The suicide truck and two car bombings are believed to be the deadliest in Kirkuk since the beginning of the war, and follow on the heels of several attacks last week in other towns in northern Iraq. About 140 people were killed last week in a truck bombing reportedly carried out by al-Qaida in Iraq in the town of Ermeli.
Violence is not rare in the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, which is at the center of an ongoing dispute between Kurds and Arabs, but large-scale bombings are unusual. The flare up of attacks comes a month after the last of the additional 28,000 U.S. troops committed for the surge operation targeting Baghdad were deployed to the country.
The military launched an operation in southern Iraq Monday with about 8,000 U.S. troops aimed at cutting off the supply of al-Qaida weapons and fighters to Baghdad.
The spread of insurgent violence to regions outside of Baghdad is not surprising, said Nora Bensahel, a senior political scientist and counterinsurgency expert at the Rand Corp. Within a couple months of the initial surge, suburbs around the city were already experiencing an increase in attacks.
“Even by announcing the surge you give incentive to the insurgents and those who want to conduct violence to move out of Baghdad as a preventative method,” Bensahel said.
When there are not enough troops or resources to secure the entire country, Bensahel said, “You literally have to pick and choose your battles. You have to decide which areas are worth securing and which ones will be left behind.”
Hy Rothstein, a senior lecturer in the defense analysis program at the Naval Postgraduate School, agreed the shift of violence was predictable and said troop levels are not the only obstacle.
“In the short term we saw an improvement and then after the first month or two or three there was an upswing in attacks,” Rothstein said. If more troops were deployed, the same pattern would repeat, he said. “Initially there would be reduced violence until [insurgents] found the vulnerabilities.”
The surge was never set up as a means of securing the whole country, said Bensahel, but as a way to at least put down the violence in Baghdad and create space for political reconciliation.
“It would be very difficult to redeploy forces to [more remote] areas without undermining the entire strategy for Baghdad,” she said.
Trying to use U.S. forces to prevent attacks, like those seen recently, would also not help create a situation for sustainable peace, said Rothstein.
“The solution to this type of problem can’t be imposed from the outside,” he said. “Develop local forces, local police and militia forces. Have them protect their own locales.”