbers of casualties over the past five days. The Old City had loomed as the most difficult corner of the tangled web of roads and lanes that make up the western half of the city, to where up to 3,000 battle-hardened militants had retreated after losing control of the eastern bank of the Tigris in February.
Iraqi forces believe they are still weeks away from securing western Mosul. After the battle is concluded, attention will shift to Ba’aj, near the Syrian border, where Baghdadi is known to have spent much of his time in the past three years, then to the urban strongholds inside Syria of Deir Azzour, Maedin and Raqqa.